Tapestry and Identity in Australia

I’ve had a quick skim through the next essay in The Textile Reader edited by Jessica Hemmings and it includes the names of many artists I’m not familiar with so I’m in for a treat. Tapestry and Identity in Australia  was written by an honorary fellow in the Faculty of Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong, Diana Wood Conroy, to accompany an exhibition in 1994 entitled Text from the Edge.

Marie Cook, Valerie Kirk, Kay Lawrence, Diana Wood Conroy, Sara Lindsay, Liz Nettleton, Margaret Grafton, Mona Hessing, Ian Arcus, Tom Moore, Mary and Larry Beeston, Lise, Cruickshank, Cresside Collette, Merrill Dumbrell, Joy Smith, Cheryl Thornton, Kate Derum, Catherine Hoffman, Maria Cook, Elaine Gardner, Pru la Motte, Gary Benson, Marie Patrick, Sue Rosenthal, Lucia Pichler. What a list of artists, thank heaven for google search!

Marie Cook
Sunbather 1977

woven tapestry; wool, cotton
180.0 x 150.0cm
Collection of Ararat Regional Art Gallery

Valerie Kirk. A copy of her MA dissertation is here – I’ll return to read it later along with her blog.

Kay Lawrence Translation – woven tapestry 45 x 315 cms

Kay Lawrence talks about her work here and a written  article is here.

Lawrence writes

“The early morning – that space between waking and beginning the day’s work – is the most important time for thinking.  I gaze at the sky, hear the magpies warbling outside the window, thoughts drift in and out of consciousness as the clouds float by and I idly note the particular quality of the air. Today, utterly clear, still, a sky of the palest blue fading to white at the horizon.

This is the space for reflecting.  Thoughts catch, coalesce into ideas, and if I’m lucky, into insights. One thought leads to another to create unexpected conjunctions, strange relations. But they must be caught, fixed to the pages of my journal with words or drawings, before they vaporise into the atmosphere.”

This is the time when most of my ideas come to me but I’ve not been able to express myself so poetically.

In the article the word fossicking is used and I’d not come across it before. It means to rummage around an (abandoned) area for minerals or materials.

Here are three tapestries (Each 45.4 x 37.5cm) Lawrence made based on enamel tableware she found on a fossicking trip to Thunderella. She goes on to write about the pearl button industry – something I didn’t think about when I made my car-boot find of shell buttons.

No work for a white man

Prior to the Second World War 80% of the world’s pearl shell came from 400 luggers working out of Broome.  Much of this shell was exported to Great Britain to be made into buttons for the textile industry in centres like Birmingham.  The Kimberley pearl shell industry, dating from 1860, was first built on the labour of local indigenous people and later on the labour of Chinese, Japanese, Koepanger, Malay and Manilamen.  In the wake of the White Australia Policy in the early 20th century, an experiment to introduce white labour into the industry failed, giving credence to the popular belief that diving for pearl shell ‘was no work for a white man.’The work entailed great risks, and during the early years hundreds of men died from beri-beri, from diver’s paralysis and from drowning. The pearl shell buttons used to adorn the clothes of ordinary people were the product of an economically volatile industry characterised by difficult and dangerous working conditions.” Taken from ATA’s Educational Article Series 

Lawrence exhibited her work based on the pearl divers in an exhibition This Everything Water in 2008 at the SASA Gallery in Adelaide.

Tadashi wearing pearl undertrousers front

These pearl button encrusted  trousers are based on ones worn by the divers – originally made out of blankets to keep them warm whilst wearing their diving suits for many hours.

Talking of many hours I think that’s enough for me today. As I thought it’s going to take awhile before I even start to read this essay.


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