Plaques for Patterns! Why Enid Marx Matters

A look at illustrator and designer Enid Marx as English Heritage unveil a Blue Plaque in her honour.

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  • Rachel Stoplar
  • Other

If you like your mid-century design, you’ve probably heard of Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden – but have you heard of Enid Marx?

Trailblazing through textiles

Enid Marx now joins only two other female illustrators and designers to be honoured with English Heritage’s Blue Plaque scheme: Anna Maria Garthwaite, who preceded Marx as a textile designer by two centuries (she designed flowered silks in 18th century England), and Victorian children’s book illustrator Kate Greenaway.

Bums on seats

If you remember our 2018 exhibition Enid Marx: Print, Pattern and Popular Art, you’ll know her work. But even if not, you’ve probably sat on it – Marx is best known for designing the moquette patterns that adorned the seats of the London underground.

These designs for London Transport had some unusual requirements. They had to “look fresh at all times, even after bricklayers had sat on [them].”

A royal to-do

Enid Marx became one of the first female Royal Designers for Industry (RDI) in 1944 and remains one of only 13 women of 150 past RDIs. She also designed the stamps for Elizabeth II’s coronation.

This royal seal of approval was ironic for an artist whose interest in avant-garde abstraction was deemed ‘vulgar’ by her examiners at the Royal College of Art. She left the RCA without a diploma – a slight they only rectified by granting her an honorary degree at the age of 80.

Trinkets and tradition

Marx and her partner Margaret Lambert were keen collectors of popular art “which ordinary people have created for their own lives” and filled their home with folk art, from trinkets to traditional crafts, now in the care of Compton Verney.

The collection included such essentials as carved wooden honey-cake moulds, a decorated rolling pin, clay pipes, a sailor’s flask and a selection of piggy banks, alongside a host of painted jugs, celebratory mugs and models in glass bottles.

This collection was a constant source of inspiration for her own work.

Plaques for patterns

Enid Marx has now been commemorated with a Blue Plaque at her home at 39 Thornhill Road, Islington – one of many illustrious illustrators in the vicinity of our new home.

We hope that when the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration opens in late 2023, visitors will make the short hop over to see where this titan of design lived and worked for the last 30 years of her life.