Monday, December 30, 2013

Completed: Florence Broadhurst: Her Secret and Extraordinary Lives

Dear Jenny,

Yup -- I'm skidding into the end of the year once again, but hey -- I got 'em done.

This book was an awesome finish. Not only was it full of beautiful pictures (side benefit: this hastened the reading) but the story was also totally interesting. I was worried that the subtitle was setting me up for disappointment, but Florence Broadhurst had lives that were both secret and extraordinary!

So crazy, but I love it.

I don't know where I first came across this book, although I do read a lot of design blogs, so I'm guessing it was one of those. I'm glad I did -- the tale is interesting and the book is visually stunning. Win-win.

Design: Monsterio.
One of my faves -- I love the checkerboard in the flowers.

Florence Broadhurst was born at the turn of the 20th century in Australia. Some say she was a businesswoman and some say she was a scam artist -- I think she was a successful combination of both.

In her youth, she traveled through Asia and Europe singing and dancing with various performing troupes under an assumed name. When that dried up, she opened a school for dance and music in Shanghai under yet another name. And when that went south, she went back to Australia and became a landscape painter. Aaaand... after that, she decided to get into the handprinted wallpaper design business, for which she is best known today. So, you know, she did a lot of stuff.

Florence in her 70s. Awesome flamboyance!

She had a couple of husbands (one whom she wasn't actually married to, although they claimed they were) (scandalous!) and also had a son, who is interviewed extensively in this book. Shockingly, she was brutally murdered in her studio in 1977 and her killer was never found, although she had an acquantance who turned out to be a serial killer so it might have been him. But they never found out for sure, and he ended up committing suicide in prison. So that's all kinds of crazy.

Design: Circles and Squares.
This shows up in many different color combos in the book.
I love it.

While her entire life story is interesting, it's really the wallpaper design that ends up being the star of this book and, really, her life story. Her style was widely various, which has led to much speculation on whether or not she actually designed all of these wallpapers herself (over 500 different designs and she didn't start doing this until the last 20 years of her life!)

Left: Horses Stampede. Right: Spotted Floral.
One example of two very different designs.

But this seems kind of crazy to me, as she had an army of people working for her, so if she wasn't doing the work, one of them would come have forward in the nearly 40 years since her death and admitted it, right? Members of her staff were interviewed for this book and, if anything, it sounds like a lot of her "designing" was more "direction" -- she had an idea and directed an artist working for her to create the design as she gave input. But I think that's a pretty common way for designers to design.

Design: Summer Garden
I love this treatment -- same wallpaper in both rooms,
but grey in the bedroom and green in the bathroom. Lovely!

The book itself had a pretty great layout -- obviously, a ton of photos between the text, but the writing was also very engaging. The chapters were sort of labeled as "acts" ("Backstage: the Broadhurst Factory" and "Curtain Call" are two) and there was a lot of interesting information about how handprinted wallpapers are actually made, including the incredible technical precision required (wallpaper seams that don't quite meet up are pretty darned obvious, right?)

Design: Japanese Fans
I'd love this in a fabric.

Florence was a demanding boss, but obviously well loved and respected. I think the picture painted of the woman herself was respectful while still letting the reader know that this lady was a bit of a kook (and I mean that in the best way possible.)

Design: Brushed Trellis
Ok, this one is so dated -- it kind of cracks me up.

One thing that's interesting about this story is that it's still evolving. After Florence was murdered, her son ran the family business for a couple of years, but then sold it to a big wallpaper conglomerate. They let the screens languish in a back room for years until someone finally came along and said, "Whoa. We could make some money off of these designs!" And now they're re-releasing them with great success.

Design: Cockatoos
Amazing art using Broadhurst's paper --
body painting by artist Emma Hack.

This book and a documentary in 2006 (I'd love to see that, but it seems rather difficult to find...) have also heightened awareness of these designs, fueling the Florence Love. There's a good Afterword in the book covering the topic, as the book was originally published in 2006, but my edition is from 2011.

Very cool visual index of all patterns featured in the book.
After all of the wallpaper removal we did in our last house, I never thought I would even consider hanging wallpaper in my home, but some of these photos are really inspirational. Maybe some accent walls? (Versus an entire room.)

Design: Daisy Scatter
Of course, this one made me think of you. ;)
I really want to snap a bunch more photos to share with you, but I also need to get this review done. You can check out most of the designs from the book here (that's the company that is re-releasing the original designs).

And with that, I have finished by TBR books for 2013! Now, to publish our 2014 lists. Wheee!


PS -- This book was almost on the the TBP list because of the images, but it really was over 50% text, so I left it on this list as a book to be read. Also... what's going on with that TBP list anyway, right? Stay tuned -- I've got more to say about that soon!

1 comment:

  1. K,

    I agree with you that wallpaper really isn't my thing, but some of this was so cool! OF COURSE, I loved the daisies, and thought "that's awesome" and then read your caption. Heh.

    I've been thinking more generally about artistic books, because I really wish that I read more of them. They just seem so much more engaging and awesome, but my problem is that I get super overwhelmed by *looking* at everything, and then I forget to do the reading.

    I'd never even heard of Florence or her story before, so that is pretty darn cool!