Tibor Reich

Tibor Reich was a designer and manufacturer of printed and woven textiles, whose business, Tibor Ltd, flourished in Stratford-upon-Avon from the late 1940s until its closure in 1978. Born in Hungary in 1916, he was the son of a manufacturer of woven braids and ribbons, as used in military uniforms and folk dress.

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Tibor’s father’s factory Reich Adolf Fia in Budapest in 1920

Writing in 1957, Reich considered one of the greatest influences on his work to be the colours and metallic decoration in the Hungarian braids – ‘As a youngster I was taken into my father’s workshop in the factory where they were dyeing different yarns for peasant costumes. Here I noticed cerise, kingfisher, very bright emeralds, flame reds and deep oranges which must have influenced my choice very greatly’.

(For more images and information about Hungarian folk dress, visit this flickr album and the ‘Folk Costume & Embroidery’ blog.)

Encouraged by his father, Tibor Reich drew and painted prodigiously as a child, and later began a preliminary training in architecture; he followed this by studying textile design and technology in other parts of Europe. In Vienna in the 1930s he was ‘greatly influenced by the Bauhaus and its simple, straightforward thinking of a linear character’. He also cited as influential his further education at Leeds University in the late 1930s. Here he found the facilities for research into textile technology which later enabled him to realise his ideas.

Rather than return to Nazi-occupied Europe, he settled in Britain and in 1945 set up what became an internationally renowned textile business in the 19th-century Clifford Mill in Stratford. In order to begin weaving he had first to convert the five broken-down hand-looms to the jacquard and dobby-weaving processes. With these, but with very little choice of yarns due to wartime shortages, the mill wove furnishing fabrics to Reich’s own designs, with a marked preference for deeply textured surfaces. As early as 1948 the Victoria and Albert Museum acquired a group of his fabrics employing wool, rayon and cotton fancy yarns in abstract patterns described as “diaper” and “zig-zag”, exhibiting all the hallmarks of modernism.

In the 1950s Reich widened his activities to include printed fabrics. He did the experimental work himself at Clifford Mill, and had the fabric printed in Scotland. A design for printed cotton from 1957 called “Flamingo” featured textures derived from photographic enlargement of organic material such as leaves. Produced in single colours with a dominant black skeletal image, it won a Design Centre award. Here is a Pathé News film showing Tibor Reich himself working on ‘Nature Designs in Fabric‘.

Most of Reich’s work was commissioned for specific ranges of furniture or interiors, including, for example, Coventry Cathedral, the Royal Yacht Britannia and Concorde. In 1951, as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations, he produced furnishings, wall-hangings and carpets – each named after a Shakespearean character – for the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. Also in Stratford, he helped to furnish the Shakespeare Centre for its opening in 1964, marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. Several large pictorial panels were produced, including these two:

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A Tournament

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The Age of Kings

The following two images are actual scans of fabric (I have in my collection an ‘Age of Kings’ panel and also ‘A Tournament’ in a striking blue colourway.) I was hoping to show how vivid and textural an effect the layers of printing create, but you need to see the textile itself to appreciate it fully, I think.

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Tibor Ltd was relaunched by Tibor Reich’s grandson Sam in 2013. Here is the very informative website. A retrospective exhibition is opening soon at the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester, running from 29 January until August – a welcome chance to see the real fabrics.

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Madison Colour Blanket, 1956. Tibor Reich Archive

A wonderful blog called ‘Fishink’ first alerted me to Tibor Reich’s work. This blog has regularly introduced me to great images from east and central Europe – particularly mid-20th-century advertising graphics and children’s book illustration.  Here are just three examples – about illustrators Josef Paleček from Czechoslovakia, Janusz Stanny from Poland and Hungarian-born Ilonka Karasz. Thank you Craig from Fishink!

 

6 Responses to Tibor Reich
  1. Liz Lowry
    January 21, 2016 | 4:36 pm

    Thanks for this. I always enjoy your postings and this is particularly interesting. I knew about Tibor Reich as I live in Kenilworth, not that far from Clifford Mill and I am a Blue Badge guide for the Heart of England. I shall pass the link on to my colleagues who will also be pleased to know more about this wonderful man and the revival of the company.

    • Pamela
      January 21, 2016 | 6:39 pm

      Thank you Liz. It’s very pleasing to know that my stuff is being read! I think the Reich story is inspiring, especially the revival, so I’m glad to know I am doing my bit towards ‘spreading the word’. I’m really looking forward to going to the exhibition at the Whitworth.

  2. Brenda Kimmins
    February 1, 2016 | 7:15 pm

    Fascinating post thank you! I was attempting a blog myself about Tibor Reich as I lived in Stratford in the 1960s and I was lucky enough to visit Tibor’s house. My mum knew him through her art group.
    I also worked at the Shakespeare Centre in 1964 during the 400th anniversary.
    Is the photo of the ribbon factory copyrighted or can I use it in my blog?
    Some of your facts differ from my research so I need to do more obviously!

    • Pamela
      February 9, 2016 | 12:31 am

      How interesting that you had this personal connection. We’ve emailed each other about this now…

  3. Carlos
    March 13, 2016 | 8:12 pm

    Without in any way belittling Tibor’s achievements, I don’t think it is fair to criticise the condition of the equipment in Clifford Mill when he took it over. There was a flourishing hand-weaving enterprise there in 1939, but it had to be shut up during the Second World War. By 1945, a lot of things in Britain (and Hungary) were in a poor state.

    • Pamela
      March 13, 2016 | 10:13 pm

      Indeed. It was, as you say, a sign of those times.

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