Obituary: Enid Marx

THE designer and artist Enid Marx had a passion for patterns. It was an enduring love affair which led her to amass, from early childhood, an important collection of decorative objects from fabrics, cigarette cards and inn signs to ceramics, corn dollies and even gingerbread moulds.

But it was the creation of new patterns for which Marx was celebrated. During her long career - spanning over 70 years - this distinguished designer produced a kaleidoscope of work including stamps, seating fabric and posters for London Transport, books and book-jackets, wrapping paper, logos, laminates for the wartime Utility Furniture Panel (she was awarded the coveted title Royal Designer for Industry in 1944), packaging labels, rugs and menu cards. "Pattern- making comes as second nature," she once said.

Marx, second cousin thrice removed of Karl, was petite and charming, industrious and a perfectionist, outspoken and campaigning. Indeed outspokenness and wilfulness occasionally landed her in trouble; a secret government job during the Second World War was short-lived - she was requested to leave after asking for extra paper to doodle on.

Her refusal to toe the line also meant she failed to achieve her diploma from the Royal College of Art, where she studied in the 1920s. The thought of producing the required "washed-out William Morris stuff" was untenable - she had just discovered the excitement of Picasso and Braque.

Sir Frank Short refused to allow her into his wood-engraving class; he said she drew so badly she wasn't worth teaching. But her fellow-student Eric Ravilious sneaked her in after hours and taught her what he had learned that day. Marx failed to get a diploma because she insisted on drawing in an abstract manner. It was at this time that she first thought of becoming a textile designer.

However, the seeds of her interest in textiles had been sown in childhood when an employee in the local draper's gave her a collection of ribbon samples:

I was aged about four, and to my mother's consternation, invited the whole department to tea, telling them to bring their own cups! I remember the ribbons well; they were pasted on cards with loose ends for feeling. I was especially pleased

when he gave me wide samples of fancy ribbons, with plaids or flowers and deckle edges. The narrow baby ribbons were of no interest to me, but I took them out of fear I'd not get the wider ones. I never did anything with them except hoard them.

She also collected French poetry books covered in pattern papers, children's books and toy theatre sheets - she and Eric Ravilious used to visit Pollock's shop in Hoxton where they watched women employees hand-colour the pattern sheets.

Her first encouragement to draw had come at Roedean School where the enlightened Head of Art, Dorothy Martin, let her young pupils draw from nudes. "Roedean practically let me do drawing full-time in my last year." The pupils learned carpentry too - "so I got a grounding in the use of tools. I also did a lot of cookery there during the war because it was a way to get more to eat. I used to hide jam tarts up my knicker legs."

After Roedean, Marx attended the Central School of Art and then the RCA. Her first work was for the renowned textile design team Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher. The potter Norah Braden had introduced Marx to them and their textiles and in 1925 she joined their Hampstead studio as an apprentice.

A year later she started her own workshop - in a cowshed on Hampstead Hill - designing and making hand-blockprinted textiles. The work was sold through the Little Gallery, off Sloane Street, and later at Dunbar Hay, a gallery in Albemarle Street opened in 1936 to show the work of young designers.

Marx's designs, usually abstract and geometric, soon became extremely fashionable and sought-after - customers included Gerald du Maurier and Gertrude Lawrence. Publishers recognised that the designs would work well on book jackets. The first, in 1929, was a book on the work of the engraver Albrecht Durer. Then came jackets for Chatto and Windus where a commission for two designs prompted Marx to produce 15, of which the publisher bought 12. And, for Curwen Press, Marx completed her first range of patterned papers.

In the late 1930s Marx and her long-time friend Margaret Lambert teamed up for their first folk art project and began collecting print ephemera, scrapbooks, valentines, paper peepshows, children's books and toys for a book entitled When Victoria began to Reign, published by Faber & Faber in 1937.

Immediately before the Second World War she designed imprinted PVC and rayon linings for Whatajoy Luggage. The patterns included propeller-driven planes - "much later I had to take the propellers off to modernise the designs".

