Photo of the Day

photos and stories from the Powerhouse Museum

Out of the Box: the Joseph Box collection

November 24th, 2014 by

joseph box

The world famous Joseph Box collection is among the Museum’s most important acquisitions. Purchased in 1942, it comprises more than 300 pairs of historic shoes from around the world,as well as shoe buckles, spurs and company archives.

Joseph Box Ltd (today owned by John Lobb Bootmaker Ltd) was a London-based shoe company, originally founded by James Sly in 1808. Joseph Box was the son of Sly’s apprentice and took over the company in 1862. He maintained the company’s reputation for quality handmade shoes, many of which were made by appointment to the British and German royal families.

The Museum purchased the Joseph Box collection after then Director, Arthur Penfold, travelled to London in search of exhibits ‘of interest to Australians’. The need to find a safe home for the collection during World War II may have influenced the decision to sell.

Post by Melanie Pitkin, Curator

Photography by Sue Stafford

© All rights reserved

The first pair of elastic-sided boots

November 21st, 2014 by

Odditoreum Online object: 94/88/1 Boots, pair, women's, worn by Queen Victoria

One of the most significant pairs of shoes in the Museum’s collection are these cotton gusset boots with leather-clad toes made by London shoemaker, Joseph Sparkes Hall. They are significant for being the first example of elastic-sided boots in the world – forerunners, if you like, to the familiar Australian Blundstone, R M Williams or Rossi work boot. Given the difficulties in fastening a boot with buttons or laces, Sparkes Hall experimented with cotton-covered metal springs to enable the boot to be pulled on and off with ease. In 1837, he presented this prototype pair to Queen Victoria (the year she came to the throne) who was said to have been “well-satisfied” with his design.

These boots will be on display in the upcoming exhibition Recollect: Shoes on show at the Powerhouse Museum from November 29 until May 2015. For more information, see: Stepping Out: three centuries of shoes (Powerhouse Publishing, 2008) pp.42-43.



Post by Melanie Pitkin, Assistant Curator


Photography by Sotha Bourn

© All rights reserved

Don Athaldo and the machine

November 20th, 2014 by


This photograph shows Don Athaldo, dressed more casually than in the image posted on Tuesday, and demonstrating a piece of body building equipment.

Born Walter Joseph Lyons in Condobolin in 1894, the blacksmith, boxer and strongman became Don Athaldo in the 1920s when he produced two publications, Health, Strength & Muscular Power and a sequel, Meet Don Athaldo. 

Athaldo made a living from his own gymnasium,  public exhibitions and  correspondence courses that preached physical fitness. According to the ADBonline, his philosophy combined the idealized man of action with new concerns about health, masculine beauty and virility. Rejecting ‘abnormal development’ fostered by weight-lifting, he stressed diet, fresh air and ‘dynamic tension’, but was prepared to give his name to a line of body-building merchandise. ‘Athalding’, it was claimed, would overcome bad breath, bad habits, cancer, stammering, brain fag, virile weakness and pimples, while developing a pleasing personality and the Oriental secret of calmness.

Tom T. Lennon was a commercial photographer whose studio was at 64 Victoria Road, Drummoyne. The 1796 negatives in the Powerhouse Museum Tom Lennon archive are largely of balls and dinners held in Sydney, but also include weddings, funerals, work events, parties, portraits, pets, fashion, horse races, and various places and events. Other images from the Tom Lennon archive have been posted previously on Photo of the Day.

Photography by Tom Lennon

Don Athaldo

November 19th, 2014 by


Don Athaldo was the stage name of strongman Walter Joseph Lyons, (1894-1865). Lyons was born in Condobolin, NSW and was a sickly child who didn’t walk until he was five. According to his profile on the ADBonline, he was later inspired by strongman ‘Dr Gordon’ at Fitzgerald Bros’ Circus, read about ancient Greece and built himself up by taking correspondence courses in physical culture. He was a blacksmith, a boxer and served in the Navy during the World 1. Stories he told of his invented past included competitions in Leningrad and Tokyo, and a tally of 486 medals.

He made his reputation by spectacular demonstrations of strength and by his flair for showmanship. One of his feats was pulling a touring car with six passengers more than half-a-mile (805 m) up the hill in William Street, Sydney, to Kings Cross. The National Library of Australia collection holds some photographs of his photogenic feats such as lifting a horselying on a bed of nails and lifting a car with his hands and feet.

Although only 5 ft 4 ins (163 cm) tall and weighing between 11 and 12 stone (70 and 76 kg), Don Athaldo always dressed with style. When performing, he wore a leopard skin and leather ankle-boots as seen in the photograph above. the strongman had his own gymnasium and even gave his name to a line of exercise equipment. Watch for more photographs of Don Athaldo ‘Athalding’

Tom T. Lennon was a commercial photographer whose studio was at 64 Victoria Road, Drummoyne. The 1796 negatives in the Powerhouse Museum Tom Lennon archive are largely of balls and dinners held in Sydney, but also include weddings, funerals, work events, parties, portraits, pets, fashion, horse races, and various places and events. Other images from the Tom Lennon archive have been posted previously on Photo of the Day.

Photography by Tom Lennon

A brief history of shoes at the Powerhouse Museum

November 18th, 2014 by

shoe collection

The Museum has been collecting shoes since its earliest days, although the reasons for acquisition have changed over time.

