Keren Protheroe shares stories and insights from the Liberty archives
The oldest item in the archives?
"There's a little book of woven silks (pictured above) that dates from around 1790. Arthur Liberty championed the survival of silk weaving in Britain...so we think the book came to us through his interest. They’re all figured silks, some colored with patterns woven into them, some ribbons, some subtle, understated stripes... It’s a bound book, quite raggedy around the edges, it’s obviously had an interesting life. Considering its age, it’s wonderful to be able to step back in time."
The oldest Liberty print?
"This is probably Hera, Liberty’s beautiful iconic peacock feather design, which has become something of a trademark. It's certainly one of the very earliest to be stocked by Liberty."
Your favorite item?
“I'm not sure I have a favorite, but I love the records of people who were important to the Liberty story, people like Christopher Dresser. He was a designer and influencer, for want of a better word, in the 19th century because he travelled to Japan at a time when its artisans were keen to expand their exports to the Europe. He travelled as an envoy for the British government, they sent him to Japan to explore decorative arts, and he brought that aesthetic back to Britain. We have a few textile designs we believe to be by Dresser, he was one of an influential group that included Charles Holme and E.W. Godwin. They were powerful; these were people working for Liberty who were also designing houses in Bedford Park. It was the age of the architect designer, and they were all friends of Arthur Liberty.”
Can you tell us one of the archive's stories?
"There is a contested story around who designed Hera. It is thought to have been designed by Arthur Silver, but we now think it’s more likely to have been designed by Christopher Dresser. At the end of the 19th century designs were registered with the board of trade; you had to take a drawing or a snippet of the produced sample and it would be registered on a date to show who had designed it, which gave a certain amount of copyright protection. In 1876, a design was registered in Ireland, which is when the Hera design first appears in the public record. Arthur Silver was working in London at that time; Christopher Dresser was working in Ireland. However, there are also many early photographs of Hera taken by Arthur Silver. This is typical of what we do - it’s often very difficult to discover the back story of these items. These designers were all influencing each other and the main thing is this beautiful aesthetic style, the lineal work of Japanese art, that translated into Art Nouveau."