History of curiosity is written on the walls

20th Century Pattern Design
August 8, 2003

This is a book of astonishing images and sound information. It is a feast of colour and patterns to be sampled for pleasure and valued for reference.

Lesley Jackson is to be congratulated for bringing together an encyclopedia of 20th-century pattern history in such an attractive format.

Her focus on "pioneers" is important - in this case those progressive designers and producers who were curious and who experimented.

She explains that the "heroes and heroines" are the pattern designers who blazed trails and that the book is a record of the unfolding of innovative style rather than a simple analysis of popular taste. Its publication is timely because decorative wallpapers and furnishings are beginning to add colour and pattern to many late 20th-century minimalist interiors, and it is good to see where they have developed from.

The content ranges from the flowing patterns of Art Nouveau to computer-generated "virtual" images and includes the sharp, abstract patterns of the Wiener Werkstatte, which pre-date optical art by 50 years, and the delicately drawn and coloured patterns from the 1920 and 1930s. The structure is chronological: seven chapters with evocative titles - for example, "Ruralism, revivalism and giganticism" (on the 1970s). The main focus is on Europe and the US but the countries highlighted vary from chapter to chapter, reflecting their relative importance through the century, so "Britain dominates the 1900s, and France, Austria and Germany are the prime movers during the 1920s. The US and Sweden do not enter the story until slightly later, and only emerge fully fledged after the second world war. Finland, a late developer, blazes a trail during the 1960s and 1970s, while the most recent creative flourish has originated in Japan."

Britain and Sweden receive greatest attention because their contribution has been most consistent.

Each chapter is divided by country and then by designer or producer, with particular attention being paid to industrial, rather than craft, production, and to printed, rather than woven, furnishing fabrics as well as wallpapers. Company histories and economic fortunes are mentioned where they are relevant.

There are more than 370 captioned colour plates, a detailed bibliography, notes for each chapter, a short glossary and a comprehensive index.

Although it is not easy to read the text through from beginning to end because of its many subdivisions, this layout makes it perfect for quick reference. It will be a working tool for designers and a treasure chest for everyone interested in 20th-century pattern. In addition it should be an inspiration. As the author writes: "Patterned textiles and wallpapers were once a vital, stimulating element in our domestic environment - if we are brave, they can be again."

Jennifer Wearden is senior curator (textiles), Victoria and Albert Museum.

20th Century Pattern Design: Textile and Wallpaper Pioneers

Author - Lesley Jackson
ISBN - 1 84007 371 5
Publisher - Mitchell Beazley
Price - £40.00
Pages - 224

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