Elisabeth Tomalin – Émigré Designer

Page 1

ELISABETH TOMALIN – ÉMIGRÉ DESIGNER 1912-2012 – ‘THE ONLY JOY IN LIFE IS BEING CREATIVE. EVERYTHING ELSE IS MORE OR LESS PAIN’ RACHEL DICKSON EXTRACT FROM Presentation given at triennial conference of German and Austrian Research Centre; published Yearbook Vol. 18; Editors: Charmian Brinson, Jana Buresova and Andrea Hammel. DATE 2014. SOURCE Presentation: IMLR, University of London; Publication: (Leiden/Boston: Brill Rodopi, Brill, 2017). For further information see collection, exhibitions and research on Benuri.org.

Elisabeth Tomalin – Émigré Designer 1912–2012 ‘The only joy in life is being creative. Everything else is more or less pain’1

Rachel Dickson Few in the global audience for London's Olympic opening ceremony of July 2012 can have known that Thomas Heatherwick, contemporary designer, shared a creative vision with his grandmother, Elisabeth Tomalin (1912-2012), Jewish émigré designer, whose second career post-1969 pioneered art therapy. Exploring family and public archives (including V&A, Heals, Marks & Spencer), this chapter charts her difficult professional journey and her distinctive émigré design career in the UK during the 1940s–1950s working for various textile houses and as a freelance designer, contributing to the complex jigsaw of postwar female émigré experience in Britain.

Few in the global audience for Britain's extraordinary Olympic opening ceremony of July 2012 can have known that Thomas Heatherwick (born 1970), the designer behind a notable piece for the ceremony, shared a creative vision with his German Jewish émigré grandmother, Elisabeth Tomalin, nee Wallach (1912–2012), textile designer and — following a second career post-1969 — ground-breaking art therapist,2 who pioneered art therapy both as an


academic discipline and as a powerful tool to deal with trauma amongst Germany's first post-war generation. This chapter, drawing on both family and public archives, will examine how Elisabeth's early experiences in Germany as a young, Jewish creative, overcoming the double burdens of her family’s bourgeois expectations and the rising prohibitions of National Socialism, coloured and reinforced her determination and ambition to succeed professionally in her new homeland, and helped shape her difficult émigré trajectory. Her family circumstance and her training prior to emigration had a critical effect on decisions made in exile and demonstrate that she was already confirmed on a particular professional path at the time she left Germany, although, as other chapters address, this was by no means a guarantee of continued success in the new host nation. Between 1933–1945 more than 300 painters, sculptors, designers, illustrators and architects, 3 both Jews and non-Jews, sought refuge in Britain, and inevitably much focus has been placed on the majority ‘male’ contribution. However, Elisabeth was one of a significant


number of émigré women (such as the ceramicist Margarete Marks neé Heymann (1899–1990, see Ursula Hudson-Weidenmann in Yearbook Volume 44) and Viennese artist/designer Margarete Berger-Hammerschlag (1902–58, whose uncatalogued archive is located in Senate House, University of London), who, despite the fracture of their







obligations, were able to rebuild solid, if little recognized careers in Britain, often bringing a continental vision and injection of modernism into postwar British art and design. In this respect, it is notable that Elisabeth shared a similar journey with recently rediscovered, émigré graphic artist Dörte Bürgner (1907–98), known as Dodo, subject of a retrospective at Ben Uri in 2012,5 five years her senior, and a fellow alumnus of Berlin’s progressive Reimann Schule,6 a private, Jewish-owned art school, noted for its liberal curriculum. It is not possible to include a detailed comparison here, but their parallel experiences are striking. Each could be described, as Dodo was, as ‘a very dark Jewish girl’7 and both adopted single word monikers in early life to create new identities and to distance themselves from their bourgeois backgrounds. Bürgner


became simply ‘Dodo’ and signed all her artwork as such; Elisabeth reinvented herself as ‘Suaja’, a made-up name, in an attempt to create an exotic-sounding alter ego. Both faced challenges of rupture and migration at the point at which they were launching their careers. Both arrived as refugees in London in 1936, Dodo unable to progress her fledgling career as a graphic illustrator in Berlin, made redundant from the satirical magazine, ULK,8 whilst Elisabeth was forced to leave her art training immediately prior to graduation. Both independent and strong-minded, the products of a progressive education in applied arts, they shared a thoroughly modern interest in psychotherapy and the teachings of Jung, and both endeavoured to work within the structured environment of commercial art in London, which potentially afforded greater security than the uncertainties of the fine art world,9 particularly at a time when, to quote the English art critic Herbert Read: ‘to the general public in Great Britain, modern German art is totally unknown.’10 A design career at least functioned within clearly defined parameters. Indeed, Elisabeth’s grandson attributed her commercial success to her ability to


be creative whilst remaining firmly within the confines of contemporary British taste. Much information on Elisabeth’s early life derives from taped interviews given to her granddaughter Miriam Heatherwick in summer 2005.11 Then her early 90s, her continental accent and phrasing was still evident, her voice clear and precise, her tone, at times, impatient and demanding. She emphasised that she provided this testimony not through personal vanity but because others had often enquired about her life story.

