Thursday, 31 July 2014

MEANDERING POMEGRANATES a painted cloth (part 1)

A commission to reproduce a striking mid-C16th wall painting as a large painted cloth.

Painted cloth in situ
Painted cloth in situ

Bayleaf is a beautiful, early C15th, timber-framed hall-house. It sits in the bucolic 50 acre grounds of the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum near Chichester. This really is a fascinating and magical place to visit.

Bayleaf at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum
Bayleaf at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum

This commission was prompted by the need to replace the existing woven backcloth. It had become faded and darkened with soot from the open fire since it was hung in the 1980's. The museum decided to replace it with a painted cloth which was a very popular decorative device in the Sixteeenth Century.

The central hall with the woven cloth before it was replaced
The central hall with the woven cloth before it was replaced

In this 1st of two posts I'll introduce the design and its setting then next time we'll go behind the scenes at my studio to see how it was done.

So the design for this cloth is a reconstruction of a surviving wall painting at Althrey Hall, Flintshire, North Wales. It's a lovely example of imitation paned textiles with alternating grey and yellow stripes (though it is tricky to make them out now as the plaster and studding have aged differently)

 original wall painting at Althrey Hall
The original wall painting at Althrey Hall
Like many wall painting designs of the period this one is aspirational; representing expensive, high status fabrics imported from overseas. These textiles were often produced in narrow widths that would be sewn together in contrasting strips. The yellow stripe may represent Renaissance "cloth of gold";  brocaded silks or velvets with large meandering stems bearing pomegranates, thistles, artichokes...these became known as "pomegranate" designs and are often to be seen on clothing in portraits or as backdrops such as in this scene by Mantegna:

"Ludovico Gonzaga, Marquis of Manua, and his family
fresco by Andrea Mantegna at the Palazzo Ducale

Meanwhile the grey stripe features a feathered trellis with rooted sprigs of flowers. This criss-cross device was also very common in wall painting and could feature floral motifs inspired by herbales or knot gardens.

Detail of the original wall painting at Althrey Hall
Detail of the original wall painting at Althrey Hall
We don't know for sure that the motifs depict pomegranates, they could be another plant but running across the top of the design is a frieze that most certainly does feature open pomegranates baring their seeds interspersed with large acanthus leaves.

The iconic pomegranate motif is laden with symbolism both religious and secular. The crown-like flower has regal connotations, for its ability to thrive in arid places it is associated with immortality and its abundant seeds represent fertility and regeneration. I won't delve any further into the iconography of the design here. Suffice it to say the design is what one might call conventional and traditional; well suited to its setting at Bayleaf where it would have served to frame and elevate the status of those seated in front of it.

New painted cloth in Bayleaf hall
New painted cloth in Bayleaf hall
As I worked on reconstructing the design I was struck by how bold and graphic it was. Whilst it blended with the abundance of colour and pattern at my studio I wondered how it would work in the stark, neutral interior of the hall house. I was fascinated to visit Bayleaf after it was installed and to find it well suited to the space. Dwarfed by the imposing height of the hall its impact is very localised and draws the eye to the important end of the room. It's easy to forget how little pattern there would have been in an interior of this period. Some in the clothing, some on ceramics and carved into wood but no soft furnishings, carpets or curtains. With textiles still being very expensive, a patterned cloth painted on relatively cheap linen with basic earth pigments was an affordable and immediate way of getting pattern and bright colours into an interior as well as offering some insulation.

The painted cloth and head table
The painted cloth and head table

When we supplied painted cloths for Shakespeare's Birthplace Museum in Stratford-upon-Avon back in 2000 the change of scene was equally impactful and quite controversial. Visitors often expect a Tudor interior to be all white-washed walls and dark oak beams whereas in fact pattern and colour were prevalent and far bolder, far louder than we are accustomed to nowadays. It is challenging for a museum to reinstate such features but it is a wonderful opportunity to instigate a conversation about what it was actually like to live in these interiors.

In September the museum is hosting a series of talks that will explore the domestic interiors of historic homes. I'll no doubt be lurking in a dark corner somewhere in Bayleaf.  

Sunday 21st September 2014, 10am to 4pm

Meanwhile here are a few more shots of Bayleaf:

Next post coming soon.

Many thanks to the museum's social historian Danae Tankard and Catherine Richardson (see below) for making this an intriguing and fascinating journey.

