My recent meeting with Lillian Delavoryas is, in her words “serendipitous” and in mine “bizarre”. During October 2017 I was visiting various friends who were taking part in the annual West Bristol Arts Trail . The artist, Anna Christy, recommended that I visit the studio of another friend of hers who, “used to design textiles”; she was sure that we had a lot in common. I recognised the name immediately, but it was late in the day and the studios were all closing, so with 10 minutes to spare I rushed into the signed doorway, and felt that my working life had come full circle.
I walked into a sitting room full of people and hung with small jewel-like paintings of people, landscapes and flowers. lovely work but this wasn’t what I was expecting!
but in an adjoining room I saw a large blue and mauve flowered embroidery, this looked more familiar. then delving further into the exhibition I found a piece of work I recognised, Nicotianas.
I had just a little time before she closed, and although I had never met her, I realised who she was, sitting on a settee amidst cushions that I also knew were her designs. Thanking her for the opportunity of seeing the exhibition, I introduced myself and explained that I often worked with Kaffe Fassett, organising the production of his patchwork quilts for publication and exhibition. Also that I had worked on the original “Good Housekeeping Encyclopaedia of Needlecraft, first published in 1979 by Ebury Press and was now delighted to see some of her original work.
2 days later, she emailed me asking that I visit her with the idea of helping to find a home for her collection of textile based books and various pieces of her old work , some half-finished canvases, needle work samples and painted design drawings. She thought it could all go to a school as an aid to design education!
Lillian Delavoryas and Kaffe Fassett and were leading textile designers in the late 1970’s, when I first left college and became a freelance designer and illustrator in the Fashion industry. Influenced, no doubt, by their work I taught myself to hand embroider onto canvas as a way of the easing the frustration of my hectic working life. But my early works were tiny, so when I saw the scale of these pieces I was deeply impressed. Kaffe and Lillian knew one another when they both lived in America and he is responsible for bringing her to the UK, in order for her work to be recognised here.
For the past 3 years I have been working directly with Kaffe Fassett, organising the making of his patchwork quilt designs as well as other stitching projects. I was recommended to him by Susan Berry, the publishing consultant of his major series of patchwork books. Susan was the first person to commission me in publishing, and I have worked with her on many projects over the intervening years. So now you see the complete circle!
When I visited, Lillian had organised a whole lot of different books, copies of articles featuring her past textiles and the promised samples.
Also, and this I did not expect, samples and books of fabric and wall paper designs from Designers Guild circa 1980’s , all looking very familiar to me. Lillian assured me that she had ceramics to match somewhere in her flat, and a lot more besides – if I was interested….
Assessing what I was looking at – a part-archive of an innovative and influential designer of 20th century textiles, I suggested that she collect as much of her work as she could locate and that we try to tell her textile design ‘story’. I thought that it would eventually become of interest either for a museum to keep as an archive and a work-in-progress exhibit, or to students undertaking higher degrees, to research and catalogue it all, enabling her to be set within the context of 20th century design.
This is an ongoing story. My next contact was Hugh Ehrman of “Ehrman Tapestry” for whom Lillian, Kaffe and I have worked. Explaining to him of my serendipitous meeting he at once visited me, bringing a folder of painted paper designs that his company had held on her behalf…but that will be covered in the next post on this saga.