Welcome to the resonant world of Charles London Pickering. CLP – as he is now fondly known – collected. His theme was print, his habit was lunch; for a skinny guy he ate a lot, and we are talking a lot, of lunches.
CLP (OBE, 1908-1998) kept box after unordered box of material associated with his professional life – bureaucratic paperwork related to his role as an inspector of print, design and typography colleges; samples of print and typography for education; trade press; newspapers; photographs and lunch menus.
He was a member of several professional print industry societies – each one had up to four lunches a year. For each lunch a society member produced a menu – showing off their technical ability, taste and creativity. Collectively the menus trace the development of design from after World War Two to the late 1980s – and they are delightful. More than that, the menus give us an insight into a circle of, almost exclusively, men, gathering to talk and eat and learn and do business.
CLP’s boxes are now stored safely on the steel shelves of the London College of Communication Archive and Special Collections Centre.
As part of our Masters Programme, MA Culture Criticism and Curation at Central Saint Martin’s, we were given access to the uncatalogued material, with the aim of producing an exhibition at the University campus in Kings Cross, London. We discussed many themes the objects in the archive suggested; the position of women in the industry during the period (we only found one! But she, Beatrice Warde, is a paradigm example of a woman rising to the top of a male dominated profession); changing technology; the development of graphic design and typography and more.
A lot of this history is well-documented and all of our conversations came back to the lunches – so we decided to produce an exhibition that reflects on the circles of influence that operate in the print world, which, as in other professions, are often situated in semi-social networks, making change and maintaining tradition. Whether you call the lunches an Old Boys Network or peer support groups, the industry cliques, then as now, eat together, drink together and print together. The wider social influence of the print circles is something we are thinking about – particularly in the context of two overtly political objects – print is not innocent, design is not innocent, what do those bloody lunches reveal?
This blog will relate our experiences of producing the exhibition, look at some of the star objects and some aspects of our research. Skinny, smart, serious old CLP didn’t change the world, but he made a difference in an industry that has underpinned the development of modern human history and continues to be powerful. So, please raise a glass to CLP, and wish us luck for the project.
Eat.Drink.Print exhibition take place on Central Saint Martin’s College of art and design from April 29th to May 5th.