The importance of Miss Hall
Really important line of enquiry you have initiated. It’s also a great story, and has many connections and threads. Worth doing a family tree of designers who have benefited from her.
I never met her but working in the BM with Paul Goodhead and the incomparable Caroline Ingham was always a real joy and education. Their rigour was clearly inherited. I worked with both on Michelangelo, Closer to the Master. Where we had a 200 metre time line around the perimeter wall with large photo images, pull out quotes and an unfolding biog of the artist’s life. Paul was the graphic designer in an in-house, out-house co-lab. Quite a task to make this wall (I hope he has a digital version of it filed away for the record). WE spent hours together experimenting at his screen, lovely moment when I said, bigger, bigger , bigger, try 90 point, try 120. Lovely moment then, Margaret would never do that‘ he said.
Carolyn Marsden Smith took over as Head of Design, she came from IWM where Penny Ritchie Calder was H of Exhibitions, also an important figure who did wonderful in-house exhibits on TE Lawrence, Spanish Civil War, and WWI Remembered. She had a great way of using out-house designers for permanents and then recycling their ideas in her own team’s shows. This exchange is another area worthy of investigation.
Bob Baxter who designed the IWM Holocaust exhibition with me (1996-2000) worked at BM for Margaret Hall too, so she’s very much in the DNA of the Casson Mann, Metaphor, post Robin Wade, Mischa Black James Gardiner generation and Jasper Jacob who straddled both. Baxter also worked for Gardiner and Cel Phelan and the last Steve Simon of founded Event out of Mischa Black.
I’m sure there is more - and also the cross-over with trade designers and also Pentagram and Imagination (where Peter Higgins founder of Land worked).
Need to interview all of us sooner rather than later. A new generation is transforming exhibition design, Ez Devlin, Pippa Nissen, they are taking us from tradespeople who come in the back door to star designers - it takes a few generations.
Thank you, Kate, I much enjoyed this!
I agree with Stephen's points about Hall's influence on exhibition design, and, just to add to this: not to forget Margaret Hall's 1987 "On Display: A design grammar for museum exhibitions", with its wonderful sketches and the conceptualisation of 'design idioms' as a way of describing how different elements of exhibition design shape the visitor's experiences in the gallery space!
Stephen and Jona, thank you both for your kind words, it means a great deal!
Stephen, thank you for sharing that wonderful memory and all this invaluable information. I am currently in the process of compiling a list of individuals I would like to interview, if you are willing to participate in my research, I would love to interview you.
Hi Jona and Kate
Jona’s Phd v important here with overview information on the field of graphic communication in exhibition design...delighted to talk to you Kate. It’s important to capture this body of work and group of people working from about 1990-2020.
Peter Higgins has made a film in lockdown of the making the Playzone at the Dome (on YouTube/vimeo) and I feel as with this conference we need to capture Similar experiences from this time.
One of the most interesting parts of Peter’s film is the sheer number of brilliant drawings/renders that never saw the public light of day publicly. If this was architecture we would have the weekly AJ publishing image after image and they end up in the RIBA drawings collection. Many of us have similar images of projects.
( I also have a large range of museum masterplans which are also an important record of this period).
The other important point about these images is that they often show spaces in use, peopled, whereas architects describe an empty volume. There are also the animations that some of us have made.And some of us, e.g. Dinah Casson, lovely free hand water-coloured drawings.
This also relates to your growing archive in Brighton, Crosby and Gardiner are crucial, but there is also Robin Wade but much of his work was lost in the Eel Pie Island fire in late ‘90’s. And there is Gary Withers and Imagination.
@stephen yes!! Peter's film is so fascinating also as it captures the processes of developing, negotiating, adapting, refining and decision-making that goes into such a project that might be second-guessed from iterations of drawings but so often remains invisible…
Hi Kate, such an interesting and well-delivered paper - congratulations! I particularly enjoy the way you have used your oral sources. As we have recently had a long conversation about this I don't have a lot to add but it strikes me again how ingrained the hierarchies were at this period within museums; hierarchies between people with expertise of different sorts - Director, the Keepers and makers, technicians, emerging designers, etc. This is such a valuable study in so many ways but partly, I think, in capturing the way in which design became professionalised through relationships with key British cultural establishments (national museums, national broadcasters, theatres, etc) in this period. How different, do you think, were Hall's experiences as a designer trying to forge a career at the BM from that of designers joining and creating design departments in other kinds of cultural organisation in the period (EG Richard Levin becoming head of design at the BBC in the mid-1950s)? I can't wait to see how this research develops. All very best, Harriet
Hi Kate - great presentation. To echo Jona - I think Margaret Hall's book On Display remains one of the best for understanding museum exhibition design - the thumbnail sketches are wonderful and the book blends technical and big picture perfectly. I'm very interested in the history of exhibition design professional practice so your talk resonates with me. I also agree with Jona and Stephen about the need to capture the work of the post-war pioneers - James Gardner, Giles Velade, Misha Black etc. as well as Hall and her contemporaries and the next gen. Agree completely with the influence of Festival of Britain and Britain can Make it etc. as the inspiration for young designers realizing that you could work as an exhibition designer. My architect father worked for Misha Black and DRU in the early 50s because he saw the Festival of Britain and then he inspired me to become an exhibition designer - the thread you are building is a sound one.
One rather technical question I have is about the size of Margaret Hall's Office of Design at its height - I have read 24 people? I assume this includes carpenters, illustrators etc as well as 2D and 3D designers? Would love to know because very few large museums get to employ design teams of this size - and Hall's at the BM must have been the first to do so.
Would love to continue the conversation at some point... thanks
I really enjoyed your presentation, thanks. Just a quick note to say that I heard Christina Riggs give an excellent talk (actually delivered by Elizabeth Edwards as Christina was ill) at V&A in December at The Institutional Life of Photographs conference on the design of the Tut exhibition. She’s done quite a bit of research on it from her interests in Egyptology and photography. Just flagging this in case useful and you are taking your analysis of this show further.
@h-atkinson thank you, Harriet!
After our incredibly useful conversation, I have focused on honing my project down and writing this paper has undoubtedly helped. This is an area I have become particularly interested in, and I am just beginning to research. I hope an exploration and comparison of the similarities and differences of designers experience in other cultural organisations will yield some useful insights. We shall see! Best wishes, Kate
@tjmcneil Thank you so much for your kind words. It is so reassuring to hear from others, especially someone who's work I much admire, that your study is valuable and that there is a sound basis for your line of enquiry.
At its height, the Design Office had around 30-35 members of staff. It grew considerably after the Tutankhamun exhibition in 1972. However, before its expansion, I believe Giles Velarde department at the Natural History Museum had been the largest in Britain, but I have not been able to establish its size. The Design Office was predominantly made up of 2D and 3D designers however defiantly included carpenters and possibly an editor (but again need to get into the Central Archive to verify this).
I would love to continue this conversation. Many thanks again!
@annebella Thank you Bella!
This is helpful as I intend to use it as a case study in my thesis, but surprisingly the Museum knows very little about the exhibition.
Hi Kate, terrific presentation. A couple of things that you might be interested in. Michael Preston was head of the design office at the Science Museum in Kensington around this same time. I first met him in 1970 and I think he had already been at the Science Museum for a few years. You mention the Natural History Museum likely having a larger design department than the BM. The Science Museum must have been also building up at that time. The other point that may be helpful is that the Tutankhamun exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington a year or two after the BM put the National Gallery exhibition department on the map. Barbara
Hi Kate - thanks for information. Excited to see what other information you unearth - Tim
Thank you so much Barbara, for sharing incredibly useful information! I will follow both up.