Born on 4 November 1912 in Dresden, into a liberal assimilated Jewish family, Elisabeth was the youngest of four (close to an elder brother, a significant gap separated them from two sisters, eight and ten years older). Her childhood is recalled with clarity; visual memories are often the strongest, whilst dates and chronologies are weak. Dresden is described as a city rich in culture. The family were







manufacturing chairs — and led a typical bourgeois life, Nevertheless, the war remained a dark backdrop to these


early recollections and, as Elisabeth noted, there were real privations: ‘everyone in Germany was hungry in the 1920s.’ Although her father was too old to fight, she recalled as a young child separating cotton from cloth remnants to make dressings to be sent to the front, packed in boxes marked with the black, white and red colours of Saxony and Germany. ‘We knew soldiers had to fight and we, as very small children, had to contribute’. Being Jewish was not an important part of her childhood. Synagogue was a ‘place we all knew’, but Elisabeth did not recall attending. Her life was Jewish without Jewish ritual. The family were friendly with a Rabbi Wolf12 but religious Jews lived in ‘another neighbourhood’. Rather than a Star of David, she wore an enamel pendant depicting an angel and the words for: ‘God protect you’. Her parents were liberal, ‘good’ Jews who belonged to the local charitable association Bnai Brith. Generous to the poor, they supported refugees who had fled from Russia. Elisabeth also recalled impoverished young students from Prague and Vienna enjoying free lunches in the family apartment.


Holidays were spent without parents, often with her brother and kinderfraulein, in the mountains, or after the war, at a Jewish children’s holiday home on Norderney, one of the East Frisian islands, where undernourished youngsters were rejuvenated with fresh air and ample food. Tomalin made two key and lasting friendships here. Firstly, with Hanover–born Ellen Bernkopf (neé Catzenstein, 1904–1992), a cousin, who would become a noted figurative sculptor.13 Secondly, with Ruth Cohn (1912– 2010), psychotherapist, poet and art therapist with whom Elisabeth would study later in life. 14 Many of her earliest memories are of the art nouveau apartment at 17 Bayreuth Strasse (now destroyed) — an apartment was more ‘modern’ than a villa. These recollections are suffused with colour and texture: patterned floor tiles at the entrance, pink roses on the trellis, dark, heavy furniture in the Herrenzimmer; portraits of her sisters by an artist who ‘became a Nazi’, a ‘folk art’ vestibule, with antique painted furniture, and a grand dining room which could seat 24, its decorative ceiling depicting the sky with planets and signs of the zodiac. Grand dinner parties were hosted with damask tablecloths,


Meissen china and fine crystal. ‘One had the best’, she noted, ‘both the Jewish bourgeois and non-Jewish bourgeois had all this’. Notably, Elisabeth’s earliest exposure to antiSemitism was at home. A Nazi official lived on the ground floor of the block, with a son her age, who drew swastikas outside their windows. She recalls triumphantly winning a fist fight with this bigger boy ‘about bloody swastikas!’ Her second related and formative experience was at a local, snobbish, private primary school where the headmistress welcomed her with the words: ‘You are first Jewish child that I will allow in my school. And if you behave, maybe I will allow another Jewish child in one year’s time.’ This announcement became her fate, the mantra that defined her earliest trauma – always to be the best in class, the best in life. She recalled that ‘Jews were her burden, her destiny, her ‘lot’. Following a brief period at a mixed gymnasium, Elisabeth moved to a higher standard girls’ school, but had to leave early. Money was tight at home in the face of rampant inflation and her parents could not afford for her to


sit higher school exams, unlike her older sisters who had firm academic prospects. Instead, it was her ‘fate’ to undertake practical work and she was dispatched to a local department store to demonstrate pianos. Elisabeth recalled how awful this was and her desperate need to escape her mother’s control and the narrow, confining atmosphere in Dresden. Running through these youthful recollections is a constant refrain, an emphasis on codes of expected behaviour versus a desire for freedom — a rebellious spirit she shared with Dodo. Fortunately, having met an Austrian student at one of her mother’s lunches, whose father owned a similar store, in 1928 she was able to move to Vienna in a comparable role, where she began mixing with an avantgarde crowd of artists, writers and musicians. This opportunity enabled her to follow the commercial path desired by her mother, but with a degree of independence which she craved. Her new social circle ‘embraced her as a stunning and mysterious beauty’ and encouraged her to study art. At this time, she also had her first intimate relationship with Ernst Wagner, an anthroposophist and art professor from Dresden - a non-Jew, old enough to be her father, and she adopted the made-up name ‘Suaja’.


