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).