Asian jewellery at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences

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A3328 Ornament for headdress, double happiness symbol, silver, inlaid with kingfisher feathers, China, about 1800 . Collection: MAAS

A3328 Ornament for headdress, double happiness symbol, silver, inlaid with kingfisher feathers, China, about 1800. Collection: MAAS

The exhibition A Fine Possession: Jewellery and Identity (24 September 2014 – 20 September 2015), currently showing at the Museum, is a wonderful opportunity to showcase our previously unseen Asian jewellerry.

The Museum holds 170 Japanese combs and hairpins from the Edo (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) periods, nearly 400 Chinese and Japanese belt toggles, and a group of Chinese jade hairpins and belt hooks from the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). The Museum’s Asian jewellery collection also includes Chinese kingfisher-feather inlaid hair ornaments, Miao silver alloy jewellery, Chinese Mandarin beads and hat finials, an Indonesian man’s ceremonial headpiece and Malaysian belt buckles or pendings.
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Wirth’s Circus — showing the collection

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Mr Philip Wirth trained these brumbies by the word of command … and with a handkerchief.

Mr Philip Wirth trained these brumbies by the word of command … and with a handkerchief. Collection: MAAS

When Rill Wirth, the last surviving child of the great circus proprietor Philip Wirth (1864-1937), passed away in 2007, her relatives kindly donated to the Museum a remarkable collection documenting the family’s involvement in the business from the 1870s until 1963. The Wirths’ Circus collection includes performance costumes, animal handling equipment, a travelling box office, goat carts, tent canvas, performance props, signs, banners, medals, novelty toys, and an astonishing archive of photographs, programs, publications, posters, drawings, tickets, scrapbooks, diaries, documents and ephemera. For those fascinated by Australia’s rich history of circus entertainment, this collection is a treasure trove of source material that sheds light on Wirths’ Circus, the Wirth family, other circuses, performing artists and Australian circus history. Continue reading

Samurai Fish Brooch by Sheridan Kennedy: A Fine Possession

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2013/80/1 Brooch, 'Samurai Fish', sterling silver / stainless steel, designed and made by Sheridan Kennedy, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 2005

2013/80/1 Brooch, ‘Samurai Fish’, sterling silver / stainless steel, designed and made by Sheridan Kennedy, Sydney,  2005. Collection: MAAS. Purchased with funds from the Yasuko Myer Bequest, 2013

One of the most intriguing pieces on display in A Fine Possession: Jewellery and identity  is this   ‘Samurai Fish’ brooch created as part of Sheridan Kennedy’s PhD exhibition The Specious Voyages at the Museum of Brisbane in 2005. The show included a collection of specimens and photographs that resulted from the fantastical, imaginary journey to the ‘New Hybridies’ (sic) undertaken by Kennedy’s alter ego Dr Diane Nhele Keynes. This tongue-in-cheek exhibition explored similarities between the realms of art and science, with Kennedy provocatively stating “It seems that Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is proving so valuable to us in the field of natural sciences, might as readily apply in the cultural sciences… an acquired knowledge adaption, a kind of survival of the fittest ideas… might not Herbert Spencer’s interpretation of Darwin’s theory apply as readily to culture as to nature?” Continue reading

Pacific objects in focus #4: ‘Wasekaseka’ whale’s tooth neckpiece

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Wasekaseka, sperm whale teeth / plant fibre, Fiji, mid-19th century. E1567-1. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

Wasekaseka, sperm whale teeth / plant fibre, Fiji, mid-19th century. E1567-1. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

If I had to single out one of my favourite pieces of Pacific ornament being showcased in A fine possession: jewellery and identity, it would have to be the wasekaseka neckpiece. Comprising twenty-six sperm whale’s teeth split lengthways, the wasekaseka is among Fiji’s best known types of jewellery that were typically made by Tongan and Samoan craftsmen who lived there. They were sewn onto sennit cords made of plant or coconut fibre and were worn closely around the neck.

Until the introduction of commercial whaling by Europeans in the early-mid 19th century, whale’s teeth were extremely scarce and therefore became the prerogative of chiefs and men of other high ranking status. The craftsmen would have to wait until a whale had beached on shore before they could source the ivory and fashion it into a wearable piece of adornment. Apart from the wasekaseka, other popular jewellery and ornamental items made from whale ivory included the tabua or tambua (a whole polished whale’s tooth commonly worn as a neck pendant), vuasagale (necklaces comprising the stubbier, smaller teeth of the sperm whale before they had been split) and scrimshaw.

Detail of wasekaseka, sperm whale teeth / plant fibre, Fiji, mid-19th century. E1567-1. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

Detail of wasekaseka, sperm whale teeth / plant fibre, Fiji, mid-19th century. E1567-1. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

Whale’s teeth were bestowed on high-status individuals as gifts, for political support or as a gesture of solidarity and were valued as symbols of wealth and power. The teeth were also sometimes used as a means of exchange for logs and canoes, particularly between the Tongans and Fijians.

Early Museum object label, E1567-2. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

Early Museum object label, E1567-2. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

Accompanying this particular wasekaseka is one of the Museum’s early exhibition labels, which probably dates to around the late 19th century (when the Museum was called ‘The Technological Museum’ and was housed over the road from where we are now, next to the Sydney Technical College on Harris Street, Ultimo). Curiously, however, the label describes this object as a ‘banyini’ – a term I haven’t encountered before, but which was also used in our early records to describe other whale ivory pieces in the collection. So, if you can shed any light on the use of this term, I’d be more than interested to hear!

This wasekseka will be on display in the ‘Wealth and status’ section of A fine possession: jewellery and identity at the Powerhouse Museum until September 2015.

Melanie Pitkin, Assistant Curator, Design and Society

 

 

Remembrance Day 2014

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N11162 Badge, Australia:Victoria. Anzac Remembrance Day, 25 April 1915, celluloid on paper. (CI).

N11162 Badge, Australia:Victoria. Anzac Remembrance Day, 25 April 1915, celluloid on paper.Collection: MAAS.

Every year, on 11 November at 11 am – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – we pause to remember those men and women who have died or suffered in all wars, conflicts and peace operations. Initially this day marked the end of World War One (WWI).

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Mechanisation of road building – 1923 steam road-roller

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Steam road roller made by Aveling and Porter Ltd, Rochester, Kent, England, 1923, used at Bowral, NSW. Powerhouse Museum collection. B2275.

Steam road-roller made by Aveling and Porter Ltd, Rochester, Kent, England, 1923, used at Bowral, NSW. Powerhouse Museum collection. B2275.

Were you one of the many Australian children who played on old steamrollers set up in municipal parks after they were no longer required by local councils? Steamrollers, more correctly called road-rollers, were the last type of steam vehicles used on roads. Ironically, it was the growing popularity of vehicles powered by internal combustion engines that led to the proliferation of steamrollers to compact roads both before and after tar was applied, creating a smooth road surface. Continue reading

Margaret West, jeweller (1936-2014)

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Neckpiece, 'Semi-breve', guitar string / stone / paint, Margaret West, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1996

Neckpiece, ‘Semi-breve’, guitar string / stone / paint, Margaret West, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1996. Collection MAAS

“At present I am concerned with certain metaphysical, psychological and social aspects of jewellery-with its ability to inform and transform’. Margaret West, 1982 *

Margaret West was an influential jeweller, lecturer as well as poet and writer.  The Museum had a long professional association with Margaret West and holds two pieces by her. The one featured above was made in the 1990s and is on display in the Museum’s major exhibition  A Fine Possession :Jewellery and Identity

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LES WELCH (1925–2014)

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Les Welch playing the piano. Image courtesy the Welch family

Les Welch playing the piano. Photo courtesy David Welch

As a bandleader, singer and musician in the late 1940s and 1950s, Les Welch brought the sounds of popular jazz and blues to Sydney’s dancehalls and nightclubs. He developed a reputation for his piano playing, his vocal style and a repertoire that mixed rhythm & blues, trad jazz, boogie-woogie and pop. Hailed as the ‘King of Swing’ and the ‘Original King of Rock ’n’ Roll’, he was a prolific recording artist and a driving force behind the early success of Australia’s largest independent record company, Festival Records. Continue reading

The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-Part 11

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Maurice Guillaux relaxing on board HMAT Orvieto after departing Australia. This photo was taken by a young RG Casey , later to become Governor-General of Australia. Courtesy National Archives of Australia: M1145, 3B/20

Maurice Guillaux relaxing on board HMAT Orvieto after departing Australia. This photo was taken by a young RG Casey , later to become Governor-General of Australia. Courtesy National Archives of Australia: M1145, 3B/20

After thrilling Australian audiences with his airshows and making history by flying the first airmail, in September 1914 Maurice Guillaux realised one of the plans he had made earlier in the year by establishing a flying school at Ham Common, which is now the site of Richmond RAAF Base, to the west of Sydney. In March 1912, pioneer Australian aviator W E Hart (see part 2 of this series) had purchased a part of Ham Common, which he described as “the finest site in Australia for an aviation ground”. However, after suffering a serious flying accident in September of that year, Hart did not proceed with any plans he may have had for the site, so Guillaux was the first to actually make use of the area for aviation purposes.

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Ice Bird – the unsinkable boat

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Dr David Lewis, happy on his arrival in Cape Horn, South Africa, March 1974. From BOX 2 B 24446-2. Collection: MAAS

Dr David Lewis, happy on his arrival in Cape Horn, South Africa, March 1974. From BOX 2 B 24446-2. Collection: MAAS

Restoration of the sailing boat that made the first single handed voyage to Antarctica
Dr David Lewis was a courageous sailor, an extra-ordinary navigator and an adventurer with big dreams. He was the first navigator in modern times to cross the Pacific Ocean without using instruments, following a legendary Maori course from Tahiti to New Zealand. In 1972, David undertook another adventure to sail, alone, to Antarctica and circumnavigate the subcontinent. He bought a second hand, steel hulled boat designed by Dick Taylor. It was an 11 metre sailing boat, called Ice Bird and David and some friends hurriedly prepared it for his summer journey. The steel boat had a large amount of lead in the ballast in case the boat capsized. The trip involved sailing through the ‘Roaring Forties’, the ‘Furious Fifties’ and the ‘Screaming Sixties’. He encountered mountainous seas with 35 metre waves, constant gales, hurricanes and freezing temperatures. The boat was not built for such incredible conditions and capsized three times, twice on the way to the Palmer Antarctic Station and once on its way to Cape Town, South Africa. Continue reading