Untitled patten by Sheila Bownas, c.1950-55. Image courtesy of The Sheila Bownas Archive
Although MidCentury readers probably need no introduction to the work of Sheila Bownas, it was less celebrated in its own lifetime – despite Bownas producing designs for the likes of Liberty’s and Marks & Spencer. In 2008, the Bownas archive was rediscovered by Chelsea Cefai, who set about raising awareness of this unheralded mid-century designer. A major ambition has been reached with the opening of the exhibition ‘Sheila Bownas A Life in Pattern’ at Rugby Art Gallery and Museum.
Inside ‘Sheila Bownas A Life in Pattern’. Photograph by Jamie Gray
In MidCentury issue 10, we speak to Chelsea and get an insight into the exhibition. As the first time this vast collection of designs have gone on public display, it offers the opportunity not only to immerse yourself in the colourful optimism of mid-century pattern, but also to discover more about Sheila Bownas herself, as well as understanding the life of a freelance pattern designer in that period. In an informative essay in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, MidCentury contributor Lesley Jackson explains that it was common for pattern designers to remain anonymous during this period – Lucienne Day was a rare exception.
Photograph by Jamie Gray
The exhibition combines material loaned from Sheila’s family and friends, a room set featuring contemporary products inspired by Sheila Bownas designs, with many examples from the archive. It culminates in a timeline of individual pattern designs, graphically illustrating changing trends in home décor and the way in which Sheila adapted her work to reflect them. As Lesley Jackson writes, it is the “diversity that makes the Sheila Bownas archive such a rich resource”.
For those eager to hear more about Chelsea’s work in bringing the archive to wider attention, we recommend attending one of the guided tours she’ll be giving of ‘Sheila Bownas A Life in Pattern’. Her enthusiasm and dedication to shining a light on this unheralded designer is as inspiring as the work itself.
Photograph by Jamie Gray
Read our interview with Chelsea Cefai about the exhibition in MidCentury 10
Sheila Bownas: A Life in Pattern is at Rugby Art Gallery and Museum until 3 September
Find out more about Chelsea’s guided tours of the exhibition
Details on ordering the exhibition catalogue can be found here
Delve further into the story of the Sheila Bownas archive