The story behind Hammer Prints Ltd, an antidote to the quaint crafters of the early 20th century

9/02/2021     Modern & Contemporary British Art, News Stories & Press Release, Artists & Makers

Photograph of Nigel Henderson and Eduardo Paolozzi [c.1947]

Photograph of Nigel Henderson and Eduardo Paolozzi [c.1947] Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported) by anoymous 

Hammer Prints Ltd was founded in a quiet Essex backwater during post-war England on 5 August 1954 by the creative duo Nigel Henderson and Eduardo Paolozzi as an antidote to the charming crafters of the early 20th century. Paolozzi's notes detailed on the venture, ‘it is the object of Hammer Prints Ltd that an attack be made on the craft field using the silk-screen as the media to be exploited.’  The company was established: "To purchase, sell, manufacture, hire or act as agents for the sale of textiles, wallpaper, statuary, ceramics, furniture and photographic equipment and materials". The duo moved away from the safe and grey post-war era with designs that showed creative, bold mark making with an imaginative use of colour. Using their knowledge of photography and silk screening, images were collated, copied and distorted creating patterns over a wide-range of materials. Designs reflected Paolozzi’s and Henderson’s interest in science and technology. The designs also identified with international movements such as Abstract Expressionism, brutalism, Pop art, mass production and the technology of the day. Hammer Prints coincided with the artists’ involvement in the Independent Group, a contingent of artists, architects and writers who celebrated popular culture and mass production. Henderson and Paolozzi were registered as the company directors along with Judith Henderson who acted as secretary. The creative partners worked from a studio at Henderson's home at Landermere Wharf near Thorpe-le-Soken in Essex over the course of seven years. The two artists worked with alongside industry specialists to produce their products and also collaboratively produced eleven patterns of their own.

 

 Nigel Henderson & Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, British 1917-1985 & Scottish 1924-2005- A group of 18 tiles depicting automotive and other images, produced for Hammer Prints Ltd, c.1958-1960; ceramic for sale at Roseberys Modern & Contemporary British Art auction
Nigel Henderson & Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, British 1917-1985 & Scottish 1924-2005- A group of 18 tiles depicting automotive and other images, produced for Hammer Prints Ltd, c.1958-1960; ceramic for sale at Roseberys Modern & Contemporary British Art auction

 

Hammer Prints wallpapers were manufactured by Cole & Son from 1955, and their textile designs were produced by the Lancashire firm Hull Traders from 1958. CoalfaceCowcumberHessian and Sgraffito were the first to become available from January 1955. BarkclothBig DrawingsNewsprintPortobello and Townscape followed whilst Sea Beasts and Toys were developed for a range of ceramic tiles, lampstands, bowls, trays and furniture.

A letter from Paolozzi to Peter Hatch at the Council of Industrial Design, (now known as the Design Council) introduced their work:

"[The wallpapers] are printed in black on white and white on black. The same screens have been employed in different colours according to customers’ requirements, we also provide the same designs printed on various fabrics by the Helzarin colour process... The origin of the designs of the wallpapers is the outcome of the application of design ideas employed by Nigel Henderson, Head of Creative Photography at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and Eduardo Paolozzi design instructor at the same school.

Nigel Henderson & Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, British 1917-1985 & Scottish 1924-2005- 'Barkcloth' textile panel, c. 1954; hand screenprint on cotton twill for sale at Roseberys Modern & Contemporary British Art auction

Nigel Henderson & Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, British 1917-1985 & Scottish 1924-2005- 'Barkcloth' textile panel, c. 1954; hand screenprint on cotton twill for sale at Roseberys Modern & Contemporary British Art auction

 

Lots 174 – 176 in Roseberys Modern & Contemporary British Art auction on Tuesday 23 February are artworks all produced by Hammer Prints Ltd. It is very rare to have anything presented on the market by the company as the prints were in production for such a short time. Lot 174 is the highlight out of the group. A Barkcloth' textile panel, c. 1954; hand screenprint on cotton twill that is estimated to make £2,000- £3,000.

 

Freda and Eduardo Paolozzi in front of test sheets and textile designs, London, 1951. © The estate of Nigel Henderson. Photography: Nigel Henderson

Freda and Eduardo Paolozzi in front of test sheets and textile designs, London, 1951. © The estate of Nigel Henderson. Photography: Nigel Henderson

Both of the artists’ varied backgrounds inspired their pioneering work. Henderson was surrounded by art from a young age, his mother managed Peggy Guggenheim’s first gallery, Guggenheim Jeune. Through his mothers contacts he met many renowned artists including Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst. Meanwhile sculptor and artist, Paolozzi grew up above his Italian father’s ice-cream parlour in Leith, Edinburgh, where the local street culture inspired his artwork. He is widely considered to be one of the pioneers of Pop Art. Their joint enthusiasm towards art, craft, commercialism and mass production and their interest to declare war on the quaint crafters of the early 20th century interior design made their collaboration unusually engaging.

 Nigel Henderson & Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, British 1917-1985 & Scottish 1924-2005- Toys lamp and lampshade, produced for Hammer Prints Ltd, c.1958-1960; ceramic base, printed shade for sale at Roseberys Modern & Contemporary British Art auction   Hammer Prints exhibitions were held at the Studio Club on Swallow Street in December 1955 and from 10 December 1956 to 4 January 1957. The Castle Bookshop on Museum Street in Colchester also held 'an exhibition and sale of bowls, tiles, scarves, textiles and wallpapers from 21 April to 5 May, 1956. The artists continued to receive royalties on their design work from Cole & Son and Hull Traders until the company was dissolved in 1975. Firstsite gallery in Colchester delved into the Hammer Prints archives for an exhibition in 2012, designed by Wallpaper* Handmade collaborators A Practice For Everyday Life (see W* 149). This was the first time the collaborations have been showcased since Hammer’s dissolution.
Nigel Henderson & Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, British 1917-1985 & Scottish 1924-2005- Toys lamp and lampshade, produced for Hammer Prints Ltd, c.1958-1960; ceramic base, printed shade for sale at Roseberys Modern & Contemporary British Art auction


Hammer Prints exhibitions were held at the Studio Club on Swallow Street in December 1955 and from 10 December 1956 to 4 January 1957. The Castle Bookshop on Museum Street in Colchester also held 'an exhibition and sale of bowls, tiles, scarves, textiles and wallpapers from 21 April to 5 May, 1956. The artists continued to receive royalties on their design work from Cole & Son and Hull Traders until the company was dissolved in 1975. Firstsite gallery in Colchester delved into the Hammer Prints archives for an exhibition in 2012, designed by Wallpaper* Handmade collaborators A Practice For Everyday Life (see W* 149). This was the first time the collaborations have been showcased since Hammer’s dissolution.

 

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