Recommended Reading:

Catherine Richardson, reader in Renaissance Studies at the University of Kent, has written an insightful post about her visit to my studio on her blog "Material Histories"

"Early modern design in the age of  mechanical reproduction?"

There is lots of interesting information about Cloth of Gold and Pomegranate designs in Lisa Monas' sumptuous book:

 Merchants Princes and Painters: Silk Fabrics in Italian and Northern Paintings 1300 to 1550

And if you're interested in Tudor wall paintings and painted cloths you must read Kathryn Davies book:

"Artisan Art: Vernacular wall paintrings in the Welsh Marches 1550-1650"

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

DESIGNER FAIRS: Show Tell & Sell

I'm pleased to be exhibiting and selling at two local Designers & Makers Fairs in March and April:

Melissa White Studio setup

I rarely take part in fairs as generally I work to commission and don't hold much stock - as it were. This year I'd like to get some product lines going so I thought I'd put some bits and bobs together and see what people like.

If you're local or fancy a trip to the seaside I hope you'll pop by.


Designers & Makers Fair

Upmarket invitation

March 2014, Fri 28th to Sun 30th
Baker Mamanova Gallery, St Leonards-on-Sea


Fine Handmade & Original Design

Artisans at the Abbey invitationinvitation

April 2014, Fri 18th to Mon 21st (Easter Weekend)
Battle Abbey, Battle

Both events will showcase top notch designer/makers mined from a rich seam of talent that runs through this neck of the woods. Honestly you can't move for craftsmen and creatives in East Sussex!!

I'll be displaying current work and selling cushions, hangings and fresco secco panels. This kind of thing....

fresco secco panels
fresco secco panels

hand painted and printed cushions
hand painted and printed cushions
The Arden Collection for Zoffany
The Arden Collection for Zoffany
designs for Lewis & Wood
designs for Lewis & Wood

If you'd like to come to join us at the preview evenings please contact me for an invite:

Monday, 21 October 2013

Going Loco for ROCOCO

Swirls, Curls and Pearls adorn my first design for LEWIS & WOOD

Rococo Wallpaper – heraldic
Rococo Wallpaper – heraldic

Rococo is an exciting new collaboration with innovative fabric and wallpaper producers Lewis & Wood

Rococo selvedge
Rococo selvedge

When Stephen Lewis and creative director Magdalen Jebb came down to visit my Hastings studio back in winter 2012 their enthusiasm was contagious. 

Melissa White studio
my studio on a sunny day

My studio is always chockablock with painted panels and fabrics, experiments and samples but with their designer goggles on Stephen and Magdalen were instantly focusing in on pieces they liked and within an hour had pin pointed several designs they wanted to develop with me.

I then transformed my paintings into repeats, painted the final artwork and handed it over to be translated into printable fabrics and wallpapers. 

The first of these designs, Rococo, launched in September 2013 during FOCUS (I posted about it here).

Detail of my original artwork for Rococo
Detail of my original artwork for Rococo, 
painted in a burnt orange colourway

This damask-y design fuses ornate, scrolling, shell-like motifs reminiscent of the rococo period with floral Indian motifs, all painted as if wood-block printed.

Rococo comes as a wide width wallpaper in 4 metallic finishes....

Rococo Metallic Wallpaper – Gilt & Platinum
Rococo Metallic Wallpaper – Gilt & Platinum
and 3 matte colourways....

Rococo Matte Wallpaper – Oasis
Rococo Matte Wallpaper – Oasis

As a fabric, Rococo comes printed on a fine, tumbled linen in 3 vintage colourways....

Rococo Linen – Fritillary
Rococo Linen – Fritillary

...and finally as a sumptuous velvet in cranberry and slate blue with an irresistible "teddy bear" finish.

Rococo Velvet - Imperial
Rococo Velvet - Imperial

There are more designs to come next Spring when Lewis & Wood join forces with me and another two amazing artists in a truly adventurous new collection. Stay tuned!

Pricing, dimensions, composition etc are available on the Lewis & Wood website

Monday, 14 October 2013


FOCUS September 2013 
Design Centre Chelsea Harbour

Rococo and Gondolier fabrics

So I had a double whammy at the interior designer's paradise that is Design Centre Chelsea Harbour. Crammed with 99 showrooms FOCUS is their annual new collections launch fest.

I had two new designs launching. One with ZOFFANY and one with LEWIS & WOOD.

