If Shelf Appeal were going to sit down for an illustrator’s tea party, as well as Mr Bawden and Mr Ravilious – I’d invite Ms Barbara Jones. She has appeared in these hallowed pages of code before and before that. And doubtless will again.
Today’s appearance was triggered by the small exhibition of her work currently on show at The Whitechapel Art Gallery. More specifically the 1951 Festival of Britain exhibition she curated there: Black Eyes and Lemonade. That gorgeous title apparently came from a line in a Thomas Moore poem and was chosen by Jones as it: ‘seems to express the vigour, sparkle and colour of popular art rather better than the words ‘popular art’.
A small room off the Whitechapel library has been given over to original plans for exhibition content, photos of the exhibition itself and some few perfectly formed exhibits that had been on show in 1951, many leant by Jones herself. Others by friends. The Whitechapel show is not nearly enough yet more than I’ve ever seen before on Jones. There are some of her book jackets on show too. Most of which I have already. Although I might deny I collect her work. Stupidly. Might deny – stupidly.
A super Airedale Terrier shaped fireplace is the largest survivor on show from Black Eyes and Lemonade. Closely followed by a fairground horse head. But more satisfying even are a pair of plump blue paper parrots joined by a piece of poignant old cotton thread. And some old plastic windmills of the child-running-on-the-beach variety.
Black Eyes and Lemonade had only previously been real to me through the catalogue that lists and lists lots of wonderful sounding exhibits. I looked for the parrots and windmills but think they must have come under more generic names like ‘Fairings and Swag’. But what is super nice about my catalogue are the neatly penned erudite notes at front and back from someone who must have visited the exhibition in 1951.
I got this catalogue years and years ago. But it is still one of my favourite (ever) graphic illustrations. I saw in the Whitechapel book shop that another of my favourite Jones things, her book Unsophisticated Arts, has just been reprinted in nearly all its glory. That I have a copy of in its original glory. But gosh would I like one of those small bits of ephemeral whatnottage that Jones collected herself and put on show back in 1951.
The small show of the show at the Whitechapel suggests the original exhibition was more wonderful than I had imagined. Jones was a peoples’ popular art folklorist of the first order. Nothing, it seems, was left off her shelves.