No Monkey tricks here! – conserving a Wirth’s advertising sign for Circus Factory

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Before treatment photo showing  the poor condition of object 2012/104/38

Before treatment photo showing the poor condition of the object

This advertising sign from the Wirth’s Circus collection is currently on display in the Circus Factory exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum. Wirth’s Circus, Australia, was initially led by Philip Wirth (senior) in 1878 and was billed as one of the world’s greatest circuses. The sign, which dates from the 1930’s, would have been displayed in a prominent position in the town at which the circus had arrived. It is made from cardboard with a wooden frame and was in very poor condition. Paper conservator, Rebecca Main carried out a variety of treatments on this object to stabilise and consolidate it for display. As there were exhibition time constraints, the treatment involved cleaning and consolidation of weakened areas. Further treatment with infilling loss areas may be done at a later date.
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The Chinese Collection at MAAS (Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences)

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2000/28/1 Sculpture, 'China.China' series, Bust 28, porcelain body-cast, with hand painted over-glaze enamel in polychrome landscape design , made by Ah Xian (LIU Jixian) in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province, China in 1999.

2000/28/1 Sculpture, ‘China.China’ series, Bust 28, porcelain body-cast, with hand painted over-glaze enamel in polychrome landscape design , made by Ah Xian (LIU Jixian) in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province, China in 1999. Collection: MAAS

The Museum holds extensive Chinese collections including ceramics, bronze ware, lacquer ware, carvings in jade and ivory, textiles, dress and dress accessories.

The Chinese collection has been shaped by a number of significant donations from collectors throughout the last 135 years. One of the earliest acquisitions was made in 1927 after the First Exhibition of New South Wales Collection of Applied Art held at the Farmer and  Company Ltd in Market Street, Sydney.

First Exhibition of New South Wales Collection of Applied Art

First Exhibition of New South Wales Collection of Applied Arts, Catalogue, 1927.

Chinese ceramics, bronze ware, lacquer ware, carvings in jade and ivory entered into the collection. Julian Edmund Tenison-Woods (1892-1889), who was an English Catholic priest and geologist travelled to China and Japan and returned to Sydney with many items which are now housed at the Museum. Another significant donation was made by Christian Rowe Thornett (1879-1972), of Scottish descent, whose family has a history of collecting decorative arts including Asian objects comprising jade, embroideries, furs, jewels, silverware, porcelain and furniture. Some of her family’s collection was also housed at the Victorian and Albert Museum.

92/1414-252 Photograph, young girl, gelatin silver, Hedda Morrison (1908-1991), China, 1930-1945

92/1414-252 Photograph, young girl, gelatin silver, Hedda Morrison (1908-1991), China, 1930-1945. Collection: MAAS

More recently, in the 1990s, the Museum acquired hundreds of black and white photographs of China taken by Hedda Morrison (1908-1991), a German photographer who created memorable documentary images of Beijing from the 1930s to the 1940s. Hedda and her husband Alastair Morrison (1915-2009) a son of George Ernest Morrison (1897-1920) was a journalist for the Times newspaper in London, donated 270 Chinese works including ceramics, bronze ware and belt toggles. The toggle collection is one of the largest collections in the world. The  Museum’s Chinese numismatic collection (Ping Sing collection), numbering over 1000 is a comprehensive collection extending from the Zhou dynasty (c. 1046–256 BC) to the early 20th century.

89/494 Imperial dragon robe, semi-formal (jifu), orange silk gauze/silk/metallic thread, maker unknown, China, c.1800

89/494 Imperial dragon robe, semi-formal (jifu), orange silk gauze/silk/metallic thread, maker unknown, China, c.1800. Collection: MAAS

As a part of the fashion and textile collection, the Museum holds extensive dress, dress accessory and textiles items from China. One of the most significant objects is an apricot semi dragon robe or ‘jifu’ which was worn by a crown prince during the Qing dynasty (around 1800).

The Museum’s Chinese collection also include objects that can demonstrate Australian links with China. Some examples include Margaret Tart’s Chinese surcoat with rank badges and architecture models of Quong Tart’s shop in King Street Sydney. Margaret Tart was an English woman who in 1886 married Quong Tart, a successful Sydney tea and silk merchant in Sydney in the late 19th century.

A6027 Armorial dish, porcelain, underglaze blue with 'rouge de fer' (iron red) enamels and gilding, bearing the arms of Booth impaling Irvine of Drum, Jingdezhen, China, Qianlong Period, Qing Dynasty, c1723

A6027 Armorial dish, porcelain, underglaze blue with ‘rouge de fer’ (iron red) enamels and gilding, bearing the arms of Booth impaling Irvine of Drum, Jingdezhen, China, Qianlong Period, Qing Dynasty, c1723. Collection: MAAS

A5587 Dish, porcelain, blue and white with floral designs, Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province, China, 1628-1644

A5587 Dish, porcelain, blue and white with floral designs, Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province, China, 1628-1644. Collection: MAAS

Many trade ceramics and textiles collections signify cultural influence from China. An armorial porcelain dish made in Jingdezhen during the Qianlong period (1723) is an excellent example. More recently, the Museum has acquired objects created by contemporary artists who have borrowed traditional Chinese techniques and designs, a good example is Ah Xian’s porcelain busts. Ah Xian migrated to Australia in 1990, following the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 and spent a year as a visiting artist at the Tasmanian School of Art. It was through this separation from his homeland that he began to reconsider his heritage and develop a new perspective on traditional Chinese craft.

A4255 Figure 'Shou Lao', carved pinite, maker unknown, China, [early 19th century], excavated in Doctor's Gully, Palmerston, Port Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, 1879

A4255 Figure ‘Shou Lao’, carved pinite, maker unknown, China, [early 19th century], excavated in Doctor’s Gully, Palmerston, Port Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia, 1879. Collection:MAAS

The Museum’s Chinese collection is rich and diverse and can be interpreted in many different ways. One early object, a carved figure, ‘Shou Lao (God of longevity)’ excavated in Port Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia in 1879 still remains as a mystery object after Gavin Menzies mentioned in his controversial book ‘1421: The Year China Discovered the World’ that this object is an evidence to show that the fleets of Chinese admiral, Zheng He (1371-1435) arrived in Australia before Captain Cook. However there is a continuing controversy among scholars as to how it came to be in Australia. Who left it in the roots of the banyan tree at the head of what is now known as Doctors Gully in Darwin? Why and when was it left there?

 2010/5/1 Image Mural painting, 'Zheng He and Columbus', acrylic on medium density fibre board (MDF), painted by Guan Wei for the exhibition, 'Other histories: Guan Wei's fable for a contemporary world', Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 2006-2007


2010/5/1 Image Mural painting, ‘Zheng He and Columbus’, acrylic on medium density fibre board (MDF), painted by Guan Wei for the exhibition, ‘Other histories: Guan Wei’s fable for a contemporary world’, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 2006-2007

The Museum’s collection has a long history inspiring artists, historians, scientists and storytellers looking for new ways to re-imagine and re-interpret their works. Inspired by one of our objects, the ‘Shou Lao’ and its mysterious story linked with Zheng He’s voyages (a 15th century Chinese admiral), contemporary artist Guan Wei created his fable for a contemporary world. The result was an art installation in which Guan Wei reassigns meaning to the object, drawing on his own heritage and migration experiences.
The Museum’s Chinese collection continues to evolve as we acquire new objects and encourage new ways of interpretation.

Post by Min-Jung Kim, Curator

Australia and the Industrial Revolution – driving the first trains

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Portrait of William Sixsmith (1815-1893) by Jacob Audet, 1879. MAAS Collection, P2674-1, gift of E M Cook, 1961.

Portrait of William Sixsmith (1815-1893) by Jacob Audet, 1879. MAAS Collection, P2674-1, gift of E M Cook, 1961.

We’ve known for a long time that William Sixsmith drove the first train in New South Wales but we didn’t know that much about him other than his important role during the construction, testing and operation of the first line from Sydney to Parramatta in 1855. Since 1961 the Museum has had portraits of both William and his wife Maria in its collection but information about his early life was a complete mystery until a family member, Lynne Barnett, contacted me with his amazing life story. He’s closely connected with the beginning of railways in three European countries as well as the romance and harsh reality of the Australian gold rush thrown in for good measure.
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The need for speed: saving the Speedo collection

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92/1605 Women's swimsuit, 1968 Mexico Olympic Games, as worn by the Australian Team, nylon, Speedo, Australia, 1968. Collection: MAAS

Women’s swimsuit, 1968 Mexico Olympic Games, as worn by the Australian Team, nylon, Speedo, Australia, 1968. Collection: MAAS

Once proudly known as the great Aussie cossie, Speedo swimwear occupies an important place in Australia’s sporting and manufacturing heritage. From the company’s beginnings in the 1920s, its aim was to excel in the manufacture of competitive swimwear. Now owned by the UK-based Pentland Group, Speedo has been worn by more Olympic gold medallists than any other brand.

The Museum is privileged to house the world’s most significant and comprehensive collection of Speedo swimwear, primarily donated through former Speedo designer Gloria Smythe and an ongoing relationship with Speedo Australia. With competitive swimwear from the 1930s to the 2012 London Olympic Games, the collection highlights how innovation in design and textiles has been instrumental to Speedo’s success.
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The Compressed Air washing machine

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Compressed Air manual washing machine made by Wolter, Echberg and Company, 6 Russell Street, Melbourne, 1879. Powerhouse Musem collection, K1235. Purchased 1984.

Compressed Air manual washing machine made by Wolter, Echberg and Company, 6 Russell Street, Melbourne, 1879,, K1235. Purchased 1984.Collection:MAAS

This space age looking piece of domestic technology, reminiscent of Mr Squiggle’s rocket, is a manually operated washing machine made in Melbourne by Echberg, Wolter and Company in about 1879 and marketed as the ‘compressed air’ machine. It’s made of galvanised iron with a distinctive rocket or torpedo-shape. A central drum, with two cone-shaped ends, contained the water and suds in which the clothes were washed. The idea was that dirty clothes, soaked in hot water, soap and washing soda (sodium carbonate), were placed in the “torpedo-shaped” tub, which pivoted on a stand. The lid was sealed and by rocking the tub for about five minutes the washing was said to have been completed.