Here are a few snaps I took in the showrooms on the day I went up. First up....


Tespi and Arden fabric books
The new Tespi book (left) and last year's Arden book (right) 

After the success of my Arden Collection last year (here's my post for from that day) it was great to be back at the Zoffany showroom to see the launch of my new design for them.

The Gondolier depicts scenes of Venice and gives a narrative element to their luscious new Tespi Collection

Available as a velvet and a wallpaper, you can read more about the design in this recent post.

At the showroom The Gondolier was everywhere from their window display....

the gondolier in Zoffany's showroom window a lush upholstered chair (with cushions and piping in Zoffany's utterly sumptuous Curzon velvet) ....

the gondolier upholstering a chair

....and here it is, all velvety, snuggled between other Tespi fabrics

left to right: Oreste, Gondolier, Granada
left to right: Oreste, Gondolier, Granada,
....and finally here is The Gondolier on Zoffany's gift bags...
(i confess I was embarrassingly chuffed to bits with the bags!)

the gondolier on zoffany's gift bags

Then it was over to the Lewis & Wood showroom to see my first design with them...

ROCOCO for Lewis & Wood

rococo swatches

This exuberant damask-y design is my first collaboration with the charming Lewis & Wood team.

In my next post I'll share some professional shots of Rococo, meanwhile here are a few glimpses of the design on launch day.

Suspended from the ceiling is Rococo as a wide-width metallic wallpaper (ultimately 4 colourways)

rococo papers at showrom

Here is Rococo as a romantic linen. The colourways are cleverly designed to sit comfortably amongst other Lewis & Wood fabrics.

rococo linen hanging at showroom

 I just love how Rococo works on a cushion. It crops really nicely because of the empty space within the design.

The cushions either side feature Skittery which is a lovely, fine linen with a tumbled finish. Skittery comes in a mouthwatering range of faded sherbet-y colours and I especially love the lemon yellow.

rococo cushion
Cushions: Rococo linen in Fritillary colourway flanked with Skittery linen cushions.  

Some discerning ladies handling Rococo which is printed on a fine, tumbled linen

ladies handling rococo linen

rococo linen detail
Rococo in Sparrow colourway - detail

Rococo wallpaper in display cabinet
Rococo wallpaper in display cabinet

Facts and figures about Rococo wallpaper and fabric can be found on the Lewis and Wood website.

I'll show you the gorgeous velvet version in my next post.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

THE GONDOLIER, a new design for Zoffany

The latest fabric and wallpaper design by Melissa White

The Gondolier - velvet upholstered chair

This scenic design forms part of Zoffany's new TESPI Collection launching September 2013

The Gondolier - wallpaper

Following the success of our Arden Collection with Zoffany last year I was invited to produce artwork for their new Tespi collection which aims to "transport you to a place where the grandeur of Venice in bygone days meets the charm of Umbria"

The Gondolier - velvet upholstered sofa - brochure cover

The Gondolier - velvet upholstered sofa - detail

The commission was to design and paint a Venice scene featuring iconic canals, bridges and architecture.

So here is the original artwork at my studio, painted to scale on plaster so I could rub it back and distress it a little before it went off to the Zoffany team to be processed.

"The Gondolier" Melissa's original artwork

The Gondolier - Melissa's original artwork - detail

The collection is inspired by the creative legacy of the amazing Spanish designer Mariano Fortuny.

The Tespi Collection is "based on antique brocades, damasks, velvets and paisleys found in the Zoffany archive, the designs were re-worked by the (zoffany) design studio using contemporary techniques such as printing on foil and digital printing to capture the spirit of the original textiles. The Collection is complemented by the luxurious Tespi Prints, Weaves and Embroideries." 
From Zoffany's website: 

My figurative Gondolier print completes the collection by adding a narrative twist.

Tespi is Zoffany at its most sumptuous and opulent and the fabrics really need to be handled to appreciate their luxuriousness.

The Gondolier will be available soon as a wallpaper and a velvet (colourways are Dawn, Sunset and Twilight)

Tespi will launch at Zoffany's Chelsea Harbour showroom during FOCUS and features in the October issues of Elle Decoration and World of Interiors:

The Gondolier - in Elle Decoration

The Gondolier - in World of Interiors

Learn more about the rest of the gorgeous Tespi Collection on Zoffany's Facebook page

See the Zoffany website for stockists