Abram Games – Our Volunteers’ Memories
by Kimberley Coates, Visitors Services Manager
Every six months our third floor transforms for a new exhibition, prompting our team of volunteers to learn a great deal about a new subject. Their volunteering shifts are three and a half hours every week and by the end of each exhibition’s run, they have amassed many hours there and can tell you an impressive amount about the topic.
Our current exhibition is Designing the 20th Century: Life and Work of Abram Games, about the poster designer whose career spanned six decades. Some volunteers carried out their own research on Games, others spoke to visitors who knew Games personally and have stories to tell.
Volunteer Stephen Richman (below) remembers the posters from his childhood but it wasn’t until he spent his afternoons in the Games exhibition that he really reflected on them. “Think about what Games achieved. This guy was young, he had confidence in himself; he went off and set up his own business out of his garden shed and started dealing with big companies like Penguin, Shell, Financial Times, Guinness, British Airways, London Transport, El Al. And he made lifelong connections with these companies – he never fell out with them. In business, that’s quite unusual, things happen and you fall out but not Games. This was quite a guy.”
These posters were a mode of communication from a certain time, images instantly recognisable from people’s past. Volunteer Cliff Blakey remembers the posters from the fifties and sixties. “It’s quite nostalgic, I certainly recall the ‘Keep Britain Tidy’, London Zoo, Financial Times and Guinness posters as a lad growing up in the fifties and sixties.
“But I had no idea of how prolific and varied his themes were, like his wartime posters and his unique contribution to British Second World War effort. Each time I volunteer, I learn more about Abram, there is so much to take in.”
For one of our volunteers, Martin Philip (below), the exhibition has a greater significance. Martin can recall wet, cold evenings in the early fifties when Games, a family friend, would come to his house. “He was a very charismatic man, curious-minded. He surrounded himself with very bright people.” This connection with Games has additional importance for Martin; it was Games who invited Martin’s father to dinner and introduced him to his future wife.
According to Martin, Games spoke in the same direct and concise manner as he drew, announcing, “You’re lonely, here’s Sylvia, she’s lonely too. You’re both scientists, very cultured, I think you should get married.” Not long afterwards, they did and were married for over 30 years. For Martin the personal memories do not overshadow the sophistication of Games’ artwork. “What interests me most about him is his creativity, where his creativity came from.”