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The Artist Collection

The Artist Collection is a collection of Artists works on Silk Scarves, Lamps, Rugs, Wallpapers and more. It is a project that has been developed by Cornish Artist and Jeweller Helen Feiler...

Helen Feiler was doing flower paintings while at art school (Gloucestershire College of Art and Design 1970 – 1973) and her father said “they looked like tiles – why not make them into wallpaper?”. They had a fashion department in the college where they printed fabrics so Helen went up and worked in that department. She didn’t like the fine art department and was much happier in there with Mike Craven-Jones, who said she was the best ‘A1’ student he had ever had. She spent a year up there including the holidays and printed onto rolls of coloured paper. She took them to Biba and they were interested in to buying it as wrapping paper.

Helen was using lots of silver base with other colours. It was all about making the whole room change by changing the light, natural light throughout the day coming in through windows highlighting different hues in the paper and then different colours shining on it at night. She then set up a studio above the Penwith Gallery in St. Ives and had a 30ft table built for silk screening wallpaper. This was a tough time, 1974, with limited time and money it was a struggle to get it off the ground. Controversially Helen was rejected for a grant from the Crafts Council – due to the fact that she was an Artist.

Janet Leach  (Bernard Leach’s wife) was a big fan. So Bernard called Helens father and arranged to meet with Helen. She was taken to meet him at the Piazza.  Janet then organised for the Crafts Council to visit Helen and reconsider in 1976 but it was too late and Helen had already been accepted on an ATC (Art Teachers Course) at Goldsmiths so she closed the Studio. She continued printmaking at Goldsmiths during this time. Following the course Helen was offered a job at St Paul’s Girls School, running the Print Room there. She then got married in 1978 and had a daughter Rachael in 1980.

In 1981 Helen stayed at John Pipers house in Fawley Bottom over Christmas because Seb Piper and Mary Piper were close friends. Helen noticed his curtain fabric, which he had designed for Sanderson’s (sanderson-uk.com) in the 1950’s. So she asked him to design wallpaper for her. Which is when he designed Church In A Copse.  

In 1983 Church In A Copse wallpaper was used to decorate the central room of John Pipers exhibition at Tate Britain rolls of wallpaper were also for sale in the Tate Britain shop.  John Piper then went on to paint Foliate Heads, which Helen and he developed into a wallpaper frieze. Helen then asked a number of Cornish Artists to design wallpapers, including Terry Frost, Paul Feiler, June Miles and sculptor Paul Mount. Monica Winter gave Helen a drawing by Bryan Wynter to use for a wallpaper design.

In 1986 Maggie Thornton at The Redfern Gallery (London) was doing an exhibition of Artists Designs and wanted to include Helen’s collection of wallpaper designs and she was introduced to Patrick Procktor, Michael Rothenstein and Gordon House who did the Graphics for the collection. (He designed The Beatles cover for The White Album with John Lennon - who, said he wanted the cover to be made of white fur).

Interior design shops on the Kings road started having sample books of the collection.

After a double page spread in the Sunday Times Magazine, Helen got a phone call from a lady from Harrods. The lady ran the interior design studio within Harrods. She was promised an entire floor and was excited by Helens project. She knew all the Artists and wanted to promote it with space for their paintings and wanted to take the project into other areas including furnishing fabrics. Just as this was about to come into fruition Harrods was sold to Mohamed Al Fayed and the entire project was shelved under the new management.

Helen then decided to get lampshades made so the work could be seen and not closed away in a sample book. She then went to see the buyer at Heals and he said ‘why would I want your lampshades when I can have them made for £2 in Taiwan’ the meeting was not a success and Helen was left shocked by his ignorance.

Not deterred by this Helen went to see the lampshade department in Selfridges. She was met with a funky young woman who took them and began to sell them. But they were displayed amongst traditional tasselled shades – the shoppers of Selfridges were not the right audience.

Helen approached her bank for another loan and was refused point blank by her new bank manager. He was decidedly against helping her. Helen was trying to get off income support and start a business for her and her daughter but was met with a man who was very resistant and for his own moral reasons he did not want to lend money to someone on income support. All the staff were mortified as they had seen this grow and were always excited to see the latest article.

This lead to Helen selling her house and moving to Cornwall, where she continued painting and started making jewellery.

In 1998 Helen opened a little gallery in Newlyn from where she still makes and sells her jewellery. In the last 5 years she has had exhibitions at the Redfern Gallery including her works on paper. In 2007 she had an Exhibition at Tate St. Ives, the only exhibition of jewellery as applied art that any Tate has ever had.

Helen has been wanting to relaunch the wallpapers; she tried a couple of printers and was not happy with the results. Now that Digital printing has become possible, the relaunch became possible. Helen spoke to her niece Lindsay a Graphic Designer about the project and she expressed immediate interest and quit her job at a leading Advertising Agency to pursue the project. 

During the summer of 2010 Maggie Thornton visited Helen’s Newlyn gallery and they discussed the possibility of an exhibition at the Redfern. Helen then spoke with Richard Selby (Redfern MD) and they agreed a Jewellery exhibition for Helen, whilst talking Helen mentioned the Artist Collection project and Richard was very interested and offered Helen gallery space to display everything that could be put together in the time frame.

During this time Tate St. Ives was holding a retrospective of Peter Lanyon’s work. So Helen went to see Sheila Lanyon and she said she would be happy for Helen to produce Peter Lanyon silk scarves for the shop to sell during the exhibition.

Helen and Lindsay worked solidly for 2 months preparing for the Redfern exhibition in December. The project had to be done in phases. Scarves and Lampshades, then cushions and a rug. Wallpaper will go into production in 2011.