Curating shoes: from heel to toe

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'Heel appeal' showcase. Photography © Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, 2014.

‘Heel appeal’ showcase. Image: MAAS.

On 29 November 2014, the Museum opened ‘RECOLLECT: Shoes’ – a new exhibition inspired by the idea of visible display storage. Comprising more than 800 shoes dating from the 1500s to now, visitors can see everything from the first pair of elastic sided boots in the world made for Queen Victoria in 1837 to designer names like Louboutin, Yves Saint Laurent and Lacroix. Continue reading

Pacific objects in focus #5: ‘Ulapinaki’ by Leanne Joy Lupelele Clayton

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'Ulapinaki', ula lei, measuring tape (red) / cable ties / plastic peanuts, designed and made by Leanne Joy Lupelele Clayton, New Zealand, 2010

‘Ulapinaki’, ula lei, measuring tape (red) / cable ties / plastic peanuts, designed and made by Leanne Joy Lupelele Clayton, New Zealand, 2010. Collection: GOMA Acc.2011.319 (Purchased 2011. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation). On display at the Powerhouse Museum for the exhibition ‘A fine possession: jewellery and identity’.

When someone creates a ula lei (necklace of flowers), it is a sign of affection and is usually given to another as a gift with the purpose to embellish that person as part of a greeting, farewell, alofa (love), a celebration or graduation. In my culture, when a ula lei is presented to you, it is a definite link between past and present. It is a mea lofa of love (gift). All these things are links which I am choosing to activate in my work.

- Leanne Joy Lupelele Clayton

Leanne Joy Lupelele Clayton is a New Zealand born-Australian printmaker, sculptor and wearable’s artist of Samoan-European descent. Known for her use of recycling ordinary, everyday materials into meaningful artistic forms, Leanne uses art to make a contemporary commentary on her Pacific heritage, especially as it relates to cultural and personal memory and the roles of family and tradition in a cross-cultural society. “My artwork represents a confluence of Polynesian and Western cultures, utilising techniques and materials from each…I like to draw from diverse historical materials ranging from family photographs through to clothing and dress; exploring how cultural traditions shape who we are and where we are from”.
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The Astrographic Telescope: a story of restoration- Part One

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The 2008/19/1 Astronomical equipment, 13-inch Melbourne astrographic telescope, lens and accessories, metal / glass / wood / leather, made by Howard Grubb, 1888-1890, used by Melbourne and Sydney observatories, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia / Sydney, New Sourestored telescope in the Conservation workshop, MAAS

The 2008/19/1 , 13-inch Melbourne astrographic telescope, lens and accessories, metal / glass / wood / leather, used by Melbourne and Sydney observatories, restored telescope in the Conservation workshop,Collection: MAAS

The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS) Conservation Department has recently completed the restoration of our very old and internationally significant Astrographic (photographic) Telescope. It will be on display in the new dome at the Sydney Observatory soon in early 2015. The telescope was made in 1887 by Howard Grubb, one of the best known instrument makers of the nineteenth century.

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The diary of John James Wirth

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Diary JJW page
Diary of John James Wirth, 1879. Gift of the Wirth family, 2012. Collection: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.

John James Wirth was one of the four brothers who founded Wirth’s Circus. One of the gems of the Wirth’s Circus collection is his handwritten diary from 1879, describing daily life on tour in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland performing with John Ridge’s Royal Tycoon Circus.

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Wirth’s Circus — musical beginnings

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Three of the men in this photo from around 1870 are thought to be Wirth brothers -- Johannes (father of the four brothers who founded Wirth's Circus, probably on the left), Peter and Jacob. Their brother Philipp died in 1859.

Three of the men in this photo from around 1870 are thought to be Wirth brothers — Johannes (father of the four brothers who founded Wirth’s Circus, probably on the left), Peter and Jacob. Their brother Philipp died in 1859. 2012/104/1-3/1. Collection: MAAS

Johannes Wirth (1835-1880) was a young immigrant from Bavaria who arrived in Australia in 1855 with his three younger brothers. They were musicians who performed as a German brass band. Johannes took to the life of an itinerant gold seeker, travelling with his wife and infants, following rush after rush to the gold fields, all the way from southern Victoria to the north of Queensland. He had little luck as a prospector but did better as an entertainer. It was Johannes’ musical ability that caused him to associate with circus companies, which often featured a brass band. Even though he ‘did not care for circusing’, it was there that the Wirths found employment, until he and his brothers went their separate ways

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World AIDS Day 2014

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2011/109/56 Quilt, Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt, remembering Lainie Kathrine Hattam, Yumba Mandandanji (Tim Zurvas), Elizabeth Anne, Lizzie MacFarlane, John Warnock, David John Thomson and Anthony Charles Carden, various makers and places of manufacture, Australia, about 1995. Collection: MAAS

2011/109/56 Quilt, Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt, remembering Lainie Kathrine Hattam, Yumba Mandandanji (Tim Zurvas), Elizabeth Anne, Lizzie MacFarlane, John Warnock, David John Thomson and Anthony Charles Carden, various makers and places of manufacture, Australia, about 1995. Collection: MAAS

Unless we tell their stories, they are not there.”*

Since it began on 1 December 1988, World AIDS Day has put strong focus on the global fight to remove the threat of HIV and AIDS.

First diagnosed in 1981, the HIV and  AIDS epidemic remains one of the most significant public health issues, particularly in less affluent countries. In Australia, original safe sex messages have lost their impact. This is leading to a gradual increase in infection rates.

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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