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A Willow Patterned Update

Emily Aleev-Snow

 

A dish featuring the classic Willow Pattern. Plate, Spode, Stoke-on-Trent, England, c. 1800-1820, earthenware, transfer-printed in underglaze blue. V&A Museum number: C.847-1925. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

A dish featuring the classic Willow Pattern. Plate, Spode, Stoke-on-Trent, England, c. 1800-1820, earthenware, transfer-printed in underglaze blue. Museum number C.847-1925. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

We will return with a post featuring a brand new object next week; today I would like to share with you a brief followup to my inaugural post for this column. In that post, I explored how several centuries of global technological, cultural, and economic exchange contributed to the development of the blue-and-white ‘Willow Pattern’ design that has featured prominently on British-made ceramic dishes from the late eighteenth century until the present day – and how the enduring popularity and ubiquity of this design were acknowledged and played upon by the Underground Electric Railway Company, for a 1913 publicity poster conflating “the popular service” with their train service.

The Popular Service Suits All Tastes, 1913. Double Royal standard poster format, W 625mm x H 1010mm. Printed by Johnson, Riddle & Company Ltd, Published by Underground Electric Railway Company Ltd. London Transport Museum Number: 1983/4/370. Image © Emily Aleev-Snow, 2013

The Popular Service Suits All Tastes, 1913. Double Royal standard poster format, W 625mm x H 1010mm. Printed by Johnson, Riddle & Company Ltd, Published by Underground Electric Railway Company Ltd. London Transport Museum Number: 1983/4/370. Image © Emily Aleev-Snow, 2013

Shortly after my first post was published, I was contacted by the artist Philip Eglin, who very kindly sent me this image – a cover of ES Magazine from 20 July 1997,[1] which employs the Willow Pattern design to comment on the 1 July 1997 handover of Hong Kong from Britain to the People’s Republic of China:

Cover of ES Magazine, 20 July 1997. Image © Philip Eglin, 2013.

Cover of ES Magazine, 20 July 1997. Image © Philip Eglin, 2013.

Mr. Eglin described how he had been referencing elements of the Willow Pattern in his own ceramic work at that time “in part as an acknowledgment of the traditions of blue and white ceramics as well as simply employing motifs as a decorative device;”[2] and how “the substitution of historical motifs with contemporary ones”[3] in this magazine cover (which he received from the sculptor Tony Hayward) spurred him to think about the usage of contemporary symbols and imagery in his own work, thereby generating ideas for a new series of pieces.[4]

A piece made by Mr. Eglin prior to the publication of the magazine cover. Philip Eglin, Bucket, England, 1995 (made), earthenware with painted and transfer-printed decoration. V&A museum number: C.108-1998. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

A piece made by Mr. Eglin prior to the publication of the magazine cover. Philip Eglin, Bucket, England, 1995 (made), earthenware with painted and transfer-printed decoration. Museum number C.108-1998. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Circling back to the Tube poster, when I made another visit to the Transport Museum a few weeks ago, I discovered this in the gift shop:

"The New English Popular Service Anniversary Cake Stand" in the London Transport Museum gift shop. The tiers of this cake stand depict the complete Tube poster design when viewed from above. Image © Emily Aleev-Snow, 2013

“The New English Popular Service Anniversary Cake Stand” in the London Transport Museum gift shop. The tiers of this cake stand depict the complete Tube poster design when viewed from above. Image © Emily Aleev-Snow, 2013

The Tube poster’s Willow Pattern pastiche design, which of course was meant to evoke the ceramic dishes, has now been used to decorate actual ceramic dishes. Furthermore, the museum has recently commissioned a new set of blue-and-white ceramic dishes, depicting Transport for London Tube maps, station blueprints and other technical drawings, as an homage to that pastiche.

"The New English Blueprint Anniversary Plate Set" in the London Transport Museum gift shop. Image © Emily Aleev-Snow, 2013

“The New English Blueprint Anniversary Plate Set” in the London Transport Museum gift shop. Image © Emily Aleev-Snow, 2013

Quite “meta,” no?

Even a very quick online search will abundantly demonstrate that Mr. Eglin’s works and the London Transport Museum’s Tube poster are far from being the only references, interpretations, repurposings, homages, or pastiches of the Willow Pattern; with a wide variety of agents – advertisers, designers, artists, political commentators, etc. – projecting or injecting a kaleidoscope of new layers of meaning, motivations and context (some more thoughtful and nuanced than others, certainly) onto a design that has been and continues to be dependably recognizable to a broad audience. Thoughtful and nuanced or not, each disparate utilization of, and reference to, the Willow Pattern, serves to further perpetuate the design’s recognizability and embed it yet more deeply in the fabric of our cultural consciousness – allowing for yet more relevant usages and interpretations of the design.

 

 


[1] Personal correspondence with Philip Eglin, 23 October 2013.

[2] Personal correspondence with Philip Eglin, 25 October 2013.

[3] Personal correspondence with Philip Eglin, 25 October 2013.

[4] Personal correspondence with Philip Eglin, 25 October 2013.

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Have you seen any objects that intrigued you lately? Perhaps you have encountered something that piqued your curiosity in a museum or gallery (or in a shop or in the street?), or as part of your art or design practice, as part of your research, or as part of your daily life. Please don’t be shy! We welcome submissions on objects of all sorts, between 500 and 1,500 words, and we do ask that you own the rights to your images or use those belonging to the V&A. If you aren’t sure if your idea is right for our column, it certainly never hurts to ask, so please get in touch with us: objectoftheweek@gmail.com

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Emily Aleev-Snow –

Emily graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 2004 with a BA in East Asian Studies, with a particular focus on Edo Period Japan. After joining the Asian strand of the V&A/RCA History of Design MA, she has broadened the scope of her interests to a more global focus, asking questions about what objects can tell us about the sharing of knowledge across geographies. For her dissertation, Emily will be exploring the role of the practice of falconry as a medium of global exchange in the Early Modern period through its material culture.

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© Emily Aleev-Snow 2013. All Rights Reserved

One thought on “A Willow Patterned Update”

  1. Love these posters! Is there any chance that these have been printed and available for sale?

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