Sofa, Queensland kauri, marquetry inlay with Australian timbers, reproduction upholstery, John Mason, Maryborough, Queensland, Australia, around 1895
This ornate Queensland kauri sofa featuring elaborate marquetry inlay using red cedar, silky oak, white ash, scrub wattle, black bean and other Australian timbers, was made by John Mason in Maryborough, Queensland around 1895. While the style of this sofa, like other furniture designs by Mason, conservatively refers back to earlier forms, the inlaid decoration ambitiously advances Australian national identity in the lead up to the federation of Australia in 1901 - the elaborately decorated, partially upholstered, high back containing multiple roundels of radiating sunbursts drawing attention to the centrally placed unofficial Australian Coat of Arms featuring kangaroo and emu motif.
Born in a tent and raised during the early years of his life in a slab hut under a bark roof a year after his parents William and Ann Mason migrated to Australia from England in 1863, Mason later gained a reputation for his complex inlaid furniture using local timbers. He remained in Maryborough all his life, training as a cabinetmaker with local Maryborough furniture maker, Henry Smith in the 1880s, before joining the Popp Bros furniture firm in the late 1880s, working with this firm until around 1920. Between 1907 and 1929, Mason also worked as a part-time woodwork, carpentry and joinery teacher at Maryborough Technical College.
This particular sofa is probably the one Mason exhibited in the Queensland National and Agricultural Association exhibition in 1895 (Telegraph, 18 August, 1895). As Maryborough was a major timber collecting district, it is not surprising that Mason used his spare time, skill, imagination and love of intricate patterning to resourcefully create furniture which demonstrated the beauty and variety of Australian timbers. The sofa passed through the family of its original owner before being sold at auction in 1962, eventually finding its way to a Sydney-based antique dealer and into the National Gallery of Victoria's 'The Kangaroo in the Decorative Arts' exhibition in 1980, before being acquired by the Powerhouse Museum in 1981.
Anne-Marie Van de Ven, Curator. April 2008
Made by John Mason, Maryborough, Queensland, Australia, around 1895.
Sofa exhibited in Great Collections regional touring exhibition curated by John McPhee, 2009.
See: Van de Ven, A-M, 'John Mason, Sofa about 1895', in Great Collections exhibition catalogue (Museums & Galleries NSW, Sydney, 2009) p.83