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Museum of Natural History

Maya Stepien Mammoth illustration


Shelf Appeal has a soft spot for illustrations of museums. Museum is my key word. I like old illustrations of museums. I like new illustrations of museums.

I just found these dinosaur / Museum of Natural History cuties by Dutch illustrator Maya Stepien. I was on one of my winding paths across the internet, looking at typography conferences I’ll never get to. I found an illustration of a type designer by Maya. I looked her up. And I like her work. A lot.

And then I saw Maya’s museum illustrations. And then I had to write a little bit more. She has on her website a nice set of prints called Nautical Geometry that are also most pleasing.

And some super portraits that make me want one of myself. For myself.

Before the wild things

Maurice Sendak exhibition catalogue 1975

Shelf Appeal likes an exhibition catalogue. Or two. Particularly those little catalogues it seems aren’t viable to produce much any more. Not at the big galleries and museums anyway. They make blockbuster catalogues in the same way they make blockbuster exhibitions. Size matters.

This little corker of a catalogue is for a Maurice Sendak exhibition in 1975 at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Having the guts to leave a cover without text and then using the illustration in a clever way, so that the wild thing looks to the title on the back cover, well, it’s just grand. And I love the fact that the chapter about Sendak’s early illustrations is called Before The Wild Things.

This was printed at The Bodley Head and was designed (along with the exhibition poster) by the then art director of The Bodley Head – John Ryder. The Foreword tells us Bodley were Mr Sendak’s publishers in England at the time. They still are, I think. Ryder had a long professional relationship with Sendak. And obviously he was one of those rare art directors who knew not mess with an illustration like that.

Maurice Sendak exhibition catalogue spread 1975

Cashmere classics

Wolsey twinset advert 1949


Spring is about looking at pretty things: flowers, budding trees, men’s ankles in Hoxton (that from a Tweet I was sent), brighter light on old buildings in London and lambs frisking in the countryside somewhere. So this post about a pretty picture from an issue of Woman’s Magazine April 1949. A Wolsey advert for a twinset in delicate powder blue cashmere, the cardigan with a nice nipped waist.

Growing up I was always thrilled to visit John Lewis in Sheffield, it was one of my favourite places. My father got fitted for suits there and I remember the brown leather topped chair I sat in to wait for him. And in an exotic corner of the womenswear department where my mother bought separates, they had a magnificent twinset display all hung together in a rainbow of colour options. Each cardigan had buttons in a matching colour.

I still equate a good offer in a shop with an item available in many different colours. Season after season. Fashion now sells fleeting styles coloured and cut to sell quickly and never return. Basics stocked year in year out are rather old fashioned and don’t suit the fast moving stock that retail demands now.

I like everything about this Wolsey advert (I confess to liking other Wolsey adverts too). The pale disappearing colours, the loose brush style of the illustration (Francis Marshall?), the Audrey updo, the paintings hanging hinted at in the background, the (almost) acid yellow striped chair and curtains. It couldn’t be a more gentle offer to sell us a new twinset to ward off the chill of an early Spring evening.

A case of wonderful

Shells in the Natural History Museum, Gothenburg


Romping (relatively speaking) around Gothenburg last week, Shelf Appeal had a few hours of magical museological meandering in The Natural History Museum, Gothenburg.

It sits on it’s own cliff-like mound in an area of Gothenburg called Slottsskogen, in a sort of ‘here I am’ position overlooking the city. The park surrounding it was originally for the recreation of the poor and the idea of building a museum there was apparently not to everyone’s taste. But in 1923 they did the dirty philanthropic deed.

It didn’t disappoint, the Goteborg’s naturhistoriska museum. I’d been recommended the museum after inquiring after old-fashioned museums to visit, preferably full of cases of stuff. Well, cases of stuff, beautifully wrought in wood, line this museum. Along with a good few animals let lose to stroke and a room of antique dioramas. The cases and drawers held stuffed animals, insects, reptiles and quite a number of molluscs, too. They also have the world’s only mounted Blue Whale, a grand old thing, with visible rusty screws holding it together.

This beautifully laid out set of shells were in a wonderful wooden cabinet with a mirror set on the other side. No labels, just shells all the way. This should, in theory, have rubbed my hairy old museum interpretation nerves the wrong way. This museum just laid bare its wonders out for visitors to coo over. With only the odd iPad here and there nodding at modern interpretation.

I know museums are always doing themselves up, looking for that elusive next generation of museum goers. But I do like a museum that does what it says on the tin. Or at least what it said on the tin in 1923.

The Mr and Mrs Cook Book

Mr and Mrs Cook Book cover for Bovril

Last year Shelf Appeal was doing some research on interwar cookbooks and leaflets. It’s a bit of a wheeze for someone who doesn’t cook to be so interested in such things. But taking these publications as purely cultural, visual objects reveals all sorts of things about women’s history in particular. The imagery on the covers is fascinating. The Mr and Mrs Cook Book is a little later, just post war I think. But that cover and the illustrations inside meant it had to be bought.

This was printed for Bovril Ltd by S. H. Benson Ltd. Now the interesting story there is that one Samuel Herbert Benson who had managed the Bovril factory, decided to go independent and handle the Bovril advertising account. He founded Benson’s and soon they handled some of the biggest food and drink accounts, including Guinness.  In 1971 the company became the Benson in the big advertising conglom Ogilvy Benson & Mather. And despite this being a Bovril publication there isn’t much product placement going on, just a few recipes that pimp the spread.

The cover is great; a most glamorous couple perched on a table, reading about how to make something of their pork chop and vegetables. ‘Husbands and wives find that cooking together is good fun – and lots of good things to eat are the result. Maybe it was the war that started men, ordinary men, cooking in a big way. Aboard ship, in the desert, or in the jungle, they found, perhaps, that they were born omelette-makers or masters of the stew pan.’

There were a couple of illustrators (among others I can’t name) who were doing drawings like this at the time: Aubrey Rix and Ray Tooby. The Mr and Mrs Cook Book is very much more in the style of Rix, who drew a lot of glamorous women for covers of Woman’s Own magazine in the 1950s and 1960s. Bovril definitely liked a glamorous woman in its advertisements. Usually with rolled and pinned hair and wearing an impeccable white apron and a light flush of accomplishment.

Talking of aprons, on the first page, next to ‘What’s for dinner dear?’ we have our Mrs tying an apron on her Mr. Every page has humorous little illustrations and copy. And to be fair it is an equal split between the Mr and the Mrs pictured cooking different things. Mr does seem to have dropped that impeccable apron as soon as he got past page 2. Pleasingly, though, he does continue to cook in his suit.

Mr and Mrs Cook Book illustration for Bovril

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