Elisabeth subsequently relocated to Berlin with little money to study at the Reimann Schule, renowned for its non-fine arts-based curriculum. Her courses included window display, textile and poster design, and she was much influenced by her enamelling tutor Professor K. H. Rosenberg,15 particularly in her approach to colour, which remained a hallmark of her later design work, as well as the use of mandalas and batiks, and an awareness of astrology and horoscopes.16 She was also taught by Erna Hitzberger (19052003), Head of Textile Art and Decorative Painting and of the school’s affiliated textile workshops.17 Elisabeth also became interested in Jungian psychology at this time. ‘Psychology was always my other side to understand more about human beings’ she later remarked. Unlike Dodo she did not undergo therapy herself in the 1930s but remained open to these new practices in exile. She attended the first Eranos conference on spiritual and psychological topics in Ascona, Switzerland in 1933, ‘hardly understanding’, and where she happened to sit behind Jung himself.


Facing difficulties as a Jewish student under National Socialism, Elisabeth left the Reimann Schule in 1934 without her 'piece of paper' although she had already been employed as a Mitarbeitin in the school’s own workshops and recalls touring the Saxony textile industry with student collections. As working conditions became increasingly difficult for a young aspiring Jewish professional, she spent a troubled year trying to arrange papers, eventually escaping to London in early 1936 without the necessary permit to work. Although her relationship with Ernst Wagner had been serious, anti-Semitic legislation prohibited her from living with a Christian Aryan. Her parents knew about Wagner and they enacted a formal charade in which he asked permission to marry their daughter, knowing full well that this was impossible. Thus, he remained, and she left, travelling alone with a ‘tiny little suitcase’. She recalled matter-of-factly: ‘One was driven away […] I had no sentimentality.’ Her brother knew of an orthodox Jewish family in St John’s Wood, in northwest London who wished to help German Jews and provided the ‘necessary written confirmation of hospitality’. Elisabeth settled there,


close to the informal émigré ghetto based around Finchleystrasse. Finding a circle of sympathetic left-wing and Jewish refugee acquaintances, she became increasingly aware of the climate of suspicion and surveillance surrounding newly-arrived émigrés. Unable to find professional employment, she was advised to purchase a return ticket to Paris and to remain illegally, gathering a portfolio whilst in black market employment, and sleeping with a few men to gain necessary documents. Returning to London with tangible proof of her design ability, she was thus able to secure a legitimate position as a textile designer with a Manchester family firm, Barlow & Company, who manufactured printed silks, before the war affected the production of luxury goods. She subsequently worked in the studio of noted Hungarian émigré architect Erno Goldfinger (1902– 87). Although little archival material confirms this, there are links between Tomalin and Goldfinger – both were part of the Hampstead émigré circle, both were involved in designing material for wartime exhibitions for the Ministry of Information18 and, in 1956, Tomalin and her husband Miles, still married but living apart, moved into separate


flats in Goldfinger’s new block at 10 Regents Park Road, NW1, which was, unusually, planned as a co-operative. Following





Elisabeth was able to rescue her parents and sister from Germany. Her mother and father were relocated to a bungalow near Shoreham-on-sea, a far cry from their Dresden apartment, where they remained briefly before immigrating to Argentina. Elisabeth recalled ‘unspeakable kindness’ shown to them. Her sister, Henni, a professional social









psychotherapist; as described elsewhere in this publication, many Jewish girls from well-to-do families became domestics, the only form of employment open to them. Elisabeth, in contrast, never took on a demeaning role. She was always defined by her professional ‘position’, intensely proud of working to support her family, and was unfairly contemptuous of émigré women who did not earn their keep. She understood form the outset in Britain ‘that one would live in a different way’ from one’s pre-war life. Miles recorded in 1947 that ‘Poor Suaja — she is one of those (thank god) who want to have lives of their own. She


doesn’t like to abandon some of her best years to domestic littleness. She has a skill and she wants to use it.’ Fortunately, her status became secure, following her meeting in 1938 and subsequent marriage in July 1940 to Miles Tomalin (1903–83), a handsome English journalist, poet, writer and musician from a wealthy, educated background, with a wide range of interests, particularly related to engineering and feats of progress. A communist, newly returned from volunteering with the British Battalion 15th International Brigade in Spain,19 he was recently separated with a young son.20 The Tomalin family owned the Jaeger clothing business,21 but frustratingly for Elisabeth, the firm was unable to assist her career, having no in-house print department. Elisabeth recalled seeing the dramatic return of the International Brigade at Victoria station by chance, though she allegedly met Miles for the first time in a refugee soup kitchen where he was assisting, and she was receiving food. Miles’ emotionally frank diaries, begun weeks before the wedding, opened with the portentous words: ‘A man is a fool to be living at such a time and not keeping a diary.’ 22 Subsequent extensive entries charted the early years and


