Plaque, repousse, copper, made by Elizabeth Soederberg, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1909
Elizabeth Soderberg, a Danish woodcarver and metalworker, came to Australia in 1890 and studied repoussé work under F W Atkins at the Sydney Technical College, from 1906 to 1907. She worked predominantly in copper, silver and brass and her husband, a dentist, assisted in the production of tools and plaster casts of objects used for her work. A predominant feature of Soderberg's work was her use of Australian flora and fauna motifs, indicative in the eucalyptus design featured on this hand-beaten copper plaque. The design has been created using the repoussé technique, whose name derives from the French word meaning to be 'pushed back'. It is undertaken by hammering or pushing the reverse side of a metal surface, thus creating a relief design.
This plaque was acquired by the Museum whilst it was under the direction of Richard Thomas Baker, who worked at the Museum in the years before and after Federation (1896-1921), at a time when Australian cultural identity was being questioned and explored. Baker had a keen interest in objects that promoted Australian flora and other native motifs as decorative themes of applied arts, and believed that the promotion of such motifs in the arts would cement patriotism and advocate national efficiency. This passion for native motifs shaped the development of a significant part of the Museum's collection, and was responsible for the 1906 instillation of a new gallery illustrating 'Australian Flora Applied to Art', described in the Annual Report, 1906, as being 'a unique exhibition, consisting of over 200 specimens'. Today the Powerhouse Museum's 'Australian flora' collection is an important record of early endeavours to create an identifiably national decorative arts style.
This plaque was made by Soderberg whilst she was studying at the Sydney Technical College. Purchased by the Museum in 1910, the plaque is indicative of Baker's collection development focus at the time. Today the Powerhouse Museum's 'Australian flora' collection is an important record of early endeavours to create an identifiably national decorative arts style.
Kerr, Joan, 'Heritage: The National Women's Art Book', Art and Australia distributed by Craftsman House, Roseville East, NSW, 1995 , p452
Technological Museum, Annual Report, 1906
Although the English Arts and Crafts Movement was a product of the 1880s, the Australian arts and crafts societies were not formed until early in the new century. Arts and Crafts designs were often combined with the Art Nouveau style as shown in this spectacular plague.
Australian flora and fauna imagery was applicable to virtually all decorative arts media, and featured in items such as silver, woodwork, enamelwork and ceramics. Some of these were one-off, handmade craft pieces, others were commercial products designed to capitalise on fashionable nationalistic taste. R T Baker, as curator for the Museum, began collecting exemplary works and commissioning artists and craftspeople from Australia but also from overseas, such as Doulton and Worcester potteries. The Museum's Annual Report, 1912, stated: 'It is one of the objects of this Museum to encourage the utilisation of Australian products in all directions and so help to foster a liking by the people for Australian material in manufactures and articles of every-day use. In this way it is hoped to encourage an Australian school in thought and feeling. Australian articles, made of Australian materials and decorated with Australian designs based upon the natural fauna and flora, would help to encourage a love of country and its belongings'.
This plaque, made in the early 1900s, features repoussé: a technique dating from antiquity, which has been used by the Aztecs, Teotihuacans and Ancient Greeks. The use of repoussé was particularly popular in Australia around the time of federation, and often included native flora and fauna motifs in its application.
Technological Museum, Annual Report, 1912