At Lansbury Lawrence primary school in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, the hall and canteen are tiled in lemon yellow, white, grey and sharp lime green, in repeating patterns that still dance along the walls 50 years after they were put there when the school was built as part of the Festival of Britain in 1951. Though electrical ducts and fire notices now cut into the rhythm of the pattern, the walls still proclaim colour and invention.
Lansbury Lawrence, along with at least 10 other schools built in the 15 years after the Second World War, is part of the heritage bequeathed by Peggy Angus, perhaps the most important tile designer of post-war Britain -also a committed socialist, feminist, inspired teacher, inventive designer and now the subject of a vivid and thought-provoking exhibition at Middlesex University's Museum of Domestic Design amp; Architecture, curated by Katie Arber.
"She was an inspiration throughout her life," says Arber, relating how Angus (1904-93) drew, painted and practised crafts with her friends and family (her daughter and granddaughter are also artists), was involved in the design of Heathrow Airportnbsp; and ran her own business, producing custom-made tiles and wallpaper until the end of her life. For much of the time she was also teaching art in secondary schools (briefly in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, then mostly in London).
Everything she did expressed her conviction that, as the idealists of the 1920s and 1930s put it, "Art is for All". This belief, widely expressed before the Second World War among artists and intellectuals, was put into practice in the post-war years, when Angus's friends, the generation with whom she had gone to the Royal College of Art, became influential.
Today, tiles are bought shrink-wrapped by the dozen, and beautifying schools tends to be a matter of changing the displays of children's work. Peggy Angus's words and work, presented in this compact exhibition with clarity and punch, challenge us with their originality and idealism. Do we agree that beautiful surroundings enrich education? If so, what are we doing about it?
Next time there is a funding boost for school buildings, how much of the extra money will be spent on art?
The Museum of Domestic Design amp; Architecture runs a programme of educational events and school visits, mainly for primary pupils, but with advance notice it can arrange secondary visits. Museum of Domestic Design amp; Architecture, Cat Hill, Barnet, Herts EN4 8HT. Until January 5, 2003. Tel: 020 8411 5244. Closed Monday, entrance free. To read this review in full see Friday Magazine in this week's TES.nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;