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Designing Women of Postwar Britain: Their Art and the Modern Interior

September 20, 2008 - January 25, 2009

The art of textile design radically changed after World War II. Three women artists working in England in the 1950s were pivotal in this artistic revolution. The drab days of the War were suddenly washed with the light of the fresh, progressive designs by Lucienne Day, Marian Mahler and Jacqueline Groag.

Original artist designs with bold abstract patterns, inspired by Modern artists like Alexander Calder and Joan Miró, as well as the use of dramatic saturated color marked a dramatic departure from England’s conventional notions of interior fabric design. Designing Women showcases the stunning geometric and abstract designs of the three leaders with furnishing fabrics, hand-towels, and dishware in varied sizes and colors.

Day changed the direction of furnishing fabrics with her 1951 design, Calyx. The revolutionary design, introduced at the Festival of Britain, captured the spirit of the era and subsequently received the coveted International Design Award of the American Institute of Decorators.

Home Interiors

In the span of 20 years after World War II (1945-1965), Britain was transformed from a nation devastated by war to an affluent consumer society. This new prosperity became evident in the modernization and stylization of home interiors. Works by designers such as Day, Groag and Mahler made art accessible to the general consumer, contributing to the country’s spirit of renewal and defining a historical turning point in the development of international textile design.

Textiles were a crucial component of the domestic interior during this time, with new furnishings adorning the home with the vibrancy of beautiful textiles. Art and design came together to change the direction of the modern design industry worldwide. Britain held a preeminent position in textile design as home to leading manufacturers, wholesale firms, and many inventive and creative young designers like Day, Groag and Mahler. Their new genre of dynamic, abstract and whimsical works transformed the market by inspiring new product lines that were elegant and artistic, yet affordable. The distinct and innovative style of the works created by these women is still relevant to contemporary domestic interiors.

Exhibit curators Tariana Navas-Nieves and Shanna Shelby draw from the Denver collection of Jill A. Wiltse and H. Kirk Brown III, whose passion for this unique area of design showcases rare and hard to find patterns.

Denver Post review:

“ … the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center has veered in a completely unexpected and wonderfully audacious direction.”

“(The exhibition) has gained the institution heightened credibility nationally”

Westword review:

“I can’t say enough about how interesting, thoughtful, intelligently laid out and beautiful Designing Women is.”

“(T)he quality of what’s included might make you think that you’ve been transported to the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York or, maybe more to the point, the Victoria and Albert Memorial in London.”