In the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center's Designing Women of Postwar Britain: Their Art and the Modern Interior, more than 100 textile works liven up period rooms, effectively evoking a time of change and place in a modern world.
"In the span of 20 years [1945 to 1965], Britain was transformed from a country devastated by the Second World War to an optimistic consumer society," says the FAC's Tariana Navas-Nieves, who, with Shanna Shelby, chose the exhibit works from the collection of Denver's Jill A. Wiltse and H. Kirk Brown III.
"Young designers like Lucienne Day, Jacqueline Groag and Marian Mahler became headliners in what, to this day, is considered a grand era, when art and design came together and changed the direction of the modern design industry throughout the world."
Day, the most well-known of the three, was already in her 30s when she created her revolutionary Calyx, an abstract, avant-garde fabric design inspired by plant forms. This "contemporary" design became all the rage at the 1951 Festival of Britain, launching Day on a creative career that would produce more than 70 remarkable and inventive modern patterns executed in bold, bright colors.
The Austrian-born Mahler and Czech-born Groag added more color and whimsy to the British textile milieu with lively modern designs featured by the Contemporary Prints division of David Whitehead & Sons of Lancashire.
"The designs by these three women provided a sophisticated design for the modern interior," says Navas-Nieves. "Avant-garde design was no longer reserved for the elite. Stylish fabrics printed by machine became affordable for the general consumer market. These 'contemporary' and reasonably priced textiles proved that fine artistry could be enjoyed by all."
With the use of roller-printing techniques and inexpensive furnishing fabrics such as cotton and rayon, the textile industry was able to offer these stylized designs at affordable prices. Consumers, eager to reflect the new era of hope and prosperity, embraced the colorful patterns and creative designs.
"The superbly designed furnishing textiles by these artistic pioneers define a historical turning point in the development of international textile design," says Navas-Nieves. "These new designs represented a great change from the austere design style of the war years, when furnishings were restricted to very simple repeated patterns and dull colors."
Inspired by the paintings of Joan Mir and Paul Klee, these designers replaced traditional floral motifs and neutral color schemes with non-representational patterns generally executed in vivid hues and saturated colors. Patterns included multiple layers, abstract designs and representational images all combined to celebrate life.
"Their work is a dazzling illustration of how art can lift one's spirits and beautifies our lives," says Navas-Nieves. "I hope that this exhibition will stimulate interest and educate the public about how three impressively creative women brought together art, design and everyday life as a way to reinvigorate a nation."
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