Dr Christine Boydell explores Marion Dorn’s design journey with Warner & Sons.
Marion Victoria Dorn was born in San Francisco in 1896, and settled in London in 1923 with her partner, the graphic designer Edward McKnight Kauffer. At this time, she began designing and making batiks, and produced one-off decorative panels used as curtains. Towards the end of the 1920s, Dorn decided she wanted to concentrate on designing and so approached textile companies, including Edinburgh Weavers, Donald Brothers and Warner & Sons, who would be able to produce her work in greater quantities.
Dorn produced more work for Warner’s than any other firm; between 1934 and 1942, the Company printed 22 of her designs. Dorn’s earlier designs, such as Sea-Horse and Star (1934) and Fiddles (1935) were produced using a block-printing technique. When Warner & Sons adopted the screen-printing process, Dorn designed for this technique too. Designs like Acorn and Oakleaf (1935) showcased her technique of using bold outlines overlaid with broad unsynchronised patches of colour. Dorn was paid a flat fee for each design, and, in contrast to many other designers, also received a royalty on each yard sold.
Dorn worked closely with textile designer Alec Hunter on a number of designs for woven fabrics. The first were geometrics and stripes, particularly favoured by modernist architects for their simplicity and textural qualities. Later, more complex designs with a classical influence were woven, such as Scarlatti (1938) and St. John (1940) – a special commission for St John’s College, Cambridge and based on the design of the ceiling of the Combination Room.
Christine Boydell is Subject Leader of Critical and Contextual Studies at De Montfort University. She wrote her PhD on Dorn and has written a book on the designer: The Architect of Floors: Modernism, Art and Marion Dorn Design (Schoeser, 1996).