The Maiden Voyage is a project by artist Jenny Steele, which will respond to the expansion of modernist architecture via transatlantic ocean liners from Europe to New York during the 1930s.

In 1924, US President Calvin Coolidge travelled by ocean liner to the Paris Industrial Arts Exposition in 1925, where he viewed examples of modernist architecture and design for the first time. The International Modernist style often referenced the streamlined, curved forms of ocean liners, with nautical details such as masts and portholes. It was also via the ocean liner itself that this design approach was transferred from continent to continent.

On Coolidge’s return to New York, he encouraged the construction of forward-thinking, optimistic modernist architecture in New York, which is now referred to as ‘art deco’. Extravagant skyscrapers which emulated the epic scale of the ocean liners, such the as Empire State and New Yorker buildings were built to demonstrate America’s modernity. Across the city, this style spread to municipal, residential and leisure buildings, such as Betsy Head Pool and Ellis Island Ferry Building.

In the late 1930s, this architectural style travelled further south to Miami Beach, where the majority of architecture on Miami Beach City was reconstructed in a Seaside Moderne style, closely emulating ships adrift on land with curved corners and masts. The area was famously rebranded in the late 1970s by the Miami Design Preservation League, when they painted the architecture in a tropical palette to reattract visitors to the then run down area, which has returned to being a highly popular seaside resort.

Responding to a  series of architectural research visits in Miami, New York and archival visits to view ocean liner ephemera and textiles within the UK in 2018, Jenny Steele will create new work for exhibitions in London, Manchester and Liverpool in 2018-2019. In December 2018, Jenny Steele will present a solo exhibition at The Foundry Gallery, London and site-specific printed textile-based, installation and performance-based work on Liverpool Waterfront in 2019, with accompanying symposium.

The Maiden Voyage will extend Jenny Steele’s previous projects Miami Moderne and Looking Back/Moving Forwards, which explored 1930s modernist architecture and design in Miami and North England and Scotland, with exhibitions at The Grundy Art Gallery, In Certain Places and The Midland, Morecambe.

Jenny Steele is a Scottish artist currently based in Manchester, UK. Her work references 20th Century architecture, most recently coastal mid war architecture and design. She is interested in how mid war design embodied utopic hope for the future and seeks to revive its restorative and ebullient qualities through her practice that encompasses printmaking, sculpture, drawing, textiles and site-specific artwork.


The Maiden Voyage is supported by Arts Council England Project Grants, The Foundry Gallery,  a-n The Artists Information Company, Cunard Archive (University of Liverpool Special Collections), The Little Greene Paint Company, Fred Aldous and Woodchip & Magnolia.


Detail from ‘Not So Nautical A Divide’, 2017, Site specific installation on Morecambe promenade in front on The Midland Morecambe, as part of This Building for Hope exhibition.