HEAL FABRICS LTD. SCREEN-PRINTED COTTONS
The textile industry in postwar Britain enjoyed an enormous commercial and critical success, due in large part to the collaboration between the industry and avant-garde artists as well as up-and-coming young designers. Following the enforced inactivity of the war years, a surge of creativity characterized British pattern design especially for printed fabrics that were both influential and in demand internationally.
Among the leading producers of cutting-edge textiles was Heal Fabrics, founded in 1941 under the name Heal’s Wholesale and Export as a subsidiary of Heal & Son, the well-known nineteenth-century London furniture and furnishings store. A converter rather than a manufacturer, Heal’s acquired patterns from freelance designers which were then printed by commission. Already acknowledged as an innovator in the industry in the late 1940s, the company’s reputation was firmly secured at the Festival of Britain in 1951 where it featured Lucienne Day’s Calyx, a radical, abstract organic design that made a significant impact on what was referred to as the “Contemporary” style in the 1950s. By the 1960s, one third of Heal’s production was sold overseas, and in 1964, in response to the enthusiastic reception of its fabrics in Germany, a subsidiary, Heal Textil, was established in Stuttgart.
The group of screen-printed cottons illustrated here is part of a large collection of Heal’s textiles and promotional material that belonged to Evelyn Redgrave, who began designing for Heal’s in 1969 while a student at Hornsey College of Art and became one of the firm’s directors in 1974. Dating primarily from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s, the fabrics exemplify the inventive and dynamic patterns that characterized Heal’s output during the period and the aesthetically diverse designers sought out by Tom Worthington, the company’s visionary managing director from 1948 to 1971. Rather than choosing designs around a specific theme or in a particular style, Worthington drew on a large—up to eighty designers in the 1960s—and impressive roster of talent to create consistently unified annual collections that were frequently heralded in publications such as The Ambasssador and Design. Each year, he viewed as many as 11,000 designs, eventually selecting about seventy to eighty; put into production in March, the collections were launched in November. In July 1965, Design credited Heal’s furnishing fabrics with having had a “revolutionary affect on textiles in the middle of the century” and identified Worthington as “the most brilliant and dynamic impresario/converter in the business,” who was responsible for discovering gifted young designers. Many of those whose work forms this collection were trained at leading art schools such as the Royal College of Art and Hornsey College of Art, and later went on to teach in these and other institutions.