Adventures in Chemistry and Technology: A Symposium

11/09/2020 (10:00-16:00)

Dr Jo Horton

Buddy Penfold

Registration URL

Adventures in Chemistry and Technology: Exploring the legacy of 19th Century Innovation in Textiles, Jewellery and Materials

The heritage of the decorative arts and its technological development during the industrial revolution, stimulated by science, engineering and artistic expression, has been of economic value to the UK and in Europe. During the nineteenth century we prized products for their beauty and usefulness in our homes and wore clothing based on their function and appeal; qualities which travelled because of a frenzy of invention and emerging technologies. However, the importance of chemistry, electricity and new technologies in the success story of fashion, fabric, jewellery and the materials used in domestic product from the mid nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century has been underplayed.

This symposium aims to stimulate discussion on historical innovation in aesthetic design and the backbone of modern textile design, fashion and jewellery-materials, chemistry and making technology. It aims to discuss the importance of stories of chemists and early material scientists contributing to the world of craft and design and of makers and artisan manufacturers becoming chemists and inventors. 

The symposium could draw upon a wide range of disciplines, engaging with design historians, economic and industrial historians, textile, fashion and jewellery practitioners, historians of science, museum and gallery curators, trade bodies and company archivists. The objective being to establish mileage for publication-journal special issue, curated exhibition or interdisciplinary funding bids for research projects, networking and international collaboration. We would like to hear from individuals who would be willing to present short papers on research ideas/questions of 15 minutes and request papers 500-word proposals to speak at the event.

The key industrial centres of the nineteenth century Britain-Birmingham and the Black Country, Manchester and London, and other cities such as Huddersfield, Leeds, Nottingham and Leicester, were engrossed in moving on from small-scale and craft industries.  As such entrepreneurs and artistic pioneers were drawn to these cities, from the 1830s onwards.

They engaged consumers, at home and internationally, by inventing new equipment and tools, manufacturing and processing items that would captivate the eye whilst being affordable (Inkster, 2012).  Europe and the USA also took up the mantle with the results of magical new forms of handicraft and mechanisation seen in exhibitions and expositions following on from the London Great Exhibition of 1851.

Four key areas of influence and investment emerged from this impressive creative and manufacturing activity -electrification, new materials, interconnections and improvement. It is these themes that this symposium aims to consider within a proposed timeline of c.1830-1940. 

In terms of electrification we would like to hear from individuals whose work draws upon the history of electrodeposition. The impact this method of decoratively covering objects and materials and creating new objects by chemical and electrical reactions has had since the early part of the nineteenth century (Grant and Patterson 2018). Within this aspect a diverse range of materials and processing are of interest, from metal to textile and more via electrodeposition, electroless plating, vacuum metallisation and sputtering. The methodologies of artists, craftspeople, designers, inventors and entrepreneurs are relevant, including twentieth-century and forward thinking twentieth-first century work. 

We propose to engage with researchers with an interest in the imaginative application of the science of chemistry and new materials. For instance, in the area of dyed textiles- inventing, processing and  designing with natural and synthetic colour. In methods of faking ‘precious’ metal threads, yarns and cloth, in technologies involved in waterproofing, in development of early synthetic fibres and re-purposing unconventional fibres and materials (Ehrman 2018, Horton 2018).

In interconnections, the scale and reach of the history of material science and the science of making is of interest. Also, we would like to hear about research into material-textual-visual combinations of art and science, in relationships, creative interplay and collaborations between artists, designers and scientists. The way in which new equipment, instruments and technologies have stimulated innovation-from the hands and imagination of makers, designers, chemists and who else? 

Finally, in improvement, research in the area of manufacturing, machines and patenting for economic, social or environmental benefit is appropriate. In a precursor to today’s drive towards considerate-disruptive design nineteenth and twentieth century perceptions of new-helpful inventions and innovations, used not only to feed consumer need but as ethical-environmentally sensitive alternatives.


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