To coincide with this month’s Glasgow Science Festival, we’re profiling an original catalogue from the 1951 Exhibition of Science at the Festival of Britain kindly donated by University of Birmingham Library. The catalogue is a guide to an exhibition featuring such subjects as crystallography and molecular science. The scientific advancements being made in British science at the time greatly influenced the work of the Festival Pattern Group (a collaborative project between scientists and manufacturers) that were given a platform for promoting creativity in science and the arts as part of the gala. Leading carpet designers James Templeton & Co. (who acquired Stoddard’s) are known to have experimented with Festival Pattern Group designs which therefore makes the catalogue an interesting curio to the Stoddard-Templeton Collection. For instance, writing on the subject of crystal structure designs from the 1951 Festival of Britain, Lesley Jackson documents how the irregular forms of the patterns produced by those linked to the Group were considered by Templeton’s to be more attractive than geometrical patterns. A comprehensive history can be found in her book From Atoms to Patterns that is also held as part of the Stoddard-Templeton Collection.
The rebound catalogue retains its original mid-twentieth century paper covers and bears the Festival’s distinctive Britannia compass device. The cover has been designed by prolific twentieth-century graphic designer Abram Games while inside features several adverts for electrical and engineering institutions for everything from cars to scientific instruments to photographic products. A background to the exhibition and a map add to the contents. While The Festival of Britain’s central pavilion resided in South Kensington, The Exhibition of Science was located on the more easily accessible South Bank – arguably a desire to bring non-elitist design to the attention of the British public. This could also be considered true of simultaneous festivals across the country, including the Exhibition of Industrial Power in the Kelvin Hall, Glasgow. As well as colour innovation, the exhibition’s influence extended to the design of objects from inventive materials such as new forms of plastic that appropriated the scientific designs of the group and have been perpetuated ever since.
The exhibiting Festival Pattern Group formed in 1949 with a view to creating liaisons between several manufacturers, a large proportion of which were from Britain’s booming textile industry. By synthesising the designs of these manufacturers with the pioneering crystallographic research being conducted by British academics, the group saw that Britain’s export power could be furthered. The aim was for representative sections of the interior design industries (across paper, textiles, wallpapers, floor coverings and glass) to produce patterns that could be built up as a suite of products that were all intended to work together in an integrated way. The collections of furnishings and accessories that soon emerged created a new visual language that simplified and humanised complex scientific processes. Many of the designs never made it into commercial production but relied on large orders of exports that made production more affordable. The current interest in exploring micro materials and nanotechnology however, may yet lead to a revival of these unique, atomically-inspired designs.
University of Birmingham Library has since donated a second exhibition catalogue from the same year – Design in the Festival – that advertises a selection of 1951 goods in production including textiles, domestic products and industrial equipment. Both catalogues are highly relevant to our collections and hopefully catalytic to the pedagogical and research interests of the Design School at Glasgow School of Art.
- Discover the Stoddard-Templeton Collection
- Browse books on the Festival of Britain in our Lending Collections