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Introduction

The Harmony Project was inspired by the life and work of the 19th century designer, Christopher Dresser, who lived in London for many years including in Sutton and Richmond. The title ‘The Harmony Project’ partly stems from Dresser’s own enthusiasm for the idea of harmony, a desire for unity and coherence and mirrors well with Shared Heritage’s own vision to use the arts as a catalyst for creating shared spaces in which people can meet.

 

Winning design

Over the summer of 2014 the public were invited to vote online for their favourite design. The group with the most votes was the St Mark’s Family Centre. Below is a photo of the winning group and their winning design.

Winning design - St Mark's Family Centre

Further group designs can be seen in the gallery.

 

Christopher Dresser Design

© National Archives

Christopher Dresser

Courtesy of V&A
As a freelance designer, Christopher Dresser epitomised a new profession. He studied at the Government Schools of Design but, unlike many of his contemporaries, he was neither an architect nor a professional artist. He managed a large London studio which provided designs for textiles, metal ware, furniture, wallpapers, pottery and glass to over 50 of Britain’s leading manufacturers. By the time of his death in 1904, he was employing ten assistants and his five daughters.

Dresser took inspiration from a variety of sources. He was a knowledgeable botanist and was one of the first British designers to visit Japan. Dresser was unusually forward-looking in using modern manufacturing techniques and inexpensive materials to design objects that were both functional and beautiful.

 

Berries design by Christopher Dresser

© National Archives

 

Artists

This project was led by two artists, Viv Philpot and Dorothy Tucker, who offered a breadth and depth of artistic excellence, knowledge and experience built over many years of engaging communities in participatory arts which included: considerable teaching and educational experience; design and delivery of similar projects; a strong understanding of how to interpret advanced design themes and content to make it accessible and engaging for beginners.

 

Artistic approach

Using plants as the inspiration to make designs the artists worked with groups to transform these designs into printed lengths of cloth which were used to make products including bags, wallets, cushions, scarves, key fobs and aprons.

The project started with an introductory workshop in which participants were introduced to the project as a whole with a simple design and making activity using a button making machine. Following the introductory session participants took part in the four workshops (two designing and two making).

Over the course of the project each participant was encouraged to submit their designs into a specially commissioned set of ledgers* that mirrored the copyright system that Dresser’s designs were collected in. Dresser also had a close association with the V&A and participants were offered an opportunity to visit the museum as part of the project to see original Dresser designs.

By simulating for each participant the sense of being a ‘19th century designer’ the project sought to bring to life this key individual and the period in which he was active. The project culminated in an exhibition in Sept and Oct 2014 at the Stables Gallery in Twickenham.

*Ledgers
A variety of samples (including designs and textiles) with a diverse background are located in large ledgers which are part of the record set held under the name Board of Trade at the National Archives. As part of the early research into the project a link was highlighted between Christopher Dresser and over 200 design samples contained in these collections.

 

Flickr archive

The images in this archive were taken by group participants who visited the Victoria and Albert Museum as part the Harmony Project. Groups visited the museum starting in Autumn 2013. Each visit included a tour of the British Gallery related to the study of Christopher Dresser and participants were invited to take images using the latest technology of what they considered was ‘good’ and ‘bad’ design. The results can be
viewed here
.

 

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Funding

This exciting project, The Harmony Project, was led by Shared Heritage in conjunction with the Victoria and Albert Museum. Shared Heritage successfully secured £23,800 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £19,820 from Grants for the Arts (Arts Council England).