30 January 2020 -

Report: DHS Conference Bursary by Kerry Meakin

The Cost of Design: what impressed me in at the DHS 2019 Conference

Not being a design historian, but an applied art practitioner and teacher who found oneself in unfamiliar territory attending the Design History Society, I was unsure of what to expect. Previous conference presentations I had undertaken were discipline or teaching related. I felt slight trepidation and a smattering of imposter syndrome when my Abstract was accepted. I need not have feared, Elizabeth Kramer and Janine Barker’s excellent organisation put one at ease, before even arriving at the conference (which came with the added of bonus of being in a city I had yet to visit) [Fig. 1].

Fig. 1. View of some of the bridges spanning the Tyne.

On receiving the schedule, I was slightly bothered that my panel would take place on Saturday morning, would many turn up? Also, I would have little relaxation until my presentation was delivered, and to cap it all there was dinner and drinks and as it turned out, even dancing, on Friday evening. Needless to say, I partook in all three.

However, back to the conference! I attended the beneficial and informative Publication Workshop on Wednesday, 4 September. The Conference proper started on Thursday, 5 September with an enjoyable and entertaining visit to the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts [Fig. 2]. After nourishment, both in cultural and hot liquid forms, we made our way back to Northumbria University.

The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts

The advantage of Parallel Sessions is that you may pick and choose which talks to attend, the downside is, how to choose between so many relevant and interesting subjects! Two talks were made an easier choice for me, as they were delivered by colleagues from the Technological University Dublin, Tom Spalding’s “British Homes for Irish People…” and Mary Ann Bolger’s “Stamp Design and Soft Power.” Both contained content I was unaware of and were highly engaging.

On the same panel as Tom Spalding, Caitriona Quinn’s research on the Sydney interiors of the electronics millionaire, Keith Harris, shed light on the autonomy of Australia’s design history. Monica Penick explored aspects of Paul László’s combination of industrial production combined with craft. In another session, Kristina Parsons research on E. McKnight Kauffer, whose window display work I have come across in my research, enlightened me to other aspects of Kauffer’s work [Fig. 3].

Fig. 3. Kristina Parson’s research on E. McKnight Kauffer.

Guy Julier gave the evenings closing keynote speech on Design, Finance and History. Then followed an Oxford University Press and Design History Society Opening Reception, at the 1960s Civic Centre. On seeing this ‘James Bond lair’ of a building inside and out it felt like an excellent choice in which to enjoy a relaxed evening meeting people and imbibing in delicious canapés and the occasional glass of wine.

Then it was on to the Friday sessions. How could one resist ‘On shoes and beer’ by Marta Filipova, one of the illuminating talks in the Exhibiting Global and Local panel? Is there a theme emerging here? Then to Beyond Money: The Meta Economies of Fashion One. Victoria Kelley’s excellent images of London/s street markets, and the people who shopped in them made me feel I had made the right choice for my research interests [Fig. 4]. Cheryl Roberts continued in a similar vein, with her research on the kinetic and interactive jumble sales of the 1930s. Agnes Rocamora brought us up to date with her talk on Time to Work: Temporal Formations in the Fashion Industry.

Fig. 4. Victoria Kelley’s excellent images of London/s street markets.

Friday afternoon saw the first The Business of the Bauhaus sessions: there followed three compelling presentations. The first by Marina-Elena Wachs on entrepreneurship with a case study on profitable partnerships in architecture and textiles [Fig. 5]. Mara Trubenach spoke on female Bauhausler and their ambitious teaching in Britain. Finally, Kyunghee Pyun shared her research on collaborations between marketing and art and design. The Keynotes followed. Then a relaxing evening and early to bed, ready for my presentation at 9.30 sharp the following morning.

Fig. 5. Marina-Elena Wachs on entrepreneurship with a case study on profitable partnerships in architecture and textiles.

On arrival, the next morning, the Chairs, Jeremy Aynsley and Esther Cleven put the presenters at ease. Attendees trickled in and considering it was a late night for some, a crowd of approximately sixty came to hear my fellow panellists and I speak. It was fascinating to hear both Donatella Cacciola’s research on Marcel Breuer’s Wassily Chair and Courtney Schum’s talk on Harbert Bayer’s beautifully illustrated Atlas. I delivered a talk on my research on ‘The Bauhaus and the Business of Window Display’ [Fig. 6]. Our talks were well received and there followed an interesting discussion. And, yes, my colleagues Tom and Mary Ann attended, as did my Kingston University PHD supervisors, Sorcha O’Brien and Patricia Lara-Betancourt. Thank you, and also to the other members of the Modern Interiors Research Centre at Kingston, Penny Sparke, Fiona Fisher and Pat Kirkham who supported me.

Fig. 6. It wasn’t too nerve-wracking.

Following Keynote, Tereza Kuldova’s speech it was time to say goodbye, albeit with a host of email addresses and new contacts and a considerable amount of new information. I would like to once again extend my gratitude to the Design History Society for their Bursary and here is hoping we meet again in 2020.

Kerry Meakin is a PhD Candidate at Kingston University.


Want to contribute to the blog and newsletter? Contact us


Keep informed of all Society events and activities, subscribe to our newsletter.