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Treasures from the collection: Scrimshaw

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A10889 Scrimshaw, depicting Maori people and native animals and plants, bullock horn / wood, carved by member of New Zealand Royal Artillery, 1860-1870

A10889 Scrimshaw, depicting Maori people and native animals and plants, bullock horn / wood,, 1860-1870. Collection: MAAS

Scrimshandering, Schrimshonter, schrimshander or scrimshaw as we know it, is the art of carving or decorating whale bone, whales teeth and walrus tusks.

The Museum has eclectic and fascinating collections from parasols to fans, netsuke and scrimshaw. The earliest examples of scrimshaw were acquired around the 1900s. The bullock horn pictured above was carved by a member of the New Zealand Royal Artillery in the 1860s. Often pieces are unsigned and difficult to date but, fortunately the Museum has some information about this piece.

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The Queen’s 1954 Royal Tour of Australia – a rare surviving memento

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Railway timetable cover from the 1954 Royal Tour of Australia. MAAS Collection, gift of Bruce L. Partridge, 2014. 2014/138/1.

Railway timetable cover from the 1954 Royal Tour of Australia. MAAS Collection 2014/138/1, gift of Bruce L. Partridge, 2014. 2014/138/1.

Many of the objects which come into the Museum have great stories. One of the most delightful over the last few months was the acquisition of this very rare fabric-covered railway timetable. It was used in the Museum’s superb 1901 Governor-General’s railway carriage in which Queen Elizabeth II travelled to parts of New South Wales during her 1954 Royal Tour of Australia.
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The Astrographic Telescope: Part Two

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:  L to R: John Cooper, Jim Poole, Tim Morris and Merve Collins

The conservation team, left to right: John Cooper, Jim Poole, Tim Morris and Merve Collins

The Conservation staff undertook the initial sorting out of the various telescope parts at the Castle Hill store. Earlier in the year, Tim Morris, a metals and engineering conservator at MAAS, had begun the restoration of the Astrograph. He was greatly assisted by a team of enthusiastic volunteers : John Cooper, Jim Poole and Merve Collins,(pictured with Tim above). The first job was to separate the components from each telescope, then  re-assemble the Astrograph telescope. Once assembled it could be worked out what parts were missing. and what condition the telescope was in.

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Portrait of the artist

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2007/30/1-69/5/24 Photographic negative, square format 6 x 6cm, Dahl Collings at Stonehenge, photograph by Geoffrey Collings, England, c.1936. Collection: MAAS

2007/30/1-69/5/24 Photographic negative, square format 6 x 6cm, Dahl Collings at Stonehenge, photograph by Geoffrey Collings, England, c.1936. Collection: MAAS

This rather majestic black and white photographic portrait of Australian artist, designer and photographer Dahl Collings (Dulcie May Wilmott 1910-1988) was shot by her husband Geoffrey Collings (1905-2000) during a trip to Stonehenge around 1936. It has recently been digitized from a two and a quarter inch square negative still housed in its  original glassine sleeve, part of the Dahl and Geoffrey Collings archives held by the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney. These important archives document and reference Dahl and Geoffrey Collings multi-faceted Australian and international cross-disciplinary art, design, photography and film practice from the early 1930s through to around 1980.

Together with other photographs in the Collings archives, including the image of the Orion wharved at Sydney Harbour in 1935 (below), this portrait of Dahl demonstrates the Collingses’ emerging interest in asymetrical non-pictorialist modernism (where spatial planes are as significant as forms within the frame). Others shots highlight the influence of the British documentary film and photography movement on their practice (where the human condition is documented ‘truthfully’ in rural or urban settings). A carefully constructed, it places emphasis on the ingenuity of Stonehenge’s construction and the diminutive scale of the human figure when juxtaposed against the man-made monumentality of this prehistoric structure. The Collingses’ own artistic practice is represented by the presence of the artist holding a camera.

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Locomotion No. 1, George Stephenson and the world’s first public railway

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Model of the steam locomotive "Locomotion No. 1", type 0-4-0, 1½ inch scale, 7¼ inch gauge. MAAS collection B630.

Model of the steam locomotive “Locomotion No. 1″, type 0-4-0, 1½ inch scale, 7¼ inch gauge. MAAS collection B630.

The Museum has an amazing collection of models. One of my favourites is this one representing “Locomotion”, the engine used on the world’s first public railway. It opened in 1825 in the north east of England to transport coal from mines near Darlington to the coast at Stockton. The line was built by George Stephenson who also supplied its first locomotive, “Locomotion”, built at his son’s railway works, Robert Stephenson and Co., in Newcastle upon Tyne, which the Stephensons and others had established in 1823. Up until that time George Stephenson had built 14 steam locomotives which had only been used to haul coal wagons on various colliery tramways.
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