Marx was then spotted by Christian Barman and Frank Pick and was asked by the London Passenger Transport Board to design the hard-wearing, cotton- velvet seating fabric, known as moquette, for use on London bus and Tube seats. It remained among the work of which she was most proud:

The project was great fun because there was a very strict brief. The seating needed to look fresh at all times, even after bricklayers had sat on it, so there was a camouflage problem. The design, therefore, had to be bold but, because it was for a moving vehicle, should not be dazzling to passengers. In order to achieve the right effect strong contrasting tones had to be used, combined with changes of texture, from cut to uncut moquette. The scale of the repeat

was governed by the economy of cutting up upholstery for seats of divergent sizes.

The results are the strong and timeless geometric designs still in use today.

Marx always embraced the challenge offered up by tackling many different types of work and during the war years began writing and illustrating her own children's books - one, Bulgy the Barrage Balloon, could only be completed after the Ministry of Defence gave Marx permission to depict a barrage balloon. They were very small format books printed on off-cuts.

Marx's skills as a watercolourist were also drawn upon when the Pilgrim Trust commissioned 14 watercolours to record notable British buildings under threat from German bombing.

Towards the end of the war, in 1943, the furniture designer Gordon Russell invited Enid Marx to be a member of the Board of Trade Utility Furniture team. The furniture was turned out cheaply and in large quantities for people who had suffered bomb damage. Marx was responsible for textiles. Her task was to create as great a variety as possible from a very limited supply of yarns and range of colours.

After the war she began working again for publishers and formed a strong bond with Penguin. There was a prestigious commission from Morton Sundour for a collection of printed furnishing fabrics, and in 1947, with Margaret Lambert, Marx published the scholarly English Popular and Traditional Art. Her seminal book English Popular Art (1951), again written with Lambert, was republished in 1989 by Merlin Press.

The Queen's Coronation in 1953 gave Marx the chance to explore yet another design medium - postage stamps. It was a commission she relished:

One of my greatest pleasures has been to work on stamps. The design is a sort of puzzle. Into this tiny national visiting card has to be fitted the Sovereign's head, the value and the given subject, commemorative or otherwise. For the Coronation definitives the four flower emblems of the kingdom had to be exactly the same size, in order that there shouldn't be any "feeling".

More than 20 years later, in 1976, she designed a set of beautiful Christmas stamps based on the Opus Anglicanum embroideries.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, commissions continued to flood in for woodcuts, engravings and linocuts, packaging, calendars for Shell Oil, London Transport posters, greetings cards, bookjackets and laminates. Then, at the age of 63, when most people are considering retirement, Enid Marx became Head of Department of Dress, Textiles and Ceramics at Croydon College of Art in 1965. She stayed for five years, and then left to pursue her own work which she continued until her death.

Marx's work won the admiration of critics and fellow designers alike. "Enid was a brilliant pattern-maker with an eye for crisp design, a natural feel for and understanding of the importance of scale and a tremendous knowledge of many different printing techniques," said Alan Powers, the painter and architectural historian whose Judd Street Gallery in London hosted an exhibition in December 1990 of a series of her dazzling linocut prints featuring her favourite subjects - animals.

"Her early work as a hand-block textile printer is particularly fine," he stated. "She used simple units spaced in such a way that the patterns leapt to life on the cloth. The method of printing was very laborious and it is a great sadness to know that, because of that, we are unlikely to see the fabrics produced again in sufficient quantities for them to be widely appreciated."

Marx, affectionately known as Marco, never shirked from fighting the good fight and tackled with equal enthusiasm the right of her local grocer, when facing eviction, to find new premises before leaving the old, and her own right to insist on having as much control as possible over the printing processes used to reproduce her work.

Enid Marx battled in the late Seventies to save from demolition the Agricultural Hall, now the Business Design Centre, close to her home and studio in Islington in London, acted as a catalyst and contributed to animated debate about the role of RDIs. She also fought unsuccessfully for many years for a national museum for English folk art. However, Marx and Margaret Lambert's collection is due to be displayed at the newly opened museum and arts centre at Compton Verney, near Stratford-upon-Avon.

Enid Crystal Dorothy Marx, painter and designer: born London 20 October 1902; RDI 1944; died London 18 May 1998.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
people
Sport
SPORT
News
people
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Biggins as Mrs Smee in Peter Pan
theatreHow do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick