Peggy Angus: Designer, Teacher, Painter

A new show on the work of artist and designer Peggy Angus (1904-93) at Towner in Eastbourne is an exhibition of the woman as much as the work. Full of her prints, patterns, posters and tile designs, it also reveals how her home in East Sussex became a creative hub for many artists

One of Angus’ tile murals for Heathrow airport, 1955

A new show on the work of artist and designer Peggy Angus (1904-93) at Towner in Eastbourne is an exhibition of the woman as much as the work. Full of her prints, patterns, posters and tile designs, it also reveals how her home in East Sussex became a creative hub for many artists…

Anecdotes about Angus’ fiery personality are dotted throughout the two large gallery spaces at Towner, in the form of audio and video interviews.

She emerges as a designer whose creative practice fuelled her life and enabled her to bring together many celebrated artists and architects of her time – such as Eric Ravilious and John Piper – at her Furlongs home in East Sussex.

Furlongs, Angus’ home in East Sussex. Image from author James Russell’s post about his new book on the designer’s work, Peggy Angus: Designer, Teacher, Painter (£25), available from the Antique Collectors’ Club, here

Angus had befriended Ravilious and Edward Bawden at the Royal College of Art where she studied in the School of Art, and later Design, with the assistance of a scholarship that specified that she was to gain a teaching diploma.

Though not her career of choice, Angus appears to have been a great inspiration to students at North London Collegiate School in Muswell Hill (see comments from former students on the Guardian’s review of the show here) and had very strong opinions about the manner in which art should be taught.

Wallpaper design by Angus

Tile design by Angus

One aspect of Angus’s practice was designing tiles cut from lino, which grew out of her making potato prints with her students at NLCS, some of which are displayed at Towner (there are repeat patterns by students Jean Craighead, Margaret Smith and Marina Dunbar).

These prints caught the attention of the architect FRS Yorke who then commissioned Angus to design a mural for the Lansbury Lawrence Primary School in Tower Hamlets.

Tile mural for Brussels World Fair, 1958

Other London locations that once displayed Angus’ work include both Heathrow (c.1955) and Gatwick airports, but her designs also featured in primary schools in Wimbledon and Hemel Hempstead, the Glyndŵr University in Wales and at the Brussels World Fair (1958).

Sadly, most of her large-scale tile murals have been lost to refurbishments or demolition, but they are represented in the exhibition as photographs.

Tile mural at Glyndŵr University, Wrexham, Wales

In addition, the exhibition showcases several of her paintings, displayed in their original – somewhat-weathered – frames that sit side by side with watercolours by Eric Ravilious.

They show their shared inspirations – places like the Asham Cement Works – as well as their close friendship.

Ravilious’ works ‘Furlongs’ and ‘Interior, Furlongs’ (both 1934) are appropriately displayed next to Angus’ ‘Eric Ravilious and Helen Binyon at Furlongs’ and ‘Angus and Victoria at Breakfast in Furlongs’ (1945).

Angus’ painting Asham Cement Works, oil on canvas, 1934

Angus’s weekend home in the Furlongs is presented as a kind of creative hub, where visitors were expected to participate and enrich the environment, even adding to the interiors. As an avid letter writer and lover of paper, photographs show how the house, however modest, was touched by art, with items as insignificant as cereal boxes covered in her wallpaper designs, stuffed with copies of correspondence.

In Furlongs, Angus appears to have been in her prime, telling embellished stories and filling the house with laughter.

Furlongs, Angus’ home in East Sussex

Also on display are the wallpaper designs that post-dated the tile designs, as they became less fashionable, and a selection of posters for exhibitions showcasing the work produced at her People’s Creative Workshop in Camden that made art and design accessible to the elderly local community.

Angus, while Chilean born and London bred, is claimed by the gallery as a local artist for the contribution she made to the area. The Towner exhibition is a celebration of a designer, teacher and painter who has largely been forgotten and rightly attempts to position her among the greats of her time.

All images are © Estate of Peggy Angus. The exhibition continues at Towner, Devonshire Park, College Road, Eastbourne, BN21 4JJ until September 21. Towner is also teaming with Manchester School of Art to host a symposium, Women in Print: Print as an agent of change 1920-1960, that will feature a paper on Angus, on September 13 2014.

Peggy Angus: Designer, Teacher, Painter by James Russell is available now from the Antique Collectors’ Club (£25).

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