Crowds flock in

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
The Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture provides a good pattern for school visits, says Chris Fautley

Let's hear it for magnolia emulsion! OK, maybe not - until you decide to paper over it and start ploughing through dozens of pattern books. Only then does it suddenly become more appealing. The pattern is never quite right; if only you could incorporate this colour into that pattern, or better still, design your own. Which is precisely what students of all ages are able to do in wallpaper printing workshops at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture (MoDA) in Barnet, north London.

MoDA is custodian of 70,000 items of decorative design in the home dating from 1870 to 1970. There are about 10,000 wallpaper samples alone, of which 5,000 are in the Crown Wallpaper Archive, mostly from the 1950s and 1960s.

Hand-painted Chinese wallpaper you will not find; but if it's the bog standard, not-so-bog-standard, and even designs that didn't quite make it that you seek, then this is the place for you. As curator Lesley Hoskins says: "The appeal of wallpaper is that it is something everybody can relate to."

As 23 eager Year 3 wallpaper designers arrive from Wellbourne Primary School in Tottenham, they divide into two groups. One adjourns to the Exploring Interiors gallery where a selection of wallpapers, textiles and household artefacts illustrate how our living and dining rooms and kitchens looked from 1900 to 1960. Worksheets with word, colouring and sketching exercises encourage them to interpret the gallery's contents.

While a few wallpapers are on display here, the majority of the collection is available only for viewing by arrangement. Some 1,300 samples are on the museum's website.

In MoDA's classroom, 12 children start wallpaper printing in earnest (the maximum is 15 in a session). Education assistant Annabel Hunt invites each to select a colour copy of a pattern from the collection. There are also 36 copies available as a free returnable resource pack before the visit.

Design selected, we are invited to sketch parts of it on to A3 paper divided into a grid of 12 squares. Shapes, patterns, flowers, leaves - whatever appeals from the chosen design. The key is to keep the drawing big, bold and simple - try to fill each square.

We then have to select our favourite square and copy it on to a high-density polystyrene tile about the size of a bathroom tile. "What we are going to do is draw on this and make a block to print from," Annabel explains, as she lightly pencils a design, then impresses it deeper into the polystyrene as she finalises it. She asks one girl to close her eyes and rub her finger across the etching: "If you can feel it, it's ready to print."

Annabel squeezes some bright pink ink from a tube. "This is ink, not paint," she says. "It's stickier than paint." She rolls it on to a tray and liberally applies it to the tile. Then she turns it upside down, presses it on to paper and rolls over it with a larger roller. "I want you to fill a whole page with two colours," Annabel enthuses. Goggle-eyed, the young wallpaper designers can hardly wait to get stuck in. Patterns are anxiously copied on to tiles and there is soon much frantic rolling, printing and washing of ink from blocks, encouraged by Annabel throughout.

A blue and orange leaf; a design resembling a blue and green sail; another in burgundy and green with oriental connotations - of course, it's the process that matters, but some are rather good; others might not be to everybody's taste. But as Picasso said: "Taste is the enemy of creativeness."

* Wallpaper printing workshops (booking essential), and admission to the museum are free. To view the collection, contact Maggie Coe Tel: 020 8411 4383

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