This is one of the most vibrant pieces of printed cotton I have ever seen. It was made by Tibor Reich and I have one of the original panels, which were made for the opening of the Shakespeare Centre at Stratford on Avon in 1964. The Centre was opened to commemorate the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth.
Tibor Reich was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1916. His father was a wealthy businessman who had a factory making decorative braids, ribbons and haberdashery for military ceremonial uniforms and folk costumes. Here, the young Tibor learnt about textiles and colour. As a child he visited the factory and was spellbound. He once said, “Here I noticed cerise, kingfisher, very bright emeralds, flame reds and deep oranges…”
Following his parents’ divorce, Tibor went to live with his grandmother and immersed himself in drawing, painting and photography. Until, in 1933 at the age of 17, Tibor went to Vienna to continue his studies. Already artistic, his talents blossomed in the creative atmosphere of pre-war Vienna. He studied textile design and technology as well as architecture and poster design. But as Nazism spread, Tibor left Vienna for England, where he went to Leeds University to continue his studies in textile technology and woven design.
Tibor brought the vibrancy and colour of his homeland, of Hungarian folk music and peasant costumes, as well as the beauty of nature, to the UK in his work. And, not long after leaving Leeds, he moved to Warwickshire and set up his own woven textile design business in Cliffords Mill using old hand looms that he repaired and renovated.
Being totally original, he quickly established a good reputation, and worked on the highest profile contracts. In fact it is true to say he revolutionised textiles in post war Britain with his use of colour, pattern and texture. By the 1950s Tibor’s textile weaving business was well established and he expanded into printed designs. His projects included the Royal Yacht Britannia, Concorde, The Festival of Britain and the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre as it was then called. Here he designed and created curtains, wall hangings and carpets each named after a Shakespearean character.
He also produced his own range of pottery called Tigo ware and designed a most unusual house for his family which was very innovative and modern. I visited him here in the 60s as a teenager, with my mum who was in Stratford art circle and seemed to know everybody! I was amazed by the huge onion shaped open fire which stood in the centre of the room and went right up through the house to the roof. I had certainly never seen anything like it. I visited again last week and took some photos. I believe the house has been renovated and I didn’t see inside, but the garden with its earthen embankment is established now and the fir trees are huge, providing a very useful privacy screen. Tibor did not like the idea of fences and walls, preferring natural boundaries.
In 1964 he helped to furnish the brand new Shakespeare Centre, which is in Henley Street adjoining Shakespeare’s birthplace, for its opening to mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. And this is where our paths crossed.
I have written before about the 1964 celebrations, which were undoubtedly one of the highlights of my life. I worked at the Shakespeare Centre and the sights and sounds produced there I will never forget. Shakespeare’s plays on a loop, pomanders and dried petals creating the perfumes of the Tudor age, all brought Shakespeare to life. Added to that was the music of the age and Tibor Reich’s exquisite carpets, curtains, textile panels and wall hangings, some of which are still there today.
The tapestries and wall hangings evoked so brilliantly the scenes from the plays I loved, especially the Age of Kings panel. This material, showing the kings from Shakespeare’s plays, was produced as stage curtains. Panels of it were created in several vibrant colours, red, gold, orange, blue etc. I am lucky enough to have the original red version as a wall hanging. It was designed by Pamela Kay and made by Tibor Reich in 1964. I also have a detail from A Tournament and an original of “garrick Jubilee”.
Recently, a new gold curtain was put up in the historic Becket chapel at Holy Trinity Church. The chapel is dedicated to the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, who was assassinated in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.
I went to see it last week. The golden fabric was commissioned for the chapel by The Friends of Holy Trinity Church and comes from the Tibor archive of 20th century design stored in Stratford and in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
If you would like to see Tibor’s textile and pottery work for yourself there is a retrospective exhibition on from 29 January – August at the Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M15 6ER. www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk
And you can even see a clip of Tibor Reich and see him at work here.
More of his work is on display at the Gordon Russell Design Museum in Broadway until 12 October, and at the V&A Museum in London. The Tibor Reich family, son Alex and Grandson, Sam hold an archive too which they are currently using to relaunch the Tibor Ltd brand. They are lucky enough to still live at Tibor House in Avenue Road, Stratford on Avon. It is a beautiful tree lined road near the open countryside on the way to Warwick.
This year, 2016, marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. I know that the whole town of Stratford on Avon is busy preparing for the massive celebrations in April. I can’t wait to be there to join in the festivities and see what Stratford can do to match or better the celebrations of 1964.