13 August 2012

Blythe House Theatre & Performance Archives

Mask made by Doboujinsky & Lila de Nobili for Peter Wright's 1968 production of The Sleeping Beauty for the Royal Ballet (information here) | Mask made by Jocelyn Herbert for Harrison Birtwistle's opera, The Mask of Orpheus (here)

On the 19th of July, CreateVoice members visited Blythe House, at Kensington Olympia for a tour of the Theatre & Performance Archives led by Joanna Norledge, assistant archivist. Here the majority of the Victoria and Albert's archives are kept - including the Archive of Art and Design, the Beatrix Potter Collections, and the Theatre & Performance archives. In the near future the Clothworkers' Centre for Textiles and Fashion Study and Conservation will also be housed here. The building was originally a post office and savings bank, and features beautiful architecture and original features.

The Theatre and Performance archives hold millions of items of all aspects of theatre and performance from the United Kingdom, from theatre collections, puppets, photographs, sketches, paintings, films of performances and often memorabilia from performances, the circus, rock, pop and dance. Architectural design sketches of the theatres themselves are also included - not just the record of the performance itself, but the building that it took place in and the costumes work. Anything to do with the Theatre or any form of performance, the archive most likely has it!

Jess Starns

On the day, Joanna Norledge gave us a fascinating tour of the Theatre and Performance Archives. CreateVoice members were led through the vast archives past ancient books, signs, poster, costumes and much more - we were even lucky enough to be able to have a closer look at various items including photographic archives of the puppets, old typographic posters and photographs of productions, as well as a stunning bracelet given to actress Kate Terry by her husband on their marriage and her retirement from the stage - on this inside it is engraved with all of her stage roles and appearances. .Joanna also showed us examples of a very common archival problem with photographs, vinegar syndrome, as well as other images completely unharmed such as a 1976 Sex Pistols poster - the collection has its own rock'n'roll personality! It was incredibly interesting to see the sheer abundance of items that the archives hold - it truly is the Mary Poppins' handbag of the archival world!

Laura Blair

Anyone can visit the archive - whether for curiosity or academic enquiry. All that you need to do is book an appointment by emailing:

The archivists are undergoing projects to digitalise as much of the collections and archives as possible. This is daily work, as the V&A has such vast collections!

04 August 2012

The Designs of William Morris.

William Morris (1834-96) was a leading and influential member of the Arts and Crafts movement, talented in many crafts, but best known as a wallpaper and textile designer. He loved all natural forms - flowers, birds, fruit, trees and leaves - which inspired him to create a range of both simple and beautifully complex wallpaper and textile patterns. He once said, 'have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful', and that's just what he wanted to offer people with his designs - to bring beauty into one's home.

By looking at his first wallpaper design, Trellis, which was inspired by rose trellises in medieval gardens, you can see just how his style developed in later years. From what first started as quite geometric designs, he soon began creating more organic, stylized patterns, where it becomes hard to register the beginning and ending of repeats. This is particularly noticeable in the Willow and Wreath designs above, as Morris has interwoven the leaves and flowers in a way to make his patterns appear almost three-dimensional, rather than just a flat picture. One of my favourite patterns of his is Strawberry Thief, which I really feel showcases how wonderfully rich yet subtle the colours of his designs were. There's also a lovely little story behind this piece too, as Morris was inspired to design Strawberry Thief after birds frequently stole strawberries from his garden in Kelmscott Manor! 

Over the years I have started to collect all things William Morris, ranging from postcards from the V&A Shop, to books on his work, cushion covers, fabric and the most beautiful set of curtains. One day I hope to fill my house with more of his work and to cover my walls with his beautiful wallpaper. But for now, numerous visits to the Victoria and Albert Museum will be just fine, because nothing beats experiencing the beauty of his work first-hand.

You can find out more about William Morris on the V&A website here.

Jazmine Rocks
Photographs by Jazmine Rocks