Friday, 29 June 2018

Margaret Calkin James - a family connection

I'd known for a while about the artist and musical branch of my family history but had not had the opportunity to explore it. My grandmother was Gladys Calkin and she married into the Gale family, my maiden name. Her cousin was Margaret Calkin James, best known today as one of the original female designers to work on posters for London Transport.

Margaret Calkin James - featured in the London Transport Museum's 2018 'Poster Girls' exhibition

During my research for the Level 3 Printmaking course I did this year, I visited the 'Poster Girls' exhibition at the London Transport Museum in London's Covent Garden. Margaret Calkin James's work was prominently displayed along with more of her story.

'Q.E.D' poster by Margaret Calkin James

'Trooping the Colour' poster by Margaret Calkin James

'In Kew Gardens' poster by Margaret Calkin James

'Chelsea Flower Show' poster by Margaret Calkin James

She was a calligrapher, graphic designer, water colour painter and printmaker, including linocut printing and fabric printing. It was amazing to find a book about her in the Museum shop. I couldn't resist buying 'At the Sign of the Rainbow, Margaret Calkin James 1895-1985' by Betty Miles.

The book about Margaret Calkin James I bought in the Museum shop

"After studying at the Central School of Arts & Crafts, she opened the Rainbow Workshop in 1920, the first gallery managed by a woman to promote art, craft and design," I read in the summary about her in the exhibition. She was married to the architect C.H. James.

The book features some of her linocut work, including two that were part of the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition in 1965 and 1966 respectively: 'Cyclamen' (detail below) and 'Dianthus Doris' (shown with four of the nine blocks she used):

Detail from 'Cyclamen', a linocut by Margaret Calkin James


'Dianthus Doris', linocut by Margaret Calkin James with some of the plates she used, as shown in the book


I particularly like the stylised aspects to her work, evident in this 'Penguin' linocut o c 1962 as well as in the details from the Q.E.D work already seen.

Stylised 'Penguin' linocut by Margaret Calkin James, also from the book

Stylised detail from 'Q.E.D' poster by Margaret Calkin James

Another stylised detail from 'Q.E.D' poster by Margaret Calkin James

I enjoyed exploring her background, life and work through my linocut project on the Regional Print Centre at Wrexham's course. Sometimes it's hard to spend the time and search down information and chance upon the book!