Hull Traders and Shirley Craven take designs which changed perceptions to Harris Museum

By Ben Miller | 24 January 2011 | Updated: 20 January 2011
A black and white photo of a woman in the 1960s
Shirley Craven, pictured in 1959© Ferens Art Gallery, Hull Museums
Exhibition: Shirley Craven and Hull Traders: Revolutionary Post-War Fabrics and Furniture, Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, until March 5 2011

“All my work is based on abstraction,” says Shirley Craven, reflecting on the big, bold patterns and zigzagging bolts of colour which turned her textile designs into works of art in the swinging sixties.

An image of a gold, yellow and orange circular pattern
Molly White, Centrum (1966). Hand screen-printed cotton, produced by Hull Traders© Ferens Art Gallery, Hull Museums
“Sometimes it is an abstraction of a feeling – joy, sorrow, anger or love – but an abstracted landscape is often an abstraction of a feeling as well."

There’s a sense of vigour and fun to everything Craven made with the Hull Traders after teaming up with them in 1959, creating more than 40 patterns for the company in a period which saw her shape the entire collection with all-conquering artistic power.

Inspired by free jazz, abstract expressionism and most elements in between, Craven was in flourished company at the visionary outlet, where sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi, photographer Nigel Henderson and painter Ivon Hitchens were among the roster of award-winning young designers involved.

In 1966 the Traders launched the pioneering tomotom collection at the Ideal Home Show, making circular furniture for families which was stylish, brassy and affordable, although it drew celebrity buyers including George Best.

An image of a blue, black and white design
Shirley Craven, Connection (1960). Hand screen-printed cotton. Produced by Hull Traders© Ferens Art Gallery, Hull Museums
Post-war design historian Lesley Jackson has curated this show, starring lush floral patterns from Trinidadian-born Althea McNish – Britain’s first black textile designer – and other top textile names and artists of the 20th century.

“We’re thrilled to showcase the work of Shirley Craven and this truly innovative Lancashire-based company,” says Claire Corrin, of the Harris.

“The colour, pattern and scale of these eye-popping textile and furniture designs look spectacular in the gallery, and still feel fresh today.”

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