decline of the relationship; their wartime peripatetic existence moving between homes; (Miles recorded poignantly the loss of many of their belongings in the bombing of a Jaeger warehouse: ‘[…] so we are cut off from the tangible remains of our past lives’ 23); his friendships with other women; left-wing affiliations and particular interest in Russia; Jungian counselling; the content of his dreams, and the birth of their daughter Stefany in November 1945, all set against the backdrop of unfolding world events. Only weeks after Churchill’s internment order, ‘to collar the lot’ Miles described Elisabeth’s precarious position in his diary: ‘My dear and much beloved S, innocentest [sic] of aliens apart from her bitter hatred of Hitler and all he stands for, is being more and more tied down, and may ultimately be interned.’ 24 However, she was spared this fate as their marriage took place on 25 July at Marylebone registry office, ‘three days after his divorce, by special licence (£2.12.8)’ followed by ‘various formalities at various police stations in conjunction with ‘S’s change in nationality.’25 Marriage enabled Elisabeth to become ‘an Englishwoman’ and gave her a sense of


‘belonging to somewhere’. And by the late summer, Miles was able to conclude that the ‘internment of aliens is relaxing a little. There is much feeling among all but stupid people that it has been foolishly indiscriminate.’26 Amongst the musings on his emotional and psychological state, the diary provides insights into Elisabeth’s advancing career, and her ‘power’ within the relationship, as well as Miles’ own unfulfilled creativity. Entries refer to numerous potential commissions from the M.O.I. and the BBC, for exhibitions, booklets, film scripts and so forth; his most obvious success, a display on coalmining for the 1951 ‘Festival of Britain’.27 His diaries also mention many émigrés from creative and other spheres who formed the Tomalin’s social network in north London. An important part of her life, Elisabeth claimed to recognise in fellow émigrés an indefinable quality which she described as ‘another level’. Creatives included designers Jacques and Jacqueline Groag (neé Hilde Blumberger 1903–86),28

Marina Hoffer (illustrator and

textile designer),29 the painter, Maurice Kestelman (1905– 98), Head of Fine Art at the LCC Central School of Art from 1951–71;


Ursula Hulme née Neumann, fellow

Reimann Schule student, who founded art groups for the physically disabled; Inge Levkovitch (Lew), who worked under Tomalin at Marks and Spencer, and became the fourth wife of

the celebrated émigré cartoonist Vicky

(Victor Weisz, 1913–66, represented in the Ben Uri Collection);

Fred Ulhman (1901–85), writer, artist and

founder of Free Germany League of Culture, painter Harry Weinberger (1924–2009) who taught latterly at Reading University and is also represented in the Ben Uri collection), and photographer Edith Tudor Hart (neé Suschitzky), discussed in volume 6 of

the yearbook.30

Other creative friends, typical of the Hampstead set, included noted designers Robin and Lucienne Day, sculptor Barbara Hepworth, collector Eric Estorick (1913–93) and the writer Wolf Mankowitz. Their circle also extended to émigré psychotherapists and psychologists: husband and wife, Philip and Eva Metman, Lola Paulsen, Heinz Westman and Anna Freud. It therefore seems highly likely that Tomalin and Dodo must have crossed socially. Both shared an important friendship with Philip Metman, from whom






Elisabeth’s albums are filled with photographs with Philip


and Eva; and for her wedding reception ‘fourteen or fifteen persons gathered at the Metmans with bottles of drink.’31

Early in marriage Elisabeth was still designing for Barlow until the firm ‘rolled up beneath her’ as the war removed the need for luxuries. Fortunately, she was able to find employment in the Exhibition Department of the Ministry of Information as she was now legally British. Formed the day after war was declared, the M.O.I. was the central government department responsible for wartime publicity and propaganda. Posters and exhibitions were designed by a number of notable émigré men including George Him (1900 — 82) and Goldfinger.32 It is unclear precisely when and in what capacity both she and Miles were employed, but seems as if Elisabeth, the émigré, was the more established.

In January 1945 Miles noted

receiving a commission from the M.O.I.: ‘thanks to Suaja.’33 Elisabeth described her position as a ‘wonderful job’, and she was ‘glad to contribute’.

A single official photograph34 showing Elisabeth standing in front of a number of fund-raising posters with


eye-catching graphics, indicates the type of work in which Elisabeth was involved. The typewritten label on the reverse reads: ‘In a shop in Regent Street London,35 the Joint Committee for Soviet Aid, staged an exhibition of prize-winning posters appealing for money for the Stalingrad Hospital. The posters were by members of the Army and Civil Art Schools. Photographs from Stalingrad and other liberated Soviet territories, and a continuous film were other features. The opening ceremony was performed by Dr. Sarkisov, famous brain specialist and head of the Russian Red Cross organisation in Great Britain. Mrs. Tomalin (right) from the Society of Cultural Exchange, who arranged the exhibition, talks to Judith, Lady [sic] Todd,36 Secretary of the Society.’

