Yorkshire designer’s colourful work finds new home in Leeds: DSC02735

25 May 2021

Yorkshire designer’s colourful work finds new home in Leeds

She was the little-known Yorkshire artist whose eye-catching creations encapsulated the wave of optimism which swept across post-war Britain.

Now a colourful collection of work by prolific designer Sheila Bownas has found a new home in Leeds as part of a quest to see her celebrated as a leading light in 20th Century creativity.

The Sheila Bownas Archive, includes 188 works on paper, many of which would have been used in textiles and fashion or on popular wallpapers that were used to decorate people’s homes.

The collection was drawn together by Rugby-based gallery professional Chelsea Cefai, who after a chance purchase at an auction in 2008, spent years researching Bownas's story.

It has been Cefai’s commitment to shining a light on the life and works of Bownas that has ensured the collection has stayed together as a whole and will now reside in a public museum collection.

Dating from the 1950s to 1970s, the designs give a window into the bright colours and bold optimism which became a hallmark of some of Britain’s biggest brands following the Second World War.

Originally born in Linton, in the Yorkshire Dales, Bownas worked as a freelance designer throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Drawing on the work of Lucienne Day, the leading textile designer of the time, her modernist, abstract work was bought and used by some of the leading companies of the time including Liberty of London, Marks and Spencer and Crown Wallpapers.

Natalie Raw, Leeds Museums and Galleries curator of dress and textiles, said: “Despite her commercial success with well-known brands and the vast body of work she created, like many designers Bownas remained largely anonymous during her lifetime.

“Nevertheless, her designs give us an insight into a fascinating and colourful chapter in the history of British design and visual art. Her talent and importance in the history of British design have also left an enduring legacy which has prompted this stunning collection of her work to be so diligently protected and preserved.

“We’re extremely grateful to all those who have helped us to acquire these beautiful designs and privileged to see them take their place as part of our collection.”

The collection has been acquired with support from Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, Art Fund and Leeds Art Fund.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for culture, economy and education said: “It’s always exciting to hear about new additions to the world class Leeds Museums and Galleries collection and to have the opportunity to learn about the many and varied facets of our local history.

“The acquisition of these beautiful designs is also a credit to all those working hard behind the scenes to ensure important parts of our heritage are preserved for future generations to engage with and enjoy.”

This fantastic collection is now available to explore online through Google Arts & Culture. The team at Leeds Museums and Galleries have been working to digitise the collection and curate two online exhibits, which are now available for the public to explore.


For media enquiries contact:

Leeds City Council Communications team