In an earlier post I wrote about some of the strange coincidences that have emerged in the course of developing this exhibition. Another bizarre coincidence has now come to light. It is concerned not so much with a history relating to the written word or to visual culture but one that is nevertheless firmly centred on paper.
My colleague Helen Westhrop works as a Library Assistant in Special Collections and Cataloguing here at the University of Reading. In her spare time she is a keen blogger (her blog, Living Libraries and [Dead] Languages, is definitely worth following). Having been aware for some time that this exhibition was in progress and being interested in the Ladybird archive herself, Helen was trying to think of interesting ways of connecting her own writing with this collection. What she happened upon was a link between her own life story and the history of Ladybird books, possibly even connecting her with the physical manufacture of the Autumn volume at some stage in its later history.
Indeed, in the course of pondering ways to justify introducing discussion of the Ladybird collections she realised something rather amazing. At an earlier point in her career, Helen worked as a clerk in the Buying Office of John Dickinson Paper and Board, then based at Croxley Mills in Watford. One of this company’s most prominent customers was the publishing house Wills and Hepworth, producers of Ladybird books.
As Helen notes on her blog, she therefore at one time had a hand in the very production of these books, albeit from the source context of working for the company that produced the paper on which they were printed. Nevertheless, this surprising ‘paper trail’ and revealing ‘paper tale’ together provide yet more evidence of the fascinating stories that underpin this seemingly simple series of children’s books.
Far too often we take the material things in our lives for granted and give little thought to the highly complex processes involved in their production and distribution; the people and places, and the companies and cultures that lie behind the existence of artefacts like Ladybird books. Thanks are due to Helen for sharing her piece of this rich, detailed, and endlessly fascinating puzzle. Perhaps others might be persuaded to share their own part, however small, in the processes that brought subsequent editions of the huntsman image and the What to Look For books to the book shops and to our modern-day book shelves and bibliographic collections.
Book design was of paramount importance in developing the format of Ladybird books as we now know them. Indeed, as the exhibition reveals, the format and size of these volumes was determined by a desire to be economical and to get the most out of cutting a single sheet of paper without wastage. We have on display an uncut printer’s sheet from a Ladybird book that helps to illustrate this point, as well as detailed discussion of the design of Ladybird books, which has been provided by our colleague Professor Sue Walker of the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication.
Ladybird books and the complexities of their design history notwithstanding, we have had our own design challenges in the course of planning and developing the exhibition itself. Our collaborator and consultant in this venture has been Mark Meredith of Waysgoose Design, whose vibrant and lively artwork has invigorated our ideas and helped render them presentable and visually appealing, as can be seen by his design for the exhibition poster (click to download here).
The ‘What to Look For’ exhibition poster, as designed by Mark Meredith of Waysgoose Design.
Mark is himself a graduate of the Department of Typography and Graphic Communication and was at one time taught by Sue Walker. He also worked for her for a number of years after graduating. It is nice to see them both working on this project. Mark also managed to find time to get married whilst (seemingly simultaneously) finishing off amendments to the designs he had produced for this display, which just goes to show what talent and ability he has.
Congratulations and thanks are therefore due to both Mark Meredith and to Sue Walker for their contributions towards and commitment to this exhibition. Like the classic and well-loved look of the Ladybird book, this exhibtion wouldn’t be what it has become without the design and the authorship that lies behind it!
This banner on the theme of Book Design was designed for the exhibition by Mark Meredith and is based on the specialist knowledge and input of Professor Sue Walker.
From 6 October 2012 until 14 April 2013 an exhibition at the Museum of English Rural Life presents a range of different responses to a single illustration of rural life. It focuses on a small watercolour by the artist Charles F. Tunnicliffe.
'The huntsman, on his dappled grey..' by Charles Tunnicliffe (Image © Ladybird Books Ltd)
This was one of many artworks created by him for Ladybird children’s books. The painting featured in What to Look For in Autumn, published in 1960. This was part of a four-book series printed between 1959 and 1961. It was written by the biologist Elliot Lovegood Grant Watson and charted seasonal change in the countryside.
The original Ladybird artwork is held alongside the collections of the Museum of English Rural Life at the University of Reading. This juxtaposition inspired us to invite specialists to examine a countryside image. Their responses form the core of the exhibition and together offer different answers to the question of What to Look For. They reveal the diverse stories that one illustration can tell.
Here we intend to ask how you might choose to look at this image and read the accompanying text? Are you interested in the artist, the illustration or other artistic responses? Perhaps the written word is more important. Maybe histories of science, of childhood or of hunting are more inspiring to you. What of the design of the book, its role in reading and learning, and how it teaches us to see and think about the world? As the exhibition progresses we hope that you will share your responses and join the conversation here.
What to Look For? Ladybird, Tunnicliffe, and the hunt for meaning
6 October 2012 until 14 April 2013
Dr Ollie Douglas (Museum of English Rural Life) and Dr Neil Cocks (Department of English Language and Literature)