Following the invasion of Russia in June 1941, the Society, founded in 1924 to promote Anglo-Soviet cultural activities,






maintaining a link between Britain and USSR. The success of the Society’s 1939 Soviet exhibit at the International Photographic Exhibition37 led to the opening of a special exhibition department within the Society which ‘[…]found a steady demand for its products; in addition to arranging three major exhibitions in London, it has made two exhibitions for other bodies and provided material for displays in Army Information Rooms, schools, clubs,


factories and during Anglo-Soviet Weeks, Warship Weeks, National Savings and Holiday-at–Home campaigns.’38 A significant change to the family dynamic was the birth of daughter Stefany on 5 November 1945. Miles observed: ‘Suaja handles this babe with the same deft sureness she handles her brushes and paints with. One stroke or movement is enough.’39 ‘[…] gorgeous, absolutely beautiful. My real own child… a connection [to Miles]’ was Elisabeth’s heartfelt response. The urge to be anchored through motherhood is a refrain echoed in the experiences of fellow émigré painter and children’s illustrator, Susan Einzig (1922–2009), see elsewhere in this volume. One senses that Elisabeth wished to handle motherhood differently from the distant and controlled relationship she had with her own mother — but her working lifestyle and demanding personality unavoidably created difficulties. A number of early studio portraits of mother and child, taken in the late 1940s by Edith Tudor Hart, belie these tensions. Since relocating to north London, Tudor Hart had moved in similar circles to Elisabeth, ‘slowly extricating herself from communist activism’40 and running her own local portrait studio to


earn a living. Miles recalled a visit: ‘a German Jewish, tall blonde type, a nice woman but obviously fighting a long defensive battle against all manner of unhappiness. She has a schizophrenic child. We have had her photograph Stefany a couple of times […] she does it well.’41 By May 1948 Elisabeth was employed by Alexander Felgate in another silk printing business. Miles noted her exasperation when asked to design a scarf featuring Victorian vehicles as ‘she not been trained in perspective’, manifesting her perennial fear of failing to achieve a required standard. ‘Suaja was filled with the most monstrous sense of duty which compelled her to be the best or suffer.’42 As an example, Miles described what should have been a pleasant visit to the Salle de la Decouverte in Paris: he went round it ‘[…] as big a simpleton inside as she, enjoying in a spirit of ignorant curiosity. Ignorance is a sign of failure to her and she was unhappy and impatient.’43 Similarly, in a heated conversation with fellow emigre textile designer, Czech-borm Jacqueline Groag early on in her career at Marks & Spencer, regarding the attitude a designer should take towards his/her work, Miles recorded that ‘Suaja resolutely declared ‘when she works she […]


doesn’t worry about standards. The customer wants this or that, she does the best she can without trembling lest she be letting herself down.’44 Frustrations at work and with childcare were taken out on Miles in the daily battlefield of the kitchen table. From June 1948 the atmosphere remained particularly tense. Elisabeth had an abortion, unwilling to bring a second child into the family. However, she emerged reenergised following meetings with Jungian therapist, Lola Paulsen and, in early January 1949, Felgate sent her on a month-long, expenses paid visit to America, partly for work and to ‘give her a break’. Immediately on her return, there were ‘Major events in our own world. Suaja is about to land a fulltime job at £1200 a year […] for Marks & Spencer. The job through Felgate. His last and greatest good turn to her […] I think and hope this is the very tonic Suaja needed. A position, prestige, activity in the wider world. And periodic trips to Paris.’45 The significant émigré contribution to Marks & Spencer is discussed in Yearbook Volume 4, 2002,46 but Elisabeth, one of a small number of émigré women staff members, was not featured. Unfortunately, the firm’s


recently established archives contain no records directly relating to the design studio, so references to her are rare and oblique, and her efforts to donate her designs to the firm in 1990 came to nothing.47 Nevertheless, as Ulrike Walton Jordan suggests, the firm, founded and run by noted Anglo-Jewish






environment for her, empathetic as it was towards the plight of Jewish refugees. Elisabeth recalled her interview with Edward Sieff, in which he announced that for her ‘[…] the sky was the limit.’48 Thus she arrived into a working environment in which émigré men were already playing a significant role. In 1935, under German Eric Kann, Marks & Spencer had established its own in-house laboratory to lead advances in textile manufacture and technology which were then utilised for appropriate clothing ranges; the following year a merchandise development department was established;

