Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Historic Houses Trust and the Caroline Simpson Library

This morning on the way in to the Mitchell Library (I was somehow reluctant to have an early coffee in the Library cafe!) I dropped into the Historic Houses Trust for a look round, and by chance saw a notice advertising the 'Caroline Simpson Library and Research Collection'. I can't explain it any better than the Trust's own brochure, so here's an extract:

'The Historic Houses Trust (HHT) has approximately 48,000 objects in its collection, distributed across all its properties. The collection’s strength lies in its reflection of 19th and 20th century domestic interiors in New South Wales. This derives from the relationship between the house museums where many of the objects are displayed and the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection which the HHT has developed to support research into building conservation and the history of Australian houses, their interiors and gardens. The Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection covers a variety of formats: – 19th and 20th century architectural pattern books, design drawings, trade ephemera, photograph albums, manufacturers' trade catalogues, wallpaper sample books, paint colour charts, furniture pattern books, gardening and domestic manuals and decorators' personal papers. There are also wallcoverings and floorcoverings, soft furnishings, garden ornaments and architectural fragments, mostly provenanced to house in New South Wales. It is the only specialist collection of this type in Australia.'

So out of nowhere I have found another resource for my research, and if I had my druthers I'd probably camp in there for weeks at a time... As it is, having been made very welcome by Matt Stephens, their Reference Librarian, I shall spend a happy holiday looking through their on-line catalogue. Interestingly the building - about which I know virtually nothing - is, Matt Tells me, prefabricated...

A close shave...

I've spent the last couple of days in the Mitchell Library at the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney. It's part of an historical sandstone building with a steel-and-glass annexe, and between the two of them is a courtyard cafe, enclosed by buildings on three and a half sides. Yesterday I went there for a coffee and an early lunch and nearly didn't come back!There I was, peacefully drinking my latte and eating an early sandwich underneath a large 'cafe umbrella' before burying myself in the archives, when there was a huge gust of wind that twisted through the gap between the buildings surrounding the cafe. I wasn't paying any attention until suddenly all five cafe umbrellas were jerked upwards, their poles dangling, by the wind. The umbrellas lifted vertically out of their bases until they were about ten feet off the ground and then the poles started waving around - and, as the only customer sitting outside in the sunshine, I was underneath! I was cowering in my seat as these bloody great poles waved around me, and then they came crashing down. The umbrella under which I had been sitting descended six inches away from my head, with an almighty BANG as it hit the ground, and I'm very glad it didn't land on me. I felt a bit shaky after that...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Ideas #1

I wonder what would happen if I buried some of my copper plates on the beach at Korora and 'weathered' them? The tidal action in Korora Bay is very strong... I might do that when I get back there!

Mitchell Library #2

Hallelujah, I'm in the library again! I have three precious days on my own in Sydney, staying with friends, and free to spend as much time in the archives as I please between their opening and closing hours of 9am to 7pm. And what a joy it is! Mind you, I've set myself relatively easy tasks simply because I wasn't sure what I would be able to achieve in my time here, given my unfamiliarity with the collection. I outlined my aims to Michael on Sunday evening: to upgrade my membership category from the ordinary 'blue card' to the slightly more specialised 'gold card' (which allows me to look at the rare books and manuscripts collection); to find a book about women's decorative arts edited by Ann Toy that I'd failed to obtain in Coffs Harbour through the inter-library loans scheme because the only copy is in the Mitchell collection; and to familiarise myself with the card indices and catalogues here. So far I've achieved two out of those three aims, and managed to do some shopping in Sydney as well!

What is interesting me - apart from the act of doing the research itself - is how feminist my subject seems to be: blindingly obvious to some, I have no doubt, but obscured to me. As I look through bibliographies and lists of source materials, I come up against the notion of homemaking as a woman's occupation - part of the 'right order of things', and the activities described - embroidery, decoration, feminisation of the home environment - are all 'women's work', perceived as part of the Puritan desire to employ women's hands so that they couldn't make mischief. Women embroidered, tatted, knitted, crocheted, painted, decorated not exclusively for their own pleasure or as an expression of an inner compulsion to 'make art'; they did these things mainly because the social order in which they lived expected them to do so as a way of keeping them in their place, cementing their position in the social hierarchy, and expressing their commitment to their male relatives and their families.

Some of my inept description can no doubt be argued with, but I think it is basically true that as women could not/should not earn a wage for their work, they were only allowed to become gifted amateurs at their occupations. Their artistic output was usually for the private audience of family and friends, or was distributed as gifts with no inherent value apart from sentiment. A few women made a decent living from their skills, such as the botanical illustrators the Scott sisters, but they were a rarity and described themselves as amateurs. And this isn't a historical