I have a deep and abiding affection for all things Festival of Britain. In fact, offer me time travel and I might well choose a visit back there. Where else could I see so much display, so many set designs, products and models by so many of my favourite mid-century commercial artists?
Despite there being a lot of things to collect from the FOB, the single thing that has made it on to my shelves is this Patons & Baldwins Knitting Book. Words can’t describe that fabulous cover design – but when did that ever stop me from waxing lyrical?
It was a comment by those Quad Royalists about the artist – Xenia – of a rather darn nice Come to Britain poster that made me remember this booklet. Xenia – a rather unusual and memorable name that. Doesn’t pop up much, although I know I have seen it somewhere..
A lot of too-ing and fro-ing on Google brings up only two possible Xenia’s – Xenia Noelle Lowinsky, sister (I think) of artist illustrator extraordinaire Thomas Lowinsky. She seems to have been a playwright. And composer John Cage’s sometime wife Xenia. She is listed as an artist and I found one image on a John Cage blog with her signature – very, very similar to the one on this booklet. But apart from this guesswork, the artist here remains an enigma.
But the booklet cover design stands up by itself: those knitted items as flags on top of the merry-go-round are just great. The whole illustration has movement; it leaps around in a happy way. And let’s face it, FOB and knitting is not an easy subject to pull off or give meaning to.
Inside the booklet the patterns are disappointingly prosaic but have great titles like ‘Heart of the Empire twin set’ and ‘Shades of Beau Nash matching waistcoats’.. All in all looking great yet with a slightly naff and nationalistic tone to the content. Just as we have come to expect from anything branded-up for the Festival.