Key to Warner & Sons success over almost an entire century of business was their passion for contemporary design whilst maintaining the more traditional arm of their business. Warner & Sons would frequently purchase work from emerging and influential designers to produce or inspire new collections.
An early instigator of this was Frank Warner who was managing director at the company until his death in 1930. In the late 1920s, Frank purchased a piece by Enid Marx called ‘Spot and Bar’ to become part of a collection of significant textile pieces in the Warner & Sons Archive known as the Documents Collection.
Frank had become aware of Enid’s work through their involvement in the British Institute of Industrial Artists. Formed in 1920, the BIIA promoted British design and industry. Frank was a board member and Enid’s designs were featured in several BIIA exhibitions.
Writing in 1979 to the then Warner Archivist, Hester Bury, Enid recalled how Warner & Sons amongst other manufacturers had supported her. “[They] were all anxious to encourage me in the experimental work I was doing. It was their belief that it was necessary and healthy for what one might term ‘Studio Printers’ to act as a spearhead and so a stimulus to industry.” Enid’s backing and admiration from industry continued throughout her career culminating in the accolade of ‘Royal Designer for Industry’ in 1944 for “Sustained design excellence, work of aesthetic value and significant benefit to society.”
It was no surprise when she was asked by Gordon Russell, eminent furniture designer and Chairman of the Utility Furniture Design Panel, to work on patterns for Utility fabrics. Enid’s Utility fabrics were originally sampled by Morton and Sundour who then awarded the manufacturing contract for one design to Warner & Sons. The design, known internally at Warner & Sons as ‘Medallion’ and externally as ‘Spot and Stripe’ was produced in four colourways: green, red, brown and blue.
Warner & Sons ceased manufacturing in house in the early 1970s though the company continued to produce using external manufacturers. Hester was employed as archivist to document the history of Warner & Sons and the provenance of the collection.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s Enid and Hester corresponded regularly. Hester was researching the history of Warner & Sons in preparation for her book A Choice of Design published in 1981. Though Hester initially contacted Enid to enquire about Utility fabrics their letters covered a diverse range of subjects in their correspondence, with Enid offering to help fill in gaps in Hester’s research, giving advice where she could and even requesting a length of fabric to print on. The letters demonstrate the breadth of Enid’s knowledge, and how unrelentingly inquisitive her mind was throughout her 70-year career.
Spot & Bar is on display at the House of Illustration as part of their exhibition Enid Marx: Parint, Pattern and Popular Art until the 30th September 2018. It will then return to the Archive where it will be on display.