Today marks what would have been Enid Marx's 115th birthday. To celebrate the birth of this remarkable textile designer, we've dug into our archives and pulled out an excerpt of Simon Marks' insightful article tracing her steps towards her legacy...
The British designer Enid Marx (1902-1998) may not be a household name, but her influence on 20th century design was manifold. Millions of people from the 1930s to 1960s would have sat on her bold ‘Shield’ moquette fabric, commissioned by Frank Short in 1937 for London transport, probably without ever realising who had designed it.
Marx believed in the notion of accessible good design for everyone (appropriately for the second cousin thrice removed to the Communist Karl Marx) and during her long career created a remarkable body of textiles, repeat patterns for paper, book jackets and illustrations, stamps, and transport posters. Not surprisingly, she was a talented printmaker and an exhibition at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester showcased, for the first time, the remarkable collection of her wood engravings, linocuts and lithographs donated to the gallery by her friend Eleanor Breuning and biographer Matthew Eve.
Marx’s enthusiasm for textiles started at an early age when given a collection of ribbon samples in a local draper’s shop. 'I was aged about four, and to my mother's consternation, invited the whole department to tea, telling them to bring their own cups!' she recalled. 'I remember the ribbons well; they were pasted on cards with loose ends for feeling. I was especially pleased when he gave me wide samples of fancy ribbons, with plaids or flowers and deckle edges.'
Educated at Roedean School in Sussex, Marx’s burgeoning interest in art was encouraged by the school’s Head of Art, Dorothy Martin and whilst still a schoolgirl she had printed her first scarf. She subsequently trained at the Central School of Art and Crafts in London, where she studied drawing, pottery and printed textile design.
Continuing her studies at the Royal College of Art in the early 1920s, she formed part of an extraordinary generation of artists including Edward Bawden, Barnett Freedman and Eric Ravilious. These artists were characterised by their multidisciplinary approach to fine art and design, in which the boundaries between the two were blurred. However, like her older friend and tutor Paul Nash, she did not like joining artist groups, nor was she prepared to toe the line. Her enthusiasm for abstraction did not endear her to the traditionalist Sir Frank Short who refused to allow her into his wood-engraving class, declaring that she drew so badly she was not worth teaching. Instead her friend Eric Ravilious sneaked her in after hours to teach her what he had learnt during the day...
Happy birthday to Enid Marx! To read this article in full, order your copy of Selvedge issue 44 here.