Home » Blog » Margaret Calkin James(1895-1985): Illustrator, Printmaker, and Founder of Rainbow Workshops

Margaret Calkin James(1895-1985): Illustrator, Printmaker, and Founder of Rainbow Workshops

Searching for a Margaret for Margaret Monday, Stratoz suggested that I look for something related to Christmas, and Margaret Calkin James(1895-1985)appeared.  She was part of the everyday visual landscape because of her work for London Transport and the Underground.

 Merry Christmas by Margaret Calkin James, 1931
A Merry Christmas by Margaret Calkin James, 1931

The 1931 A Merry Christmas has a wonderful blue and orange color scheme, with paper lanterns and whimsical bunnies in some of the stockings, plus the “If you haven’t got a farthing, God Bless You” banner.  I wasn’t familiar with this line, and discovered it’s part of a Christmas Rhyme:

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please to put a penny in the old man’s hat;
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do,
If you haven’t got a ha’penny then God bless you!

Margaret Calkin went to art school, winning an award for her calligraphy, and in 1920, started the Rainbow Workshops in Bloomsbury, in the tradition of the Omega Workshops, where she made posters, prints, book papers, and fabric.  The rainbow for the Workshops sign is mosaic-like in it’s rectangled arrangement.  I love the muted tones and the Noah’s Ark floating on zigzagged waves.

At the Sign of the Rainbow: Margaret Calkin James.
At the Sign of the Rainbow: Margaret Calkin James.

She married in 1922, and worked out of a studio in her home, including this festive “greetings telegram form” for the Post Office in 1935.   She designed for publishers and textiles, and the penguins linoprint has some very cool repeating interconnections.

Penguins Linoprint by Margaret Calkins James, 1963.
Penguins Linoprint by Margaret Calkins James, 1963.

In 1969, Margaret Calkin James suffered a stroke, which paralyzed her right arm and impeded her speech, and in a desire to keep creating, started making wool embroidery patterns. Margaret’s daughter Elizabeth Argent spent many years arranging exhibitions of her mother’s work to ensure a legacy.

Another cool printmaker: Bertha Lum: Imprinting a Life

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