Althea McNish
Golden Harvest: furnishing textile
Golden Harvest

In the catalogue notes for the 2009 exhibition of the textile firm Hull Traders, whose collection included eight of Althea McNish's designs, Lesley Jackson, exhibition curator and historian of modern textile design, noted GOLDEN HARVEST as Hull Traders' best-selling design ever and Althea as ‘Britain's first and most distinguished black textile designer'.

The origins of GOLDEN HARVEST go back to Althea's final year of study at the Royal College of Art, in 1957, when tutors Edward and Charlotte Bawden invited her to stay with them in Chipping Camden, the artists' community in Essex. On an early morning walk in nearby fields with sketchbook in hand, the sight of the sun shining through the ears of golden wheat excited her with memories of canefields in Trinidad and inspired the creation of a colourful design as a tropicalisation of the Essex wheatfields, a creative joining of the countryside of her artistic childhood and that of her new life in Britain. When College tutors invited potential clients to view their students' work, a firm of architects commissioned Althea to produce GOLDEN HARVEST for a school they were designing, and for its production Althea turned to the textile printers then established in Jays Mews, Tofos Prints, set up a few years earlier by John Drummond and Anne Loosely, with Ivo Tonder involved in the printing. At the end of the schools contract, when the architects indicated that Althea might take the design into commercial production for her own purposes if she wished, she put it into the hands of Tofos Prints to add to their collection. Shortly afterwards, Hull Traders, recently set up to deal in modern furnishings, decided to produce their own fabrics and incorporated the Tofos collection into their own new Time Present collection. The length of GOLDEN HARVEST shown at the RCA in the exhibition RCA BLACK in 2011 was an early print under the Tofos name, but subsequent printings bore the selvedge indication of a Time Present fabric by Hull Traders. GOLDEN HARVEST was nominated at one point for a Design Council award though production problems of the time prevented completion of the submission. Produced in several colour-ways, GOLDEN HARVEST is represented in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester and the Harris Museum in Preston. As well as being sold around the world as an example of colourful British textiles, GOLDEN HARVEST has had Caribbean and Commonwealth connections, in 1959 in the furnishings of the West Indian Students centre, in 1973 in the Caribbean edition of BBC's TV programme Full House, and in 1975 in the furnishings of the official residence of the Guyanese Sir Shridath Ramphal on his appointment as Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. On public display, it was used in 2007 as a symbol of the African Caribbean component of British history and cultural life, as centre-piece in the exhibition 'Remembering Slavery' at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester; in 2011, in Althea McNish's display in the exhibition ‘RCA Black', displaying the work of African and African Caribbean alumni of the RCA; in 2015 in 'Dream to change the world: The Life and Legacy of John LaRose' at the Islington Museum; and in October 2016 in the exhibition ‘Now! Now! In more than one place' at the Cookhouse Gallery in connection with the conference ‘Now & Then... Here & There: Black Artists & Modernism' at Tate Britain and Chelsea College of Arts.

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Copyright 2016 © Althea McNish and John Weiss.

jw 10 October 2016