Back in time to Bexhill-on-Sea : Ladybird by Design at the De La Warr Pavillion

I’d always wanted to see the De La Warr Pavilion (DLWP) since I’d read about its restoration in 2005. 512px-De_La_Warr_Pavilion,_28_August_2012_(11)[1]Whereas Bexhill town centre still has a 1950s feel to it, the Pavilion, from 1935, on the sea front still looks incredibly modern and sleek with its curves and vast expanses of glass. I was doubly rewarded on my visit with both Spring sunshine and the current exhibition, Ladybird by Design.

Having grown up with Ladybird books, and still treasuring my collection, this exhibition was a delight. I had never really questioned the format of 56 pages, or the size, but learnt that this came out of war time paper shortages. I’d also accepted the layout of one page of text with a facing page of illustration without thinking about the illustrators. Many of them were successful illustrators and graphic artists of the time and the exhibition is an opportunity to discover some of them, including Harry Wingfield and Eric Winter. Seeing a whole book printed up on one page made me think afresh about book production methods.

LadybirdMain2[1]The exhibition is structured around the key themes that the Ladybird books approached: nature, environments, early learning, history, society and public services, and science and hobbies. I was particularly drawn to the individually framed pages from Shopping with Mother which depicted a High Street lost to most of us, although still very much alive in the fabulous town of Lewes. The illustrations reminded me of Eric Ravilious’ book The High Street. Interestingly his work is very much rooted in the landscapes of Sussex and the South Downs and there is currently an exhibition of his work on at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

In the early learning section were the Peter and Jane reading scheme books along with some examples from the Well Loved Tales series. Cinderella seemed to be everyone’s favourite and I overheard one woman telling her children that as a child she dreamed of having a dress like the one Cinderella wore to the ball. And this, in essence, encapsulates the sheer joy of this exhibition. Everywhere, children, parents, grandparents, and friends were sharing their memories and experiences in a way that I haven’t since at an exhibition before.

Many of the illustrations depict an exciting new world of motorways, computers and industry and are as much a social history of Britain in the 50s, 60s and 70s as one of design. My own children found the illustrations  in equal measures, absurd, amusing and sexist. They particularly enjoyed the parody section on the top floor.

The exhibition ends with a wall of books and everyone was trying to find their favourite. Visitors are asked to write up their memories of Ladybird books, including their favourites and to pin these up. Some are reproduced and made available here. I finished off the visit with a drink on the café terrace overlooking a sparkling sea. I would thoroughly recommend both the exhibition and the De LA Warr Pavilion. Do visit if you can!

lady2lady1The Library has the Ladybird book Knitting in the Knitting Reference Library (KRL) and an altered Ladybird book by Andy Malone in the Artists’ Book Collection. More information on Ladybird books and book illustration is at 741.64.

The exhibition is on until 10 May 2015 and there is a tour by Jane Won, the DLWP Head of Exhibitions on 2 May 2015 at 2pm.

The Eric Ravilious at the Dulwich Picture Gallery is on until 31 August 2015.

Catherine Polley

April 2015