Armchair, [blackwood], designed by Fred Ward for the University of Sydney Club, made by Edward Hill & Co, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1960-1961
Fred Ward is a major figure in the history of Australian design. Born in 1900 in Melbourne, he trained at the National Gallery School and began his career as a newspaper illustrator. During the late 1920s he began manufacturing his own furniture designs. In the early 1930s Ward was asked by Myer Emporium Ltd to open a modern furniture department within its Melbourne store. During the 30s and after military service in the early 1940s Ward designed furniture ranges for the store as well as providing special designs for individual clients.
In 1948-9 Ward became a freelance design consultant and a few years later was appointed Design Consultant to the Australian National University, Canberra. His brief was to design the furniture for the early buildings of the new university. In 1955 he established the Design Unit of the ANU, a remarkable enterprise by international standards, which eventually became responsible not only for furnishing new buildings, but also detailed campus planning.
In 1961 Ward retired from the ANU and took on the job of supervising the planning of the interior design, furniture and furnishings for the new head office buildings of the Reserve Bank offices in Melbourne, Adelaide and Port Moresby. It was about this time, 1960-61, that Ward was commissioned to supply furniture for the University of Sydney staff club. The commission is documented in the University Club records and includes over 100 dining chairs, as well as armchairs, dining and buffet tables, coffee and occasional tables. Most of the furniture was made by Edward Hill & Co or Kees Westra. Derek Wrigley, Ward's assistant at the ANU 1957-61, recalls that designs for much of the furniture were adapted from those used at ANU.
The furniture remained in use at the club until it closed in January 2002. Most of the furniture was subsequently dispersed throughout the university or sold externally. The coffee table and two chairs were selected for the Museum's collection as representative of the range and style of furniture used at the club. They also typify Ward's consistent adherence to the principles of sound, honest construction, quality materials and workmanship and functional design in a simple, elegant style, principles that harked back to the arts & crafts and early modernist traditions of the turn of the 19th century.
During the 1960s Ward took on other major consultancies including the P&O Building & Admiralty House, Sydney, the National Library of Australia and the Canberra C.A.E. Ward was a founder-member of the first professional association of industrial designers, the Society of Designers for Industry, established in 1948 and was instrumental in establishing the Industrial Design Committee in Canberra in 1956. This was the precursor of the Industrial Design Council.
Awarded an M.B.E. in 1970, Fred Ward died in 1990. His archive was acquired by the Powerhouse in 1995 and his contribution to Australian design was recognised in an exhibition and catalogue, 'Fred Ward: a selection of furniture and drawings', at the Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra in 1996.
Designed 1960-61 by Fred Ward according to university records documenting the commission. Made by Edward Hill & Co., Sydney, a cabinet-making firm established in the (1930s) and specialising in stylish, high quality cabinet work