Mouse slippers’ label receives international honour

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Award winning mouse slippers’ label from the Powerhouse exhibition "The Oopsatoreum" by Shaun Tan

Award winning mouse slippers’ label from the Powerhouse exhibition “The Oopsatoreum” by Shaun Tan

‘Mouse slippers’, a label from the Powerhouse exhibition The Oopsatoreum, is one of 10 labels honoured in this year’s annual Excellence in Exhibition Label Writing Competition, an international award sponsored by the American Alliance of Museums in partnership with the Museology Graduate Program at the University of Washington, Seattle.

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Form Without Ornament: A New Industrial Design Process

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A page from an AEG catalogue showing variations on a theme – consumers were able to customise their kettle purchase by choosing from three shapes, sizes and finishes. (from T. Buddensieg, ed., Industrie-kultur, courtesy Gebr, Mann Verlag, Berlin.)

A page from an AEG catalogue showing variations on a theme – consumers were able to customise their kettle purchase by choosing from three shapes, sizes and finishes. (from T. Buddensieg, ed., Industrie-kultur, courtesy Gebr, Mann Verlag, Berlin.)

Our Interface exhibition unpacks some strategies employed by designers to simplify the way we use information technology (IT) tools. But surprisingly, the earliest objects in the exhibition are not IT artefacts at all but come from our decorative arts collection. We included a vase by famed British designer Christopher Dresser and a teapot by German designer Peter Behrens to demonstrate an early advanced understanding of design in the age of mass production. Bear in mind, both objects were made around the turn of the 20th century, a time when manufacturing and our consumption of goods was fundamentally changing as part of the Industrial Revolution.

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Steam locomotive 3642 celebrates 125 years of Sydney’s North Shore railway

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Locomotive 3642 steaming out of Gordon station on 8 March 2015. Photo by Phillip Simpson.

Locomotive 3642 steaming out of Gordon station on 8 March 2015. Photo by Phillip Simpson.

Last Sunday, 8 March 2015, the leafy tranquility of Sydney’s Upper North Shore was pierced regularly throughout the day by a shrill steam whistle. Steam had returned to this commuter line to the city with the historic steam locomotive 3642 providing steam train rides between Hornsby and Gordon stations to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the opening of the line. Five steam train trips were operated between the normal double-deck electric services. Continue reading

Obituary: John Smith, August 1948 – 24 February 2015

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Coffee table, ‘Colourblock’, wood / glass, John Smith, Tasmania, Australia, 1984 (MAAS collection 86/120)

Coffee table, ‘Colourblock’, wood / glass, John Smith, Tasmania, Australia, 1984 (MAAS collection 86/120)

This post was written by Grace Cochrane AM, independent curator and writer, Sydney; former senior curator of Australian decorative arts and design, MAAS, Powerhouse Museum.

It is very sad to hear of the death on 24 February 2015, of John Smith, a key figure in furniture designing and making in Australia for over 40 years. Smith and his partner, ceramic artist and designer Penny Smith, migrated to Tasmania as ‘10-pound Poms’, in 1970, and it was here that I met them after ‘crossing the ditch’ from New Zealand in 1972. After bravely battling recurrent bouts of cancer for some years, John Smith died with his family around him, at their weekender on Bruny Island. Continue reading

Surviving in Antarctica – Cas and Jonesy’ contemporary equipment

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The harsh toll of the expedition can be seen in the faces of the adventurers at the conclusion of their trek, 2012, photo supplied by James Castrission and Justin Jones, MAAS collection, 2014/48/54.

The harsh toll of the expedition can be seen in the faces of the adventurers at the conclusion of their trek, 2012, photo supplied by James Castrission and Justin Jones, MAAS collection, 2014/48/54.

“… all kinds of schemes were in progress for adapting our sledging-gear and instruments to the severe conditions. Nobody was idle during the day, for, when there was nothing else to be done; there always remained the manufacture and alteration of garments and crampons.”
The Home of the Blizzard’, Sir Douglas Mawson, 1915.

When Australians, Justin Jones (Jonesy) and James Castrission (Cas), successfully completed the first unsupported return journey to the South Pole, on 26 January 2012, they were in a sense, following in the footsteps of pioneers from years past. Continue reading

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 was founded by the four Wirth brothers around 1880. It became one of the world’s great 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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