John Hanna & Country Fair

John Hanna Country fair Jenny Duff

I promised you a few posts on my favourite kitchenalia and homeware pieces: well, here is the first instalment, detailing an illustrator very close to my heart: John Hanna. No, not the actor, John Hannah, or indeed one of my other favourite illustrators Jonny Hannah: this is one John Hanna, who lived and worked in London in the 1950s before returning home to his native Australia.

Many of you will be very familiar with the work of John Hanna- but, upon seeing some the images, you may have trouble placing just where you first saw the illustrations. His illustrations will be evocative, and you may not know why. They will seem like a lot of work you’ve seen recently, and you may be surprised to in fact learn they are over 60 years old. John Hanna was an Australian artist who worked in London in the 1950s, and who is known primarily for his work on Country Fair Magazine. Ring any bells? It may do: I have a few copies of Country Fair rescued from the tip and auction, and have always adored the images: and, a chance meeting with a designer a few years ago at a fair made me research Hanna a little more.
Jenny Duff Mats John Hanna

I was immediately drawn to Hanna’s work: being a fan of woodcuts anyway, and Ravilious, and of course adoring the use of line and flat colour in design, his work had a gentle dream like quality for me, and I loved the illustrations instantly. However, Country Fair magazines aren’t that easy to come by- unless of course you do an Ebay trawl, which somehow feels like cheating a little. I was also quite surprised at how undiscovered Hanna remained, and, I think, remains: not many people are familiar with his work, yet they have that immediate connection to it. Perhaps it is because of our recent obsession with midcentury design. Upon seeing some of Hanna’s work for the first time, you may in fact think they are imitations, or 21st century designs reproduced in the 1950s style: they now have a certain immediacy about them. Of course, they’re simply excellent examples of such a style- and, I feel, hugely underrated. Even by writing this post, I almost feel like I am letting others into a secret- a copy of Country Fair can be purchased on Ebay for as little as £4.50 (I have added a few to my Christmas list) and I know they will simply hold their value if one were to purchase them. Of course, as an animal lover, and obviously growing up on a farm, I find his depictions of British creatures spot-on: and his animals reflect human emotions in the most precise way: the little-boy mischief & excitement of a retrieving gun-dog, the irritation of an extremely grumpy sitting hen, the energetic persistence of a blue tit, and one of my favourites, his quizzical tilted-head terrier.

I suppose there is the added affinity with Hanna’s work in that, as an Australian living in England, his take on these everyday British creatures was new: something I can relate to, growing up in South Africa, where my South African childhood tales and books were populated by crocodiles, snakes, lions and giraffes. I of course also read English books: my bedroom library contained both English and South African illustrated books, and I was particularly fond of my little Beatrix Potter collection: the animals seemed so sweet, so harmless, so gentle and neat and tidy compared to our ferocious looking African beasts. And so it still is for me: I enjoy the warmth of Hanna’s work, it doesn’t alarm me, and it feels very comfortable. Of course, having also had Springer Spaniels and now an Irish Terrier, I have a new found appreciation for Hanna’s exacting depictions of these beautiful creatures.

I am the proud owner of John Hanna coasters and table mats, made by the designer Jenny Duff. I met Jenny at a fair we were both attending years ago, and I immediately loved her work. All of Jenny’s coasters and mats are made in Britain, unlike a lot of other reproduced homeware items, and I have a thing for melamine and cork anyway. Jenny was offered the illustrations by the family of journalist and publisher Macdonald Hastings, who had discovered an archive of Country Fair magazines in their attic. I have 6 mats and coasters, and I of course am hoping, in years to come, to collect more. Whenever we have friends over, Barnaby loves choosing who will have which mat and coaster- and I love knowing that this little ritual, with these perfect images, will be part of his childhood memory library.

Jenny Duff Mats John hanna

When researching Hanna, I found very little. I of course had Jenny’s information to draw on, but, thank God, I also read the blogs of Nick Asbury. The links to Nick’s work are here if you fancy a read: In Search of Hanna  and Nick and Sue’s site, Asbury and Asbury,  (where, I am warning you, you will spend a great amount of time reading lots of other interesting things). I love how Nick’s perception of Hanna’s work echoes my sentiments too. Perhaps we should all begin a Hanna Fan Club of sorts: I would wear the pin badge and jumper ANYDAY.

Of course, to buy Jenny’s beautiful mats and coasters, made right in sunny Margate, go here: Jenny Duff.

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