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Kaplan screen-printed cotton, by Shirley Craven

Shirley Craven and Hull Traders

Revolutionary Post-War Fabrics and Furniture

3 Oct 09 - 3 Jan 10
Mon-Sat 10am - 5pm, Sun 1.30-4.30pm

Ferens Art Gallery


Tel: 01482 300300

Big bold abstracts in eye-popping colours, Shirley Craven’s extraordinary textiles encapsulate the exuberance of the Swinging Sixties. A ground-breaking exhibition at the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull – Craven’s native city - celebrates her remarkable creative partnership with Hull Traders, the company who printed her designs.

Highly acclaimed in her day for her innovative designs, Shirley Craven sprang to prominence in 1959 at the age of 25 shortly after leaving the Royal College of Art. Pioneering an aesthetic more akin to painting than textiles, she broke all the rules, revolutionising post-war furnishings with her dramatic, unconventional, large-scale designs. Revered by architects, artists and designers alike, her arresting hand screen-printed furnishing fabrics, such as Le Bosquet, Shape, Division, Sixty-Three, Five and Simple Solar, won a string of Design Centre Awards.

Established in 1957 by literary entrepreneur Tristram Hull (from whom the company takes its name), Hull Traders was distinctive from the outset. Its first collection featured designs by the maverick duo, sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi and photographer Nigel Henderson. Their graffiti-like patterns, including Coalface, Sgraffito and Portobello, were produced under the name Hammer Prints. Painter Ivon Hitchens was another early contributor. His design, Summer Flowers (1961), was based on two paintings by himself and his son John Hitchens.

As Colour and Design Consultant, Shirley Craven was the creative lynchpin of Hull Traders from 1959-1979. She masterminded their entire collection, creating a third of the designs herself, as well as selecting work by emergent artists and designers. Craven’s choices were eclectic, visionary and avant-garde, ranging in style from Abstract Expressionism to Op Art to Pop Art. The enlightened Peter Neubert, who owned and ran the company during this period, left all the creative decision-making to her.

Researched and curated by Lesley Jackson, this ambitious exhibition is the first devoted to Shirley Craven and Hull Traders. ‘Shirley Craven was a big name on the 60s design scene, but has since been unduly neglected,’ says Jackson. ‘This exhibition puts her firmly back in the spotlight where she belongs. The whole story of Hull Traders is fascinating. Their partnership with Shirley Craven was unique in the history of textile design.’ Jackson’s previous exhibitions include the landmark Robin and Lucienne Day at the Barbican in 2001. This show will secure Craven and Holdaway’s legacy in a similar way, she believes.

Half the exhibition will be devoted to Shirley Craven, tracing the evolution of her startlingly original designs. All Hull Traders’ other major designers will also be featured, including pioneering artists such as Cliff Holden, Dorothy Carr and Richard Allen, and top freelance textile designers such as Althea McNish, John Drummond, Peter McCulloch and Doreen Dyall.

Showcasing 80 textiles, including many dramatic floor-to-ceiling lengths, the exhibition promises a feast of colour and pattern. ‘Hull Traders’ fabrics have an explosive visual impact and will transform perceptions of post-war design,’ says Lesley Jackson.

Kaplan screen-printed cotton, by Shirley Craven for Hull Traders, 1961 (Private Collection. Photo: Ferens Art Gallery, Hull Museums)