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The jobbing artist as ethnographer: Documenting ‘lore’

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This article focuses on a set of scholarly books published during the period 1920–1960, written and illustrated by women who were also well-known artists and designers, which offer histories and taxonomies of ‘popular’ and ‘folk’ art. I would like to argue that their interest in popular and vernacular culture can be seen as a creative as well as scholarly engagement with the history of their own profession as ‘jobbing artists’ – the phrase Barbara Jones used to describe her wide-ranging and pragmatic creative output Jones was an illustrator of children’s books, a mural painter, as well as a curator, writer and documenter of popular taste. Enid Marx was a printmaker, illustrator and creator of patterned textiles, notably for the London Underground, and a lifelong collector and connoisseur of english folk art, and co-author of English Popular and Traditional Art with Margaret Lambert (1946). Dorothy Hartley was an illustrator, journalist, historian and scholar. They shared an interest in documenting rural crafts, the ‘Lost Worlds’ they represent, and the popular or ‘folk’ culture, which was translated into mass produced forms during the industrial revolution – ‘the things that people make for themselves or that are manufactured in their taste’ (Jones 1972: 5). The authors in question were effective communicators in several types of media, and worked as ‘cultural agents’ – whether creating contemporary visual culture or writing about the material culture of the past.
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Keywords: ethnography; folk art; illustration; modernism; popular scholarship; traditional arts

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Manchester School of Art

Publication date: 01 August 2016

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  • Illustration is a rapidly evolving field with an excitingly broad scope. Despite its cultural significance and rich history, illustration has rarely been subject to deep academic scrutiny. The Journal of Illustration provides an international forum for scholarly research and investigation of a range of cultural, political, philosophical, historical, and contemporary issues, in relation to illustration. The journal encourages new critical writing on illustration, associated visual communication, and the role of the illustrator as visualizer, thinker, and facilitator, within a wide variety of disciplines and professional contexts.

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