Bloom and blotch: the printed floral and modernity in the textile designs of Winifred Mold and Minnie McLeish 1910-1929

Protheroe, Keren Louise (2012) Bloom and blotch: the printed floral and modernity in the textile designs of Winifred Mold and Minnie McLeish 1910-1929. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


As the early European avant-garde designers sought to repress the decorative in design, allegiance to the sensuality and symbolism of floral pattern triggered a sense of ambivalence amongst many English designers and design reformers. Minnie McLeish and Winifred Mold designed ornamental patterns for England's leading mass-market textile manufacturers and this thesis examines their work of 1910 - 1930. Offering McLeish and Mold as case studies, it explores the extent to which women designers exploited the medium of popular floral chintz to forge careers in a previously male-dominated profession. It asks to what extent the eclecticism of their practice - which employed both modern and traditional floral motifs and tropes - exemplified a quintessentially English and essentially modern early twentieth-century paradigm. Rejecting the notion of modernity as an unequivocal rupture in the design historical continuum it offers a close critical reading of specific commodities - printed floral textiles - and their production within the cultural context of consumption to illustrate how contemporaries negotiated 'producing the modern' and 'being modern' using combined narratives of continuity, tradition and progress. The fashionable chintz, and women designers' role in its production, are argued as evidence of what Wilson has described as 'modernity's other' in which the historically influenced, soft, colourful and abstracted surfaces of printed textiles represent the mass produced, the popular, and the irrational in direct reaction to Modernism's scientific ratlonalism." The historiography of modern design has largely dismissed floral design as narrowly derivative and as such, like many of those involved in its design and production, it has been rendered marginal in the written history of twentieth-century English modern design. By positioning Minnie McLeish's and Winifred Mold's designs within current discourse on the role of women designers and the decorative in interwar Modernism this thesis furthers our understanding of the history of the designer in the early twentieth century and argues that popular floral fabrics despite their romantic and nostalgic symbolism operated as unlikely agents of modernisation in the 1920s modern interior.

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