Strawcraft Symbols

Fred Mizen, Strawcraft heart made for the Festival of Britain (MERL 52/73)

Fred Mizen, ‘Corn Dolly’ sculptures, 1951 Straw craftsman Fred Mizen made various sculptures for the Festival of Britain, including a large and much-celebrated Lion and Unicorn for the pavilion of the same name. As well as his sizeable designs, he also contributed a smaller series for the ‘Country’ pavilion. These were were displayed upstairs, tucked […]

Town and Country

Cover from Clough Williams-Ellis, ‘Town and Country Planning’, 1951 (MERL Lib Pamphlet 2860 BOX 01/18)

Clough Williams-Ellis, Town and Country Planning (British Council, 1951) This pamphlet was the eighteenth in a series of booklets published under the auspices of the British Council. Called The Arts in Britain, these provided accessible summaries concerning different aspects of British cultural life, including architecture, art, music, drama, poetry, dance, film, design, and other forms […]

Countryside Cartoons

Michael O'Connell, Cartoon design for Diversity of British Farming artwork, Yorkshire panel (MERL 2009/64/5)

Michael O’Connell, Diversity of British Farming designs, circa 1950 These seven cartoons by artist Michael O’Connell were scaled-up to create a stunning artwork for the Country pavilion at the Festival of Britain. The finished textile panels from this can be seen here. In order to develop his designs, O’Connell travelled around observing and sketching to […]

Making Hurdles

This brake was used by a hurdlemaker when making wooden gate hurdles. It consists of a complex wooden frame supporting a toothed iron jaw. It was acquired from the 1951 Festival of Britain. Hurdle maker's brake (MERL 52/36)

Hurdle maker’s brake, circa 1951 This brake provided a frame on which to construct wattle hurdles from hazel rods. It is thought to have been displayed at the Festival of Britain. In the early 1950s, handmade hurdles were still in use for penning livestock but were becoming less common. Lightweight metal gates were growing in […]

Domestic Flowerpot

Quentin Bell, Decorated plant pot, 1951 (MERL 2010/69)

Quentin Bell, Decorated plant pot, 1951 This pot was made by Quentin Bell, the acclaimed art historian, academic, writer, and potter. It was produced in 1951 and dedicated to a member of household staff at a sprawling Sussex farmhouse called Charleston. It was in this rural locale that the maker’s parents—the painter Vanessa Bell and […]

Huge Wall-Hangings

Michael O'Connell, Diversity of British Farming Wall-Hangings, 1951 (MERL 63/18/9).

Michael O’Connell, Diversity of British Farming Wall-Hangings, 1951 This huge textile depicting Kent is one of nine sections—a key, an introductory panel, and seven landscapes—that formed a 46-metre long display in the Country Pavilion of the Festival of Britain. It was designed by artist Michael O’Connell and the panels made with the help of his […]

Thatching tools

Festival of Britain thatching objects (MERL 52/82-83, 85-91, & 79/64).

Festival of Britain, Thatching tools, 1951 This set of tools was exhibited at the Festival of Britain, where it helped to tell the story of straw in the Country Pavilion. The display also included straw sculptures produced by celebrated maker Fred Mizen. His techniques were derived in part from the art of thatch finials— decorative […]

Chicken in a Basket

Ose poultry basket (MERL 60/770)

Poultry basket, Ose, 1945–1946 Mid-century craft expert Muriel Rose bought this poultry basket, or Ose, from Highland Home Industries in Edinburgh during the 1940s. It was one of many handmade items sourced by her on behalf of the British Council who at that time established a significant collection of rural craft objects. Much of this material […]

Black Eyes and Lemonade

Cover of exhibition catalogue for Black Eyes and Lemonade (GREAT EXHIBITION--12/06)

Exhibition catalogue, Black Eyes and Lemonade, 1951 This catalogue listed the contents of a quietly influential exhibition held as part of the Festival of Britain. An eclectic range of items were assembled by artist and author Barbara Jones, the creative force behind the show. The displays made a powerful statement about the importance and vitality […]

Cotswold Tradition

Cover of exhibition catalogue for The Cotswold Tradition (MERL Library 9214 COT)

Exhibition catalogue, The Cotswold Tradition, 1951 This catalogue reveals that some of the many objects given to The MERL by writer H. J. Massingham in early 1951 were almost immediately sent on loan to an exhibition at Cirencester Park. This display was part of a significant regional strand of the Festival of Britain and was […]

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