Friezes are not uncommon in bungalows but they tend to be horizontal bands of printed wallpaper with a repeating pattern; framed by a wooden rail or ledge, they often feel built into the room's woodwork. Friezes were in use prior to the bungalow era (1905 - 25), but those in bungalows tend towards motifs that are typically more spare than their Victorian precursors. Some bungalow friezes are simply comprised of textured materials, like grass matting or even burlap, applied directly to a backing panel.
Wallpaper friezes serve to soften the extensive but decoratively chaste use of wood characteristic of the principal rooms in bungalows. Less often, a frieze will come with an element of original work, like hand-stenciling, but only rarely is one a continuous, non-repeating illustration. I couldn't help but wonder how the art had come to be on these walls, apparently fitted to the size of the room? Could it have been developed as an actual mural on site, I wondered early on? But that was an idea that would not withstand scrutiny.
The date of these illustrations (1921) also places the work just three years after a European war that saw the advent of fully mechanized slaughter, involving horrific carnage of lives to no tactical purpose. The war also enveloped the cavalry steeds and the army of dray horses used to lug materiel around the battlefields. As an enlisted man, Lawson Wood would have seen these horrifying scenes firsthand (he served as a spotter and was decorated by the French for valor shown at Vimy Ridge), and with his sympathy for animals, must have been sorely affected by the cruelty inflicted on helpless working animals by such intense, pointless warfare.
Today Lawson Wood is enjoying something of a renaissance among the international community of illustrators. His work spans the period from the Gilded Age right up to the advent of the Cold War, and even illustrators working in domains he may have found foreign are inspired by his creative technique and sheer mastery of drawing and illustration. Sadly, the lion's share of images in circulation today still involve the monkey cartoons, which are nonetheless very well drawn.
The Savage frieze clearly romanticizes a human-animal partnership characteristic of an earlier phase of the British agricultural landscape. It depicts it as purposefully arranged, mechanized but not motorized, and decidedly not industrial in scale or technology. Animals retain a real dignity even if their ultimate raison d’etre is to provide or become food. In this sense the frieze’s contents fit well with bungalow (and Progressive era) themes, which hark back to earlier, simpler times that manifest a better balance between the human and natural realms. This was a disappearing reality at the dawn of mass production in fast-growing urban settings across North America. There is a certain irony in its appearance on a wall in a suburban home, itself a reaction against the rapid massing and mixing of peoples of all types in the urban realm.
Modelling an ideal of agrarian balance is perhaps intended to serve as a star to steer the little ship of family by, as well as a way of capturing some of that innocent delight that accompanies the best of storybook illustration. I take the message to be one of enduring respect for agrarian and pastoral endeavour, idealized here as mutually beneficial cooperation between man and animal in a world where animals are treated with respect and enjoy their own place. People and animals working alongside each other, in purposeful, caring relations. As we now know in a world of poultry batteries and CAFOs, this was not to be the case for much longer.