Reading the obituaries of Sir Terence Conran, who sadly passed away last week, it’s been amazing to realise just how much of what has made life enjoyable came from him and his vision of good design. From the duvet we wake up under to the wok, which we probably never use, whether we think of ourselves as design aficionados or not, chances are we all have a little bit of Conran in our lives. A passionate and lifelong advocate for the life enhancing qualities of design, perhaps his greatest achievement lay in encouraging us to appreciate the objects around us in a similar way.
Ken Stradling has always shared this philosophy – the roots of which go right back to William Morris’ famous dictum ‘have nothing in your house which you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’. And it’s a message that appears not to have fallen on deaf ears, as Loved Design our current online exhibition has shown.
As Covid-19 has disrupted our exhibition programme for this year, we have devised a project that allows us to continue engaging with people about design online. Friends of the Ken Stradling Collection were invited to submit photographs and stories of objects that they use, value and enjoy in their day to day life and the result is an intriguing selection of artefacts as broad-ranging as the KSC itself.
The fifty-six objects featured tell a story of how design fits into peoples’ lives, bringing pleasure either by dint of ease of use, aesthetic appeal or quirky charm. You will find things that have been accurately designed to be used such as an electric drill, a set of brushes and a coffee pot; objects that are beautifully made, such as the model fire engine from the 1950s and a host of portraits painted on chestnuts; works of fine craftsmanship such as the Umehara Shoji teapot, ‘Strength’ wooden sculpture by Eve Olsen and a mixed media sculpture by Eleanor Glover; add a sprinkling of fun mass-produced objects including a knitted monkey and a set of Warrior water pistols, and we have an exhibition that tells a multitude of stories about design objects and the lives they have entered.
What the exhibition shows is that peoples’ engagement with their favourite objects usually goes beyond an appreciation of its usefulness or aesthetic appeal. The things that surround us often contain stories and memories that transport us back to our past with all the potency of a photograph or favourite piece of music. Working on Antiques Roadshow, this is something I come across all the time and, in my experience, it is where an object makes the leap from one that is valued to one that is really treasured. One of the joys of being Curator of the KSC, is that, as well as a fund of good design, it is also a kaleidoscope of stories, memories, friendships and travels recalled through objects, reflecting its status as a highly personal collection. In a way, this leads us back to the genesis of collecting, the Cabinet of Curiosity, a sort of 17th century proto-museum, where objects were often mainly prized for their stories and associations – usually linked to famous figures or incidents from history (no matter how spurious). Then, as now, it’s often as much (and sometimes more) about the story.
Loved Design is in its own way a Cabinet of Curiosity, a repository of stories and memories as eclectic as the objects themselves – some classics, some quirks, some discoveries but all treasures. Most importantly, every object shows how we recognise and value the effect that good design has in our lives. I’m sure Terence Conran would have approved.
To view the exhibition visit Loved Designs
Go to the Ken Stradling Collection website for more information about the Collection, for details of upcoming exhibitions and how to visit us in Bristol.