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The Wallpaper History Society AGM 2023 with Paul Simmons from Timorous Beasties.

The Art Workers’ Guild in Bloomsbury, central London, was founded in 1884 by young architects and designers who ‘wanted to create a meeting place for the fine arts and the applied arts on an equal footing’. What better place then to play host to the Wallpaper History Society AGM and annual lecture. We’ve been coming here for several years now and it’s fitting to hold our meeting with busts and paintings of many of the great pattern makers of the Art & Crafts Movement looking down on us. Happily the large number of female attendees helped redress the gender balance.

Members, friends and people who were simply interested to hear more about the society joined together at 2pm for our AGM where we celebrated a stable financial situation and a successful year of events. Our online talks, which reach an international audience, have been well attended with subjects ranging from private American collections to Irish vernacular wallpapers and Lincrusta. We are particularly proud of the success of our online symposium ‘Repeating Patterns’, held in March, which hosted contributors from several countries, including one from New Zealand.

Rowena Beighton-Dykes gives the Chair’s report

Our Chair, Rowena Beighton-Dykes, explained how it has been a great pleasure to get back to offering in-person trips. She thanked Wendy Andrews and Zoe Hendon for organising a visit to Insole Court in Cardiff and for coordinating the trip to the Timorous Beasties design studio in Glasgow, both rare opportunities to see ‘behind the scenes’. Wendy and Zoe, in collaboration with Rowena, were also thanked for masterminding a five-day trip to Ireland in May where eighteen WHS members were guided round eighteenth-century houses in Kilkenny, Waterford and Cork by the exceptionally knowledgeable wallpaper maker David Skinner, whom we are delighted to welcome onto the committee, along with the equally knowledgeable design historian Jo Banham. Rowena extended our heartfelt thanks to Matthew Meadows, who steps down this year.

Rowena thanked all the committee for their hard work and highlighted to the audience just how much voluntary work goes on, answering enquiries, feeding the hungry Instagram account, managing the website, keeping track of membership and finances, arranging events and in particular editing and distributing the Review. Rowena works harder than all of us, as Chair, Instagram queen and Editor of the Review (due out in 2024) and Phillippa Mapes spoke for all of us in thanking her for her dynamic and inspirational leadership.

Classic Hunt wallpaper. Image courtesy of Timorous Beasties.

With business matters out of the way, we enjoyed tea and mince pies before settling down to enjoy a very special lecture from Paul Simmons, co-founder of Glasgow-based wallpaper and fabric designers Timorous Beasties, whose edgy and often irreverent papers have enlivened the walls of high-end clients including Claridge’s and Fortnum & Mason.

Paul Simmons of Timorous Beasties delivers his talk

In his talk ‘Toile Tales of Timorous Beasties’, Paul described the early days of the company when, fresh from art school, they experimented with fabric printing before expanding into wallpaper. Having no money to invest, they used offcuts from other manufacturers to print their papers onto and bought a rundown corner shop as their first retail outlet. Without the means to renovate, they decorated the graffiti-covered exterior with their wallpaper, perhaps one of the shrewdest marketing moves in wallpaper history.

Chinese Toile wallpaper. Image courtesy of Timorous Beasties.

The talk focused in particular on the use of eighteenth-century toiles de Jouy – single-colour textiles printed with pastoral scenes – as inspiration for new design interpretations that bring together people, nature and landscape in a contemporary reading. The ‘Chinoiserie Toile’ combines modern-day rioters and bystanders in Covid masks with traditional Chinese figures holding mobile phones, while the provocative but honest ‘Glasgow Toile’ pays homage to the city in its depiction of well-known landmarks interspersed with junkies and men urinating against trees.

Glasgow Toile wallpaper. Image courtesy of Timorous Beasties.

Paul explained how the dark stories of some of the original toiles had fired his imagination, and how his love of engravings plays out in the fantastical creatures and plants that populate other designs from the studio. Timorous Beasties designs do not shy away from the sinister or the unexpected, but it is this very aesthetic which has gained the company such a devoted following.

We felt privileged to have Paul as our keynote speaker and followed his talk with a lively couple of hours enjoying wine and food with fellow wallpaper enthusiasts, historians and enthusiasts. We hope you’ll be able to join us next year!

Lucy Ellis


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