In the 1880s shoes were primarily collected for their interesting or unusual materials. Over the past 25 years, shoes have been selectively acquired to represent key fashion trends, designers, and changing technologies. Perhaps the Museum’s most important acquisition was the 1942 purchase of the Joseph Box collection, which comprises over 300 pairs of shoes from the 1500s to the early 1900s, archival papers and shoemaking equipment.

Today there are more than 1000 pairs of shoes in the MAAS collection, spanning 500 years and seven continents.

From November 29 until May 2015, the Museum will be displaying its extensive shoe collection. To complement this, we will also be posting a range of highlight shoes from the display on ‘Photo of the Day’.

Post by Melanie Pitkin, Curator

Photography by Sue Stafford

© All rights reserved

Ockens House

November 17th, 2014 by

architectural model

This architectural model of Ockens House has made its way from our collection store and is now on display in Recollect: Models.

The Ockens house was built at Cromer at Sydney’s northern beaches, close to where Glenn Murcutt lived after his family moved to Sydney following the Japanese invasion of New Guinea in 1942. The sloping site has views over Narrabeen Lakes but is part of a suburban street of houses.

To some extent this design is a reposte to occasional criticism of the non-urban (or non-suburban) location and character of much of Murcutt’s work. Due to the proximity of other houses and local building regulations, the house is opaque on two sides, its brick envelope broken by a two-level glazed entrance and loggia facing the road. Internally the house has sleeping and living spaces on either side of a central top-lit atrium and a lushly-planted courtyard. Skylights also contribute light to the split-level interior, an open space which belies the hermetic external appearance of the house.

Charles Pickett, Curator, Design and Built Environment.

Photography by Paula Bray

© All rights reserved

White cranes

November 14th, 2014 by


The photography of taxidermy specimens in the controlled environment of the studio allowed for aesthetically pleasing compositions using the lighting and length of exposure necessary to capture the maximum amount of detail. When the images were reduced to postcard size, the birds or animals often looked convincingly life-like. Sometimes techniques like shallow depth of field were used to blur the background and enhance the effect of the creatures being in the wild.


Photography by Kerry & co. Tyrrell collection



Ironbark tree

November 13th, 2014 by

Positive image from a scan of a Powerhouse Museum, Tyrrell Collection, glass plate negative

This photograph of a man standing next to an Ironbark tree was taken with the intention of showing the scale of the tree, by inscribing the diameter on the negative, (“46 feet circumference”) and by including a human figure beside it.

According to Wikipedia Ironbark is the common name for a number of species in three taxonomic groups within the genus Eucalyptus that have dark, deeply furrowed bark. Instead of being shed annually as in many of the other species of Eucalyptus, the dead bark accumulates on the trees, forming the fissures. It becomes rough after drying out and becomes impregnated with kino, a dark red tree sap exuded by the tree. The bark is resistant to fire and heat and protects the living tissue within the trunk and branches from fire. In cases of extreme fire, where leaves and shoots are removed, the protective bark aids in protecting epicormic buds which allow the tree to reshoot

Photography by Kerry & Co., Tyrrell collection

No known copyright restrictions


Barber at work

November 12th, 2014 by

Document from the Powerhouse Museum Collection

Like his contemporary Hedda Morrison, Russian-born photographer Serge Vargassoff (1906-1965) documented aspects of life in China during the 1920s and 30s. The photograph above, showing a man was having his head shaved, is taken from a glass lantern slide, one of a collection hand-painted by Vargasoff, which exhibit a wide range of colours rarely found in similar colour photographs from this period.

On the right side of the image there is an oven with towels and other tools hanging on a string above.  From the clothing of these two men it can be determined that this photograph was probably taken during the Republic of China

According to collection records, Vargasoff established himself as a professional photographer at the age of 20 in Peking (Beijing), China, and became a long-term resident of the city. Later he established a studio, Serge Vargassoff Photography, at 3A Wyndham Street Hong Kong, as well as working at Gainsborough Studio in the Morning Post Building in Hong Kong. Hedda Morrison writes fondly of Vargassoff in her book, A Photographer in Old Peking (1985),

[Serge Vargassoff] was an excellent, though not very businesslike, photographer. We enjoyed a firm friendship and it was he who brought me the news of the Japanese surrender – and a bottle of vodka with which to celebrate the event.

The two photographers sometimes documented the same subject matter. A similar photograph of a barber at work in the street was taken by Hedda Morrison when she was in China and was posted previously on POTD.

Photography by Serge Vargassoff, Peking, China, 1920-1949, 2010/75/1-69



Portrait of boy in uniform

November 11th, 2014 by


This World War One photographic portrait is one of a set of 404 glass plate negatives. They were all taken in New South Wales and the sitters were photographed at a similar time and place in Sydney. Many of the men in the photographs appear to have served with the artillery brigades stationed at ‘The Warren’ in Marrickville, Sydney.

This portrait of a boy in a soldier’s uniform is one of two portraits of children that appear in the set. There is another images of a little girl, posted previously on Photo of the Day, wearing an adult’s bandolier and cap. The masquerade aspects of children in adult’s clothing were a common practice at the time the photographs were taken. The images are now a poignant reminder of the absent adult the losses that may have been experienced by these children in the course of the war.

According the British Library website, children were particularly impacted by the war through disruption to home life and to schooling, absent parents, and deaths of family and family friends. While such experiences were common on the Home Front, children often struggled to understand the reasons behind these events, and the impact upon them was sustained in different, and often more emotional, ways.

For more about this collection of World War 1 photographs, see the Inside the Collection blog.

Photography by unattributed studio

Tyrrell collection 85/1286-965

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