Originally designed in an attempt to gain publicity for the growing St. Ives art scene in the 1950s, artist Denis Mitchell and his brother formed the company Porthia Prints. They encouraged local artists to submit original designs, which would then be screen-printed onto pieces of linen and sold as table mats. At least 17 painters and sculptors took part in the Porthia Prints project and put forward designs to be produced on linen fabric. 13 table mats were selected and, by 1955, they were being produced and sold exclusively through Heal & Son Limited of London. The artists featured were John Wells, Peter Lanyon, Terry Frost, Roger Hilton, Robert Adams, William Gear, Denis Mitchell, Michael Snow, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Patrick Heron, Barbara Hepworth, Stanley Dorfman and John Forrester. By 1957 Alexander Mackenzie, Trevor Bell and Agnes Drey had been added to the team.
The results were unveiled to the public on 1st March 1955 at the exhibition Abstract Designs at Heal’s Mansard Gallery. It was opened by Philip James, then Director of Art at the Arts Council. In the early days there was some optimism. Orders were secured in London for £150 worth of mats, and Bonnier’s of Madison Avenue proposed an exhibition. Heal’s declared themselves ‘satisfied’ with the sales of the first few weeks. Unfortunately, Porthia struggled to keep up with demand of orders, as their production method was calibrated for the manufacture of thirteen or fourteen prints of each design, which were intended to be sold in sets or singly. However, most clients requested sets of six different mats or varieties of individual prints. These production issues led Heal’s to withdraw their support in 1960.
Apart from an exhibition at the Redfern Gallery in 1986, showing six of the mats, and a fuller exhibition of the mats in 2006 organised by the Belgrave Gallery, St. Ives in conjunction with Margaret Howell, London, these works have been largely unknown. The collection to be offered in our 14 November auction from an important St. Ives artist’s estate, includes a number of original designs and marks an important moment in the St. Ives artistic movement and a rare and unique collaboration of artists associated with St. Ives in the Post-War years.
AUCTION | MODERN MADE: Modern Art, Design & Studio Ceramics | Thursday 14th November at 1pm
VIEWING | Tues 12th Nov 10am – 5pm | Wed 13th Nov 10am - 5pm | Morning of sale from 10am
LOCATION | NOHO STUDIOS, 46 Great Titchfield Street, Fitzrovia, London W1W 7QA