Ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them 1.
The preservation of work by Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher - printed textiles produced in the inter-war years was central to the establishment of the Crafts Study Centre in 1970. Alongside the ceramics of Bernard Leach and his contemporaries, the block printed textiles of Barron and Larcher have come to represent an important development of craft in the twentieth century. In recognising the value of archives, Resource, the strategic body responsible for museums, libraries and archives, considers that, 'the very nature of archives and the way people unpick evidence from them provides a wonderful opportunity' 2. However, in her extensive study of twentieth century craft, Tanya Harrod makes a significant point. 'It is striking how few letters and archives associated with inter-war women makers survive' 3.
Robin Tanner had the wisdom and foresight to document the work of Barron and Larcher in two detailed volumes of their printed samples. Other archival records consist principally of order books, but there are objects - their collection of textiles - many of them originating from other cultures. These are held in the Crafts Study Centre and the Textiles Collection of the University for the Creative Arts at Farnham. The cultural critic Meike Bal asks, 'Can things be, or tell, stories? - Things, called objects for a good reason, appear to be the most 'pure' form of objectivity' 4.
The following sections focus on the relationship of this collection to its owners and their work in the inter-war years. The social theorist, Baudrillard describes a collection as 'a personal microcosm' in which the collector 'seeks to piece together his world' 5. The suggestion that artefacts can contribute to a maker's story is explored.
1 Walter Benjamin 'Unpacking my Library: A Talk about Book Collecting', in Hannah Arendt (trans.) Illuminations (Jonathan Cape, London, 1931) p.69
2 Resource Developing the 21st Century Archive - An Action Plan for United Kingdom Archives (Resource, London, 2001) p.12
3 Tanya Harrod The Crafts in Britain in the Twentieth Century (Yale University Press,New Haven, 1999) p.118
4 Meike Bal 'Telling Objects: A Narrative Perspective on Collecting' in John Elsner and Roger Cardinal (eds.) The Cultures of Collecting (Reaktion Books, London, 1994) p.99
5 Jean Baudrillard 'The System of Collecting' in John Elsner and Roger Cardinal (eds.) The Cultures of Collecting (Reaktion Books, London, 1968) p.7
Photograph of Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher at a French market, possibly Calais, 1930s, Tanner Archive.
2003.52.4 copyright Crafts Study Centre