Monday, 2 February 2015

Ladybird by Design

Last weekend I visited the wonderful 'Ladybird by Design' exhibition thanks to a recommendation from Little Lewes. The display is being held at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea, which is a beautiful example of 1930s art deco architecture and really makes you feel as though you're on a sophisticated ocean liner.

The exhibition takes a look back at the many designs created for the iconic Ladybird books. Although focusing on designs from the 1950s to 70s, I'm pretty sure no self-respecting Brit of any generation could escape childhood without reading one of these. Seeing the original illustrations up close was particularly interesting as they showed the amount of detail that went into each individual image. The paintings have lost none of their technicolour glory, with bright lollipop reds, yellows and greens befitting and Enid Blyton adventure. There's something quite modern about the simple and classic way each image and book was presented, and I'm sure many of today's children's book illustrators owe more than a little to the Ladybird artists.

Whilst Ladybird books hold a huge amount of nostalgia for many of us (I know my mum learnt to read on a strict diet of 'Peter and Jane'), what's perhaps most striking is just how 'of their time' they were. The books are so gender specific it seems almost comical. We have 'Shopping with Mother' and 'Learning with Mother' as well as 'Helping at Home' (with mother!). All whilst the men are depicted going out to work or showing their sons how to wash a car. Luckily for us we can look at these books as nostalgic artefacts of a very different time, happy in the knowledge that Ladybird no longer define their books by gender stereotypes.

When viewed altogether it's overwhelming to see just how many books and series were produced. Ladybird covered seemingly every topic from party games to countries of the world, founded in an honest and almost naive attempt to educate children on every subject imaginable. They printed each book on a single sheet of paper allowing them to produce books cheaply and efficiently at a time of paper rationing, creating beautifully designed books that were available to all.

'Ladybird by Design' is free and continues until 10th May. There is also a book available to coincide with the exhibition.

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