Letter block cover, leather, maker unknown, Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, 1907-1917
This book cover 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 the Museum's collection, and was responsible for the 1906 instillation of a new gallery illustrating 'Australian Flora Applied to Art', described in the 1906 Annual Report as being 'a unique exhibition, consisting of over 200 specimens, and is one of the attractions of the Museum'.
This particular book cover is embossed with gum nuts and leaves. Purchased in 1912, the book cover is indicative of Baker's collection development focus at the time, and an excellent example of the use of Australian motifs in applied arts.
Baker, Richard T., 'The Australian Flora in Applied Art: Part 1. The Waratah', Technological Museum, Sydney, 1915
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. By the late 19th century Australia had a predominantly locally-born (as opposed to immigrant) population eager to exalt Australian flora and fauna as their own symbols. The linear qualities of art nouveau were largely derived from organic forms and, as shown by artists such as Lucien Henry, many of the most spectacular and distinctive Australian flora adapted well to the decorative styles of their day.
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 all over Australia. 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'.
Technological Museum, Annual Report, 1912