Cambridge Imprint For Charleston

During the depths of last winter we had the privilege of being allowed to explore Charleston farmhouse during its annual closure for cleaning and conservation. This lovely old house, standing alone on the East Sussex downs, was the home of the unconventional household formed by the artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant in 1916 and the Bloomsbury writers, artists and intellectuals who were frequent long-term visitors over the course of the next sixty years. Virtually every surface of the house was decorated by Bell and Grant—walls, doors, furniture—and every object within it, including all the paintings, drawings, ceramics, carpets and textiles, was either made or carefully chosen by them. The influence of Italian Renaissance frescos and post-Impressionist painting is unmistakeable, but the exuberance and freshness of the colour and gesture and the creation of the completely coherent domestic space, are in the end something wholly distinctive.

 

The Trust which now preserves and maintains the farmhouse and its equally glorious garden had asked us to create some patterns inspired by the interiors and we agreed with alacrity. What a glorious opportunity. We had visited before, but never with the leisure to notice myriad tiny details of abstract colour and form.

 

After our visit we spent a very happy spring messing about with paintbox and brushes, eventually creating dozens of possible designs.

 

In May we took three patterns through to the screen-printing stage, focussing on maintaining the liveliness and gestural, improvisatory quality of the first ideas. The key feature of Charleston is the feeling that decorations were executed in a matter of hours, perhaps even only minutes, and immediately after inspiration struck. We were also working with a more complex palette (three colours per design) than we have ever attempted before.

 

This autumn we are launching our first three “Charleston” patterns, Stripe, Scumble and Roundel, to coincide with Post-Impressionist Living: The Omega Workshops which will be showing in the new exhibition space at Charleston right through the autumn and into January. You can find the patterned papers and all the products we have created from them in the excellent shop at Charleston, as well as here on our website.

 

We’re particularly pleased with the Charleston Letter Tray, which is a more complicated object than we have ever created before. One of the key features of the Charleston decorations is that they are all an instinctive reaction to the object to be decorated, improvised on the spot to delineate or lyricise its form. So the Charleston Stripe pattern was created to fit this particular object perfectly, with the narrow orange stripe tracing the edge of the box tray, and complemented by the solid orange base.