Category Archives: Technology

Hartmut Esslinger lets rip on design

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Hartmut Esslinger presents at MAAS

Hartmut Esslinger presents at MAAS

While visiting Sydney, German born American design luminary and provocateur Hartmut Esslinger set aside time to visit the Museum for the second time in six months and present his views on design. Convergent design and originality have long underpinned Hartmut’s practice since his early days as founder of Frogdesign. Hartmut had dropped in late last year after the opening of the INTERFACE exhibition and had promised to return. This time I had time to chat to him about the objects and designers represented in the exhibition.

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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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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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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

A Fine Possession and solving the mystery of a French pendant

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H5025 Pendant, set with gouache miniature on cardboard depicting a hot-air balloon flight of the Montgolfier Brothers, gilt metal cannetille, paste (glass), maker unknown, France, about 1783-1815

H5025 Pendant, set with gouache miniature on cardboard depicting a hot-air balloon flight of the Montgolfier Brothers, gilt metal cannetille, paste (glass), maker unknown, France, about 1783-1815. Collection Powerhouse Museum.

Every now and again when working with a Museum’s collection, you will come across an object that was acquired so long ago that little is known about its provenance. There are a few meagre clues to help uncover what you hope will turn out to be an enriching and surprising story, something that shows that this piece is special. And once and a while, the story exceeds your expectations.
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The Story of Australia’s First Airmail-Part 10

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Maurice Guillaux sitting in his Blériot aircraft before a performance. Image courtesy of the State Library of South Australia

Maurice Guillaux sitting in his Blériot aircraft before a performance. Image courtesy of the State Library of South Australia

As Maurice Guillaux recovered from the August 1 crash of his aircraft (see Part 9 of this story), war broke out in Europe, plunging that continent into the conflict that would become known as The Great War. Guillaux recovered from his injuries within a few weeks, and his Blériot aircraft was repaired, but the French aviator began to realise that the time for aerial displays was over: crowds were beginning to wane and the public’s attention was occupied by news of the war. Guillaux began to talk of returning to France, to help defend his homeland, and a newspaper article in the Perth Sunday Times on August 30 reported prematurely that he had already gone back to Europe. This erroneous report may have resulted from confusion between Guillaux and his translator/manager Lucien Maistre, who seems to have embarked for France some time in August.

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World War One grenades: one with a lifesaving little lever

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World War I grenades and fuses in the Recent Acquisitions Showcase

World War I grenades and fuses in the Recent Acquisitions Showcase

The weapon which would conjure up a – albeit highly visceral – image World War One trench warfare would be the rifle bayonet. So much grainy footage of young men charging across no-man’s-land with bayonets fixed gives us the impression that that was the main strategy of trench battle. However, rifleman with bayonets attached for defensive action were more often used to protect grenadiers – the infantryman who deployed grenades either by hand or by an attachment on a rifle.

H5556 World War One bayonet

H5556 World War One bayonet

On display at the Museum in the Recent Acquisition Showcase, in recognition of 100 years since the beginning of World War One, are two examples of grenades used in the war, along with two examples of bomb fuses.

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Sex and Museums: uncovering a tool of delight

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Packaging for sex toy 2008/60/1-3

Packaging for sex toy , object 2008/60/1-3

As part of the Ultimo Science Festival 2014, the Powerhouse Museum hosted a night of the Science of Sex. Along with talks form Dr Karl Kruszelnicki from University of Sydney, evolutionary biologist Professor Rob Brooks, and marine biologist Professor Emma Johnston from UNSW, Museum curators brought out a selection of sex related objects from the collection. Among them were the obstetric phantom, the birth control calculator, Madam Lash’s corset, and of course the electro massage device.

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Remembering World War One: Geoffrey Hargrave’s life in six photos

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Powerhouse Museum Collection object P2903-9/81. Gift of William Hudson Shaw, 1974.

Powerhouse Museum Collection object P2903-9/81. Gift of William Hudson Shaw, 1974.

Lawrence Hargrave, aeronautical inventor, was one of thousands of Australians who lost a son in World War 1. Among the Hargrave artefacts and papers in the Museum’s collection, there are six photos that tell the story of his son, Geoffrey Lewis Hargrave. In the first, he is a baby posed with his hopeful parents, Margaret and Lawrence.

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Wire has many uses from bee houses to candle snuffers

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90/58-111 Sculptural form, face, glass/metal/insulating wire, Douglas Annand, Sydney, 1950

90/58-111 Sculptural form, face, glass/metal/insulating wire, Douglas Annand, Sydney, 1950

Wire has been a material used in a variety of areas from the domestic sphere to agricultural, medical and applied arts areas. The Museum’s collection has wire products from cake cooling racks to electrical components and to sculptures like the one above made by designer Douglas Annand. The sculpture is a collage of various materials to create an outline of a human face. The central feature is a cylindrical clear glass form containing a blue liquid, with a number of circular indents, creating glass feet, and a nose. Green insulating wire is wound around glass and extends out either side with a green button for each eye.
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