Archive, design and craft, Mary White (part 2), Australia, 1950-1980
NOTE ABOUT PROVENANCE
Mary White's papers came to the Museum from three different sources:
93/343/1 comprises papers donated by Mary's son, Jon White. These papers were kept by Jon following Mary's death. They comprises mostly of personal papers such as correspondence and photographs, and business records relating to the Mary White School of Art.
93/344/1 consists of papers donated by the Crafts Council of Australia which moved offices in 1993 and sought to relocate important files. The files acquired by the museum are records generated by Mary White while employed as Craft Adviser for Aboriginal projects. These records reflect her and the Crafts Council's activities in promoting craft in aboriginal communities. Since the records were kept by the Crafts Council for whom Mary worked the provenance is considered to be the Crafts Council of Australia.
93/345/1 is made up of selected records from Mary's personal papers taken by the Orange Regional Gallery at the request of Jon White for safe keeping until a suitable place could be found for them. Much of this material is correspondence which overlaps with 93/343/1, and printed material.
Note by Peter Arfanis, Archivist, 1993
Born at Mount Morgan, Queensland, on 27 March 1912, Mary Laidley Mort, great grand daughter of Thomas Sutcliffe Mort, and daughter to John Laidley Mort was educated at Fort Street Girls High School in Sydney and proceeded to a Fine Art scholarship at East Sydney Technical College from 1929-1932. In January 1932 she married Rupert Vivian White at St Mary's Basilica in Sydney and went to Wollongong to live and later to a country property near Wellington, NSW, where she stayed until 1949. During her stay there she continued painting and design while looking after her four children, Edmond Rupert Laidley White (14 December 1932), Jonathon Parker Laidley White (27 February 1935), Charles Sully Laidley White (1 may 1938), and Deborah Mary Lucy White (16 August 1942). Charles was killed in a car accident in 1957.
In 1950, Mary, wanting to develop a career as a free lance designer, began working with Russell Roberts. In 1954 she divorced her husband and left to open a shop in Edgecliff selling custom furniture made from her own working drawings. Some of the commissions she was appointed included; Australian Consolidated Press House in Canberra; Sydney Morning Herald Office, office of James Fairfax; Senate Conference Room, University of Sydney; A.M.A Conference Room; Westons Biscuit Factory, Camperdown; and special design for General Motors Holden.
In 1961 she converted her shop to the Mary White School of Art. The school taught about colour and the professional skills of the interior decorator. A full design course was offered and public lectures were held in the evenings. To subsidise the running costs of the school she worked as a consultant and conducted a series of public lectures on Art History and modern art with H.D.Nicolson and H.G.Kaplan, between 1962-63. During 1967-68 Mary wrote a series of monthly articles on homes that she found interesting. As well as writing the article she also produced the photographs.
Her desire to raise standards in interior design and develop a code of ethics for designers to abide by led her to be a foundation member of the Society of Interior Designers of Australia in 1951 and President of it from 1962-67 and 1968-71. In 1964 she was a foundation member of the Craft Association of New South Wales and later Chair of the Steering Committee for the foundation of the Crafts Council of Australia. She was also the State representative to the Australian Society for Education through the Arts from 1965-1972.
During the early 1970s Mary became involved in the fight to save the Queen Victoria building from destruction. Mary and several others formed the Sydney Arts Foundation to oppose the Sydney City Council from tearing down the building for high rise development. The group managed to secure a promise from the Council that the building would not be demolished. At the same time she also was concerned with the problems that the Sydney Opera House was experiencing and marched in protest following the controversial resignation of the architect of the building, Utzon.
Her involvement with the Opera House and Queen Victoria Building brought her in contact with the Australian Council of the Arts which asked her to go to Central Australia to do a report on Aboriginal crafts. In August 1971 she was appointed Craft Adviser on Aboriginal Projects to the Craft Council. The Australian Council for the Arts and the then Office of Aboriginal Affairs combined to give a grant to the Craft Council for the employment of Mary. One of her major tasks was the development of craft industries where traditional craft had died out, by pointing the crafts in a new direction in relation to natural resources and in some cases instigating new cottage industries.
Her growing commitment to this new position forced Mary to eventually close her school down and in 1972 she moved to Adelaide to live. Following Labour's election victory in 1972 the Department of Aboriginal Affairs was created under which Mary found herself working. The Department provided her with a two ton four wheel drive which she used to drive from Adelaide to Alice Springs and across into the Gibson and Tanami Deserts in Western Australia. She would camp with Aboriginal tribes, working with them and studying their skills and culture, and then return to Adelaide or Canberra and write reports on her experiences.
Mary strove to ensure that decent prices were paid for good Aboriginal art and craft. To assist in this goal she became involved in the building of the Centre for Aboriginal Artists and Craftsmen in Alice Springs where Aborigines could take their work and be paid according to the quality of their work.
Mary also introduced many artists to the Aboriginal people, including Jutta Federson, a fibre artist, and Marie Aiken who worked with Inuit people in Canada.
During her time in the Northern Territory Mary's daughter died from a sudden epileptic attack at her home.
In 1976 she was appointed Senior Community Adviser at Dubbo NSW where she was involved in welfare work for Aboriginal people. She retired from the Commonwealth Public Service in 1977.
She remained active visiting the Solomon Islands in 1978 for the World Crafts Council and again in 1979 for the South Pacific Commission. In 1979 she was involved in teaching with the Aboriginal Land Fund Commission. Following this she built her final house on her son's property at Goonoo. Mary did all the work apart from the original frame and electrical work
In May 1981 she discovered she had cancer. She died in the following October, aged 69.