James Gardner Archive

Scope and Content

The collection comprises several thousand drawings, plans and photographs together with administrative papers including exhibition scripts and planning papers. It includes some business correspondence and a small quantity of private papers, including autobiographical drafts and photographs. There is scant, though interesting, material relating to pre-war commissions but extensive documentation of later large-scale museum projects including specifications, scripts, and drawings. In some cases only art work survives whereas with other projects, correspondence and detailed administrative papers document design and installation processes. The collection includes feasibility studies and bids for unrealised projects.

Material pertaining to the administration of Gardner's studio includes office diaries, accounts, slides and other audio-visual material. Large format drawings and plans are stored together, by project, in folders or plan chests. Administrative papers are housed in files and office diaries and accounts, chronologically.

Administrative / Biographical History

James Gardner (1907-1995) was one of Britain's most important post-war exhibition and museum designers.

Leaving Westminster School of Art in 1923, he began his career working for Cartier the jewellers of Bond Street, London. Throughout the 1930s, Gardner travelled abroad and on his return to London was employed by the commercial design consultancy Carlton Studios. He went on to produce advertising designs for a variety of commercial companies, including commissions for Jack Beddington, art director at Shell. During the Second World War Gardner was attached to the Army Camouflage Unit (Royal Engineers) and was employed as an illustrator by the Ministry of Information. He was responsible for a range of deception projects including inflatable decoy tanks and landing craft. He also designed three children's books in the Puffin Picture Book series published by Penguin.

In the post-war period, Gardner was commissioned by the Council of Industrial Design to oversee exhibition projects, most significantly the 'Britain Can Make It' exhibition of 1946. He went on to contribute to Enterprise Scotland in 1947 and the Festival of Britain in 1951, where he was responsible for display design for the 'downstream' circuit of the South Bank exhibition and the 'People of Britain' display, as well as being Chief Designer of the pleasure gardens at Battersea. A similar celebratory commission followed with his involvement in the public decorations for the Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953.

Trade shows on a national and international stage were an important area of work, and included stands for exhibitors at the annual Ideal Home exhibitions and projects for the Central Office of Information. At the World Fair, Brussels in 1958 and Expo 67 in Montreal, Gardner had a considerable say in presenting ideas about British identity to international audiences. He worked widely for museums and on cultural heritage displays, and designed dioramas for the Commonwealth Institute, London in 1962, commissioning murals from artists Barbara Jones and William Kempster. Gardner's major display 'Story of the Earth' for the Geological Museum, London opened in 1972. Other important projects from this period include the Evoluon Museum in Eindhoven for NV Philips (1966), the Pilkington Glass Museum (1965) and a commission from Cunard to design the superstructure and interior of their ocean liner QE2.

Gardner always preferred to work with a small studio team and in 1978 he founded James Gardner (3-D Concepts) Ltd. with Simon Muirhead and Eve Harrison, later joined by designers Martin Pyant and Richard Houghton. Based in north London, the company promoted itself as a specialist museum and exhibition design service, initiating ideas, developing designs and overseeing installation. Overseas, Gardner's work for Jewish heritage organisations was extensive, among them the Tower of David Museum, Jerusalem (1989) and the Museum of Tolerance, Los Angeles (1993). Other later commissions include the Butterfly House at Syon Park, London (1981) and the National Museum of Natural Science, Taiwan (1988). Gardner died on 25 March 1995. He wrote 'Exhibition and Display' with Caroline Heller (1960) and two autobiographies, 'Elephants in the Attic' (1983) and 'The ARTful Designer' (1993).


The collection is arranged in nine series:

LJG/1 Early career (1923-1945)

LJG/2 UK exhibition projects (1946-1989)

LJG/3 overseas exhibition projects (1957-1995)

LJG/4 UK museums and heritage projects (1957-1995)

LJG/5 Overseas museums and heritage projects (1968-1995)

LJG/6 Proposals and consultancies (1950-1994)

LJG/7 Ships and aviation design (1937-1981)

LJG/8 James Gardner Studio and 3D Concepts Ltd (1965-1999)

LJG/9 Personal papers (1959 - 1995)

Access Information

Researchers wishing to consult the collection should make an appointment. Telephone 44 (0)1273 643217 or email designarchives@brighton.ac.uk

Acquisition Information

Transferred to the Design Archives from the offices of James Gardner's practice, 3D Concepts, in 1999

Other Finding Aids

Listing on Filemaker database available for consultation at repository.

Archivist's Note

Collection level entry created by Catherine Moriarty, July 2005, with minor amendments by Sue Breakell, January 2010.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission must be sought to publish any material from the collection. Email designarchives@brighton.ac.uk

Related Material

The Design Council Archive, also housed within the University of Brighton Design Archives, includes over two hundred photographs relating to Gardner's designs for the Council of Industrial Design including, 'Britain Can Make It' (1946), 'Enterprise Scotland' (1947), 'Design Fair' (1948), and the 'Festival of Britain' (1951).

See electronic surrogates of a selection of these at


and http://www.scran.ac.uk/


Gardner, James 'The ARTful Designer', London, Centurian Press, 1993

Gardner, James, 'Elephants in the Attic' London, Orbis, 1983

'Oxford Dictionary of National Biography' entry by Jonathan M Woodham, Oxford University Press, 2004

Darling, Elizabeth 'Exhibiting Britain: Display and National Identity 1947-1967' http://visualarts.ahds.ac.uk/learning/designingbritain/