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Bernard Sleigh Map of Fairyland Rosebank Fabric c1937

  • Author: SLEIGH, Bernard (artist)
  • Publisher: Turnbull & Stockdale Ltd, Manchester
  • Date: c1937
  • Dimensions: 203 x 127 cms

Description:

A rare & well-preserved fabric segment by Turnbull & Stockdale circa 1937 featuring Bernard Sleigh’s Map of Fairyland design

About this piece:

Bernard Sleigh – A Map of Fairyland – Rosebank Fabric

Sheet size: 203 x 127 cms. Original 1930s Rosebank fabric sample. Some soft creases from prolonged folding. The recto image still extremely fresh and bright. One small area of damage, a short vertical cut dissecting one of the mythical islands, now expertly and almost invisibly patched on verso. Incribed along blank selvedge on both sides: “A Map of Fairyland by Bernard Sleigh – A Rosebank Fabric”.

This exceptionally rare & rather large section of hand-dyed fabric was first manufactured in about 1937 by the renowned Lancashire firm of Turnbull & Stockdale at their Rosebank Printworks at Ramsbottom near Manchester, and offers cartophiles the very final incarnation of Bernard Sleigh’s famous “Anciente Mappe of Fairyland”, originally published by Sidgwick & Jackson in December 1917 and reissued in smaller single-sheet format in 1925.

Birmingham-born Bernard Sleigh [1872-1954] was a pioneering artist, illustrator and engraver who fell heavily under the influence of William Morris & the Arts & Crafts movement during his time working & teaching alongside Arthur Gaskin at the Birmingham School of Art during the early 1890s. His Arts & Crafts credentials were subsequently brought to life through his fine murals & accomplished stained glass work for the Bromsgrove Guild.

World War I brought both financial and personal challenges to Sleigh, not only the drying up of valuable commissions from local Birmingham patrons but a cycling accident during the wartime blackout which almost severed his right thumb and very nearly brought his artistic career to a premature close. It was as a direct result of the accident that Sleigh formed a lifelong collaboration and friendship with one of his most promising young students, Ivy Anne Ellis, who began to undertake some of the finer engraving & design work that his accident now prevented him from doing. And by 1917 the attractions of the romantic medievalism of the Arts & Crafts movement had begun to loose their sheen for Sleigh and had been replaced by an alternative escapism – a realm inhabited by fairies & the mystical attractions of the occult. This was probably a result of Sleigh’s recognition of the collective trauma brought on by three long years of destructive war and its deep personal impact of both upon himself and upon the local families and close friends around him.

Probably the highpoint of Sleigh’s creative genius and undoubtedly one of his most long-lasting & popular productions, the Fairyland maps sustained his finances through the early 1920s and sparked his wider exploration of the world of fairies resulting in the publication of several fairy-related books, including the Faerie Calendar [1920] and Gates of Horn [1926], in which he recounted his own personal encounters with the mystical Faery world. Sleigh believed this was a sort of parallel universe to the human one, which he had a particular ease & facility in accessing, describing himself as a sort of “human Peter Pan”. Such fairy encounters were often heightened by the ingestion of hallucinogens such as mescal, the latter on the recommendation of his longtime correspondent, Henry Havelock Ellis [1859-1939], one of the early pioneers of the scientific study of sex.

The final incarnation & revival of the Fairyland map in fabric form came at just the right time for Sleigh who  finally retired from art teaching in 1937 and faced an extremely uncertain future on a relatively meagre pension. At the end of 1936 he was approached by Captain William Turnbull, Chairman of the Lancashire textile printers, Turnbull & Stockdale, with the idea of transforming the original 1917 Mappe of Fairyland into a new Rosebank fabric design. The project proved an immediate success, the promotional leaflet accompanying the first rolls off the Rosebank Works’ looms offering potential buyers a “Guide to Fairyland in Chintz” and embellished with a small woodcut detail of the map (probably by Sleigh himself), by way of illustration. The partnership between Sleigh and Turnbull & Stockdale continued for the next four years until the Second World War abruptly terminated production at the Rosebank Works in about 1941. Several beautiful fabric designs resulted, including Oriental Fantasy, apparently targeted at the South American market and Pleiades, which formed part of Turnbull & Stockdale’s attractive display at the 1938 Empire Exhibition in Glasgow. Several other Rosebank fabrics designed by Sleigh proved equally popular, including a William Morris pattern; Galleons; Butterflies; Tropical Fish; The River; and my personal favourite, Kentish Scene, replete with oast houses, half-timbered villages and ancient churches. One other design by Sleigh, conceived whilst sitting on the cliffs overlooking Tintagel Castle and entitled Sea Foam, achieved special royal endorsement, gracing the bedroom windows of both Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret at Buckingham Palace.

The design here is a much less cluttered and significantly truncated version of the original 1917 Fairyland map which largely replicates only the right hand section of the original piece and with much of the rest of the design completely reformulated to create two quite distinct insular landmasses, all beautifully rendered in vibrant and colourful tones, the blue wave-patterned seas being especially striking. The topography includes the wooded Isle of Avalon, with King Arthur’s Tomb and the mountain-top Temple of the Holy Grail, approached up a winding staircase by the assembled Knights of the Round Table. The viewer again feasts on Sleigh’s army of colourful & exotic figures, beasts and monsters, plucked from the pages of popular myth, legend, folklore and nursery rhyme to vividly populate this imaginative map and bring it truly to life. Tritons, crowned fish, mermaids, whales, seamonsters and an assortment of medieval galleons and sailing vessels decorate the rough and dangerous Enchanted Seas all around, some of the latter very likely seeking safe haven in the eye-catching harbour of Dreamland.

The textile firm of Turnbull & Stockdale was founded by William Turnbull and William Stockdale in Lancashire in 1881. Amongst its early designers was the renowned Arts & Crafts specialist, Lewis F Day [1845-1910], whom Sleigh would undoubtedly have known. The firm prospered in the early 20th Century, combining a popular range of so-called “Duralite” washable curtain fabrics with its more sophistated “Rosebank” hand-block printed fabrics, cretonnes, shadow tissues & linens. Though subsequently acquired by Reeds as part of a wider print Company, the business was restarted in the mid-1960s by one of the surviving members of the Turnbull family, who had taken care to preserve the company’s rich archive of original pattern books and survives to this day.

This remains an extremely rare piece about which, unfortunately, very little detailed bibliographic information can easily be found. Unusually the Library of Congress holds three different Fairyland Rosebank fabric segments, all seemingly acquired during the 1930s, and one of which (Copy 3), is almost identical to our example, both in format and size. A couple of other segments have quite recently been offered on the market and at auction. We have been unable to locate any other examples in major museum or institutional collection worldwide.

Refs: Library of Congress; Roger Cooper: Bernard Sleigh, artist and craftsman, 1872-1954, pp.88-102 but esp. pp.99-100 & Figs.15-20. In: Journal Number Twenty One [1997] The Decorative Fine Arts Society.