a design

department to originate prints and patterns followed in 1938. Her immediate boss was Erich Heim, a Viennese émigré who joined the merchandise development in 1939 to advise on colour and print. Hans Schneider (died 1995) another Viennese, and Head of Design from 1949-76,


according to the firm’s president, Marcus Sieff, ‘developed a design team which contributed greatly to the progress of our ladieswear. […] As a result, we found that our garments, at one time largely bought by working girls and the lower income groups, were being bought by women of the middle class and those with higher incomes.’49 In the postwar period under Kann, in the wake of wartime austerity measures, one of the most significant developments was Marspun, a 'durable material with an increasingly natural feel’. Spun from rayon, ‘easycare’, and exclusive to Marks & Spencer, ‘340 designs with 2000 colourways’ were possible, as the cover of the staff magazine, with an uncredited photograph of Elisabeth shown seated at her drawing desk, extolled.50 She expressed her delight at the postwar ‘New Look’ with its wide skirts and she recalled how a particular gathered skirt design reminded her of own childhood dirndlkleid. Elisabeth worked in a large studio, designing bespoke drawing tables for her team. Hers now belongs fittingly to the Heatherwick Studio, whose creative atmosphere she likened in her old age to that of Marks &


Spencer. She interviewed her own employees and by autumn 1950 was working ‘with four or five assistants, including Inge Lew and Sylvia Priestly, a daughter of J.B.’51 She set up all designs and colourways, visited printing factories in northern England, and travelled to the couture shows in Paris and Milan. Miles recorded in early 1953: ‘Everyone envies her such a job but she refuses to congratulate herself!’52 Her ability was recognised by a £200 pay rise and a bonus, and her influence at Marks & Spencer was clear. In February 1953, at her instigation, Miles was offered the opportunity to ‘comment on M&S training literature sent out from the personnel department to branches, particularly relating to typography and layout.’ 53 However, in a change of tactic, the following July Miles suggested that she become freelance, for sake of family life. He had now inherited and could support her financially if they moved out of London. Elisabeth refused, emphasising that she ‘wanted to do my work’ and ‘couldn’t move to the country on a shoestring.’ Lonely in the marital home, she wished to live apart from Miles. Nevertheless, they remained together for Stefany’s sake until early 1956 when, perhaps through some remaining connection with the


Goldfinger practice, they moved into two separate flats in the architect’s new block at 10 Regents Park Road in Camden. Built on modernist lines and run as a housing cooperative, the setup and design pleased Miles’ politics and Elisabeth’s taste.54 ‘Suaja’s flat is H, on the third floor, Miles below, D. […] She has a little more light, but more stairs to climb.’55 Elisabeth planned the layout and the colours of her flat. Her grandson recalled the minimal and beautiful aesthetic of the interior, the end of a bed fitting neatly under a desk to utilise space most effectively. It is unclear under what circumstances Elisabeth left Marks & Spencer in the late 1950s – she was unable to recall whether it was her decision or redundancy as the British textile industry collapsed under the onslaught of foreign imports. She then established an independent studio at home, often working through an agent. Stefany recalls her designing at night, her manual dexterity, expressive brushwork and gesture, her strong sense of spatial awareness, all particularly apt for designing furnishing fabric with large repeats, for noted textile houses such as Sanderson and Ramm Son & Crocker. Other projects included wrapping paper for J Royle, who was also a


neighbour in Regents Park Road. In 1960 she designed a range of mattress ticking for Slumberdown. Slumberland News noted this project came about because ‘a young woman had […] rebelled against the wishes of her parents and decided what future she wanted.’56 And in 1964 she was taken on as a colour consultant at Heals, ‘one of London’s most progressive furnishing stores’, where she assisted clients with their tricky interior decorating problems. The Daily Mirror quoted her considered advice: ‘You cannot make rules. The person who lives in the room is always more important than the room and I always work on an individual basis.’57 However, by 1969 she had taken the momentous step to retrain as an art therapist in America with Ruth Cohn, whilst the profession was still ‘an artist’s profession’. Following her lifelong interest in Jungian ideas of psychoanalysis, she developed interactional group work, utilising paint, collage and sand, along with dialogue, to reveal images that expressed events hidden in the patient’s subconscious, resulting in an invitation to Germany to consult in 1971–72. Elisabeth took six months to respond to the request, as it was not an easy decision ‘[…] to go back to that country […] where they killed your mother,


father.’ Nevertheless, it was a chance for her ‘to do her best’, and she understood the extraordinary reconciling and healing value of her role, particularly engaging in art therapy with groups. She subsequently assisted with the setting







qualification for art therapists at the Kunstakademie, Munich. Moving forward to 2012, although no longer able to work creatively herself, Elisabeth took immense pride in knowing the ‘secret’ of the Olympic cauldron.58 Miriam, her dogged interviewer, had inherited the capacity to draw and make craft, but Thomas Heatherwick was the favoured grandchild, with his focus, singular vision, and great and public success. Elisabeth recognised aspects of herself within him to an almost problematical degree — the fruits of drive unalloyed by trauma. She sat for her grandson in 1990 and he commented on her striking contrast to his father’s mother who perfectly fitted the cliché of the ‘English’ grandmother. Elisabeth was the ‘most modern person’ he knew, and her ideas of beauty provided a counterpoint to his own architectural ideas and geometries which rejected conventional aesthetic notions.


Elisabeth’s daughter, Stefany, who recalled the profound quote which subtitles this chapter, also provided a succinct analysis of the character of her mother, the émigré, which provides a fitting endpoint: ‘Her anxious caution was the product of an intensely lived life surviving through hardships and experiencing suffering. She put emphasis on culture and quality in everything, except perhaps in her frugal cooking!’59 [5,208]

Notes The author is grateful to Stefany Tomalin for her recollections of her late mother and for providing access to previously unpublished material, including Miles Tomalin’s private diaries from 1940–56 and Miriam Heatherwick’s taped interviews form 2005, and to Thomas Heatherwick for his interview. 1

Quoted in interview with Stefany Tomalin, November 2013. See Elisabeth Tomalin and Peter Schauwecker, Interaktionelle Kunst und Gestaltungsthearpie in der Gruppe, (Köln: Claus Richter Verlag, 1989). 3 Judith Powell and Jutta Vinzent, Art and Migration (Birmingham, George Bell Institute, 2005), p.7. 4 See U. Hudson-Weidenmann, ‘Exil in Grossbritannien: Die Keramikerin GreteLoebenstein-Marks’ in Refugees from the Third Reich, The Yearbook of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, Vol. 4, ed. By Anthony Grenville (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002), pp. 151-172. 5 The exhibition The Inspiration of Decadence: Dodo Rediscovered - Berlin to London 1907-1998 was held at Ben Uri from 22 June – 9 September 2012 and was revised and expanded from Dodo – A Life in Pictures curated by the Sammlung Modebild, Lipperheidesche Kostümbibliothek, Kunstbibliothek, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (1 March – 28 May 2012). The exhibitions were accompanied by the catalogue Dodo – Life and Work ed. By Renate Krümmer (Berlin: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2012). 2


Other émigré alumni include Heinz Kiewe (1907 – 86), textile historian and retailer, who attended in the mid-1920s. He will feature in a chapter by Rachel Dickson in the Ark of Civilisation: Wartime Academics in Oxford (OUP, 2015); émigré painter Lotti Reizenstein (1900-79, represented in the Ben Uri collection, attended 1931-33; Ursula Hulme neé Neumann (1917-2012), emigrated in 1938, worked as a freelance textile designer in the UK before retraining as an art therapist working with the physically disabled. Established Conquest Art, for which she was awarded an MBE. 7 Dodo – Life and Work ed. by Renate Krümmer (Berlin: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2012), p. 183. 8 Ulk was printed from 1872 to 1933 by the Jewish publisher Rudolf Mosse. Initially an independent weekly paper it was eventually published as a supplement to the Berliner Tageblatt. 9 Else Meidner (1901-1987), the artist wife of the German émigré painter Ludwig Meidner, who arrived in Londo in 1938, struggled doubly, both as a woman and as an unfashionable expressionist. 10 Herbert Read in ‘Introduction’ to Peter Thoene, Modern German Art, (Harmondsworrth: Pelican Books Ltd., 1938), p. 7. 11 Interviews were recorded between15 June – 25 July 2005. Courtesy Miriam and StefanyTomalin. All quotes by Elisabeth Tomalin are from these interviews unless otherwise indicated. 12 A Rabbi Wolf is recorded as attending Hanukah celebrations organised by the Women’s Auxillary of the Fraternitas Lodge in Dresden on 8 December 1934, where he gave a short religious talk. 13 A founder member of the Hannover branch of GEDOK, a German federation of female artists, she latterly created a memorial to victims of the War, installed in Bocholt in northern Germany in 1970. 14 After 1969 Elisabeth trained in New York with Ruth Cohn, at her school for group psychotherapy, WILL, Workshop Institute for Living Learning. 15 See ‘Kurt Hermann Rosenberg Lehrer fur emain an der Schule Reimann’ in Fabre Und Form, (Berlin: Reimann Schule, Juli/Aug. 1930), pp. 138-139. 16 A small number of her highly-coloured designs from this period are in the Ben Uri collection; two pattern books of printed textiles and black and white photographs of textile designs from the Reimann Schule are held in the Archive of Art and Design, Victoria and Albert Museum Archives, along with one portfolio of textile designs for Marks and Spencer from the 1950s and three publications on art therapy. The items were donated by Elisabeth and accessioned in September 2010. 17 Escaping form East Germany in 1945, she joined the Folkwang School of Design in Essen in 1948 where she remained teaching until 1971. Latterly she was a member of Zonta, an American organisation established in 1919 for the advancement of women. 18 See Erno Goldfinger, War Time Productions exhibition for the M.O.I. and the M.A.P., RIBA Archives, RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collections located in the V&A. Ref. PA640/11 (43-59). 19 See IWM Document.1426, an important collection of Spanish Civil War letters containing descriptions of his service with the British Battalion 15th International Brigade, initially in an Anti-Tank Battery, then with the Brigade `Political 6


Commissariat' in a journalistic role, writing for the Brigade newspaper and editing a wall newspaper. 20 Nicholas Tomalin (1931-73), the noted war reporter and writer who was killed in Israel whilst covering the 1973 Yom Kippur War. His widow is the biographer, Claire Tomalin. 21 The Jaeger business was founded on the theories of German Dr Gustav Jaeger, concerning the benefits of wearing natural fibres next to the skin. 22 Miles firs diary entry was for 5 June 1940. All quotes from Miles Tomalin are from his unpublished diaries dating from 1940 to 1956. Entries were not written daily but as and when events warranted. 23 Diary entry for 6 January 1941. 24 Diary entry from June 1940. 25 Diary entry from 1940. 26 Diary entry from 1940. 27 See WORK 25/256, Records of the Festival of Britain Office, 1948-1951, National Archives, Kew. 28 Blumberger trained with Josef Hoffman in Vienna and worked at the Wien Werkstatte in 1930s. She emigrated in 1939. 29 See the Cummersdale Textile Archive owned by the John Lewis Partnership. Hoffer also illustrated children’s books. 30 See Duncan Forbes, ‘Politics, Photography and Exile in the Life of Edith Tudor Hart (1908-73) in Arts In Exile in Britain 1933-1945 Politics and Cultural Identity, The Yearbook of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, Vol. 6, ed. by Shulamith Behr and Marian Malet (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004), pp. 45-88. 31 Diary entry from 1940. 32 See M.O.I. archives, ‘The Art of War’, INF Series and INF 3, http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/theartofwar/inf3.htm 33 Diary entry for 23 January 1945. 34 The reference on the reverse reads: DISTRIBUTED BY THE MINISTRY OF INFORMATION from NO.D 16095. 35 Possibly Jaeger’s flagship store via the Tomalin family connection. 36 Founder of the Anglo-Soviet Journal in 1940, Miss Judith Todd was Secretary of the Society for Cultural Relations from 1937-52. In 1937 the Society ‘[…] occupied three small rooms in what was then 98 Gower Street, and carried on the usual activities of a small voluntary Society, arranging lectures and other functions on a small scale, and creating contacts through a very restricted range of visitors to the USSR and Soviet visitors to Britain.’ See Judith Todd, ‘The SCR 1937- 52’ in AngloSoviet Journal, October 1967, p. 28. She also contributed to Marxism Today and The Labour Monthly. 37 See ‘Exhibitions in Soviet Life’ in Anglo-Soviet Journal, January 1940, p. 9. 38 Society for Cultural Relations with the U.S.S.R., Annual Report, 1942-43, p. 2. 39 Diary entry for 11 December 1945. 40 Duncan Forbes, p. 74. 41 Diary entry from 1947.



Diary entry from 1948. Diary entry from 1948 44 Diary entry for 19 January 1948.. 45 Diary entry for 30 May 1948. 46 See Ulrike Walton-Jordan ‘”Although he is Jewish, he is M&S” Jewish refugees from Nazism and Marks & Spencer from the 1930s to the 1960s’ in Refugees from the Third Reich, The Yearbook of the Research Centre for German and Austrian Exile Studies, Vol. 4, ed. by Anthony Grenville (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002), pp. 117-134. 47 Typescript reply from David Sieff’s office, 9 July 1990. 48 Handwritten letter drafted by Elisabeth Tomalin, 23 June 1990. 49 Marcus Sieff, Don’t Ask The Price (London: Guild Publishing, 1987), p. 169. 50 St Michael News, 17 December 1954, p. 1.. 51 Diary entry for 24 August 1950. 52 Diary entry for 21 June 1953. 53 Diary entry for 11 February 1953. 54 When the flats were planned, Elisabeth and Miles joined a housing society with other prospective purchasers. The project took two years to complete. 43


19 February 1956.


Slumberland News, January 1960. 57 The Daily Mirror, 21 September 1964. 58 Interview with Thomas Heatherwick in London 27 June 2014. 59 Stefany Tomalin, November 2013.


Turn static files into dynamic content formats.

Create a flipbook
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.