Marianne Straub OBE (1909-1994) was one of the leading commercial designers of textiles in Britain in the period from the 1940s to 1960s. She said her overriding aim was: “to design things which people could afford. … To remain a handweaver did not seem satisfactory in this age of mass-production”.
Marianne Straub was born on the 23rd of September 1909 in the village of Amriswil, Switzerland, the second of four daughters of the textile merchant Carl Straub and his wife Cécile Kappeler. She had tuberculosis as a young child and spent over four years in a hospital ward, returning home at the age of eight. For most of this hospitalisation she was immobilised by traction and was dependent upon her hands and imagination for amusement.
Having left hospital and started school another six-month period of inactivity, aged 12 and 13. saw Straub develop an interest in yarns. She requested a narrow strip loom and to plain cloths she added adventurous colour combinations and areas of brocading.
In 1928 Straub studied art at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Zurich, focusing on hand weaving and textiles in the final two years. Her tutor was Heinz Otto Hürlimann, who had studied at the Bauhaus. She then spent six months working as a technician/helper at a mill in her village. She was paid with twelve towels – “worth every penny!”
She moved to Bradford, arriving in 1932 to undertake a year’s study at Bradford Technical College. Bradford had addressed correspondence to her in Switzerland as a ‘Mr Straub’. One reason for choosing Bradford was that Swiss technical colleges would not accept women students – and at Bradford she was only the third female student. On arriving at Bradford College the staff were surprised to discover that she was a Miss Straub and not a Mr Straub!
After completing her course in one year instead of the usual three years she was invited to work at Ethel Mairet’s Gospels studio at Ditchling where she developed her hand loom techniques. Following this she worked as a consultant designer for the Welsh milling industry, advising 72 mills that were supported by the Rural Industries Bureau between 1934–7 and learning the skills of mass production. In 1937 she joined the firm of Helios, a subsidiary of Barlow & Jones as head designer, becoming managing director in 1947.
1 A Scarf of undyed Southdown wool woven for Gospels 1933. 2 Welsh tweeds 1945-37. 3 and 4 A selection of Helios fabrics.
In 1950, Straub joined the firm of Warner & Sons in Braintree, Essex, and remained associated with the firm until 1970.
Warner fabrics 1952 to 1970
It is at this point in 1950 that our interest takes us to Great Bardfield. Straub had been introduced to Edward and Charlotte Bawden shortly after her move to Braintree. In 1952 Straub purchased Trinity Cottage in Great Bardfield.
She recalls: ‘I went there a lot through the Festival of Britain….I decided it would be a nice place to live. One day Edward Bawden rang and said “My gardener (Fred Mizen) says the cottage opposite is for sale”, so I drove over and looked at the cottage and decided to buy it.’
Walter Hoyle recalls: ‘I first met Marianne Straub in 1952, she was having tea at the Bawden’s when I called in. I was immediately struck – and that is the right word – by her personality, forceful, pleasant, on friendly first-name terms from the start. I had recently moved into a farm cottage on the outskirts of Great Bardfield and Marianne enquired if I had curtains. When I told her I did not she immediately offered to make curtains for me using her woven materials…..we became good friends’.
It was suggested that Marianne should take part in the Great Bardfield Summer Exhibition of 1954, a selection of her fabrics could be displayed in Bawden’s Brick House. When post exhibition, the artists met to work out expenses it was decided that it would be unfair to ask Marianne to contribute because hers was a non-selling exhibition. Marianne was upset by this and insisted on paying her contribution.
The village’s “open house” exhibitions attracted national press attention and thousands visited the remote village to view art in the artists’ own homes during the summer exhibitions of 1954, 1955 and 1958.
One of Straub’s most famous early designs for Warner was Surrey, a textile that featured in the Festival of Britain in 1951 and was used in the Regatta Restaurant.
Straub continued to work with Warner until 1970, she was also enlisted by Isabel Tisdall to create designs for the newly launched venture Tamesa Fabrics from 1964. Designs from the Tamesa range were to feature on everything from the QE2 to BEA’s Trident aircraft.
Straub was also among the designers used to create the livery for moquette upholstery on London Transport buses and trains. Her blue/green design (known as Straub) was used on all buses and trains entering service from 1969 to 1978, notably featuring on trains operating along the Piccadilly line extension to Heathrow Airport opened in 1977. The design – and variations of it – also featured in British Rail carriages of the period.
London Underground seat fabric. Top right: ‘Straub’ . London Transport – a moquette fabric entitled Straub, which was named after Marianne and was applied to all new buses and trains entering service between 1969-1978. Bottom right: Straub’ moquette textile in Piccadilly Line carriage opened by Her Majesty the Queen – 16 December 1977.
Straub also became an influential textile teacher, combining work with Warner with teaching at Central School of Art, London from 1956. She also taught at Hornsey College of Art and the Royal College of Art.
On retirement in 1970, she left Great Bardfield and moved to Cambridge. She continued to maintain her interest in cloth and weaving in retirement. In a letter to her biographer Mary Schoeser some three months before her death, Straub described her design process. “Whilst thinking of the new cloth, I think of its weight, its draping qualities, the handle; I see it in colours……The essence of the whole exercise is to place the cloth, in my imagination, into the situation in which it will be used.”
Straub was made a Royal Designer for Industry in 1972. In 1993, she received the Sir Misha Black Medal. She was also a Fellow of the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers (SIAD) and was appointed an OBE for services to textile weaving.
Straub returned to Switzerland in 1992 for the last two years of her life passing away on the 8th November 1994 aged 85.
Graham Bennison April 2021. https://www.facebook.com/BennisonArtist
Please also see…….. https://httpartistichorizons.org/2021/02/28/walter-hoyle/
Facebook pages. Eric Ravilious and Friends https://www.facebook.com/groups/488249232182567
John Aldridge Artist and Friends. https://www.facebook.com/JohnAldridgeArtist