The records of the International Textile Collection are now available to view on the Special Collections’ catalogue.
The Museum of the Department of Textile Industries was formed in 1892. Textiles found in the collection from this period reflected the popular Art Nouveau style of the turn of the century, and later, Art Deco designs of the 1920s. Non-Western visual culture influenced these new designs. One reason perhaps that international pieces were first collected at Leeds. The Associate Curator, Jill Winder, introduces a few small collections on this theme.
Thought to be the ‘modern designs’ referenced in the 1890 department report, a collection of Art Nouveau weaving includes pieces by the renowned architect and textile designer Charles Voysey. Popular around 1900, Art Nouveau embraced the natural organic lines of plants. Contemporary teaching slides show this style was being taught and depicts photographs of world exhibitions in Chicago and Paris, where Art Nouveau was championed.
One major influence on Art Nouveau was Japan. The flat colours and stylisations found in Japanese decoration were a revelation to Western art. Japanese textiles were present in the department in the early 20th century. Professor Aldred Barker, Head of Department, referenced a Japanese damask weaving in his 1930 work ‘Ornamentation and textile design’. These have continued to be added to over the years, including a beautiful set of embroidered inner collars.
The fashion for Art Nouveau may have faded by the 1920s, when the weaver Mary Barker became the first female textile student. In her autobiography she describes how a special course was designed for her in conjunction with Leeds School of Art, to be more art based and less technical. Her small bequest includes pieces with Japanese style cranes, whilst other weaves show the influence of the new Art Deco.
Art Deco celebrated technology and new materials. There were still influences from other cultures, not least because of increased travel and exploration, creating a craze for the exotic. The geometric patterns and bright colours of non-Western design were influential, including those of Egypt, China, Africa, and South America. Several items collected in the 1920s and 1930s may have inspired students.
Art Deco can be seen in several of the 1930s Exhibit cards, which include samples from contemporary manufacturers Courtaulds, Sundour and the Edinburgh Weavers. Types of textile include furs, rubber proofing, and the new artificial silks, whilst fabrics for purpose include such diverse areas as tennis ball covers, billiard cloth, tram car roofs, deckchair and hammock cloth, and bunting. They often mirror the sport, luxury and new materials of the age. Titles such as ‘Check shirting for export to S.America’, ‘Aeroplane Fabric’ and ‘Tropical Suitings’ reflect world travel. A card of army puttee samples is a harbinger of the war that ended these exuberant decades.