Thursday, December 17, 2009

Protons, Neutrons, Electrons, and Wallpaper

Mosaic dolphins decorating the floor of a Roman villa, floral tapestries wrought by medieval needles, flowers frozen blue in Delft pottery or preserved in perpetual colour in a 19th century calico--to somewhat rephrase the old saying, even practical art imitates nature. On that premise, there was not anything unusual about the Festival Pattern Group of the 1951 Festival of Britain. They were comissioned to design a set of patterns which would be applicable over various housewares and fashion textiles and, like many of those who had designed such things before them, they took the natural world for their inspiration. They gave themselves a bit of an advantage, however. One could take issue with a Red Admiral depicted on a sheet of wallpaper and object that it was not lifelike enough. Considerably fewer people could be found to discuss the accuracy of a pattern which represented the diffraction of energy through aluminium hydroxide.

The Festival Pattern Group based their designs on nature as expounded by the science of X-ray crystallography. Their foundational images were obtained by positioning a strip of film around a crystal of a given substance and concentrating an X-ray beam into the crystal. In this way, the refraction of the X-ray beam would be recorded as patterns on the film, suggesting the atomic structure of the substance.

An English museum called the Wellcome Collection has an online exhibit of the designs of the Festival Pattern Group. The image galleries have everything from a tie exhibiting chalk crystal structure, to quartz crystal structure carpeting. While I find some of the patterns more interesting as novelties than desirable as wallpaper, I think the majority of them are quite attractive. Still, it is probably a good thing they didn't catch on; the fashion world can be confusing enough as it is.

"Oh, Myrna, did you ever? She's wearing haemoglobin, and it's nearly a month after Labor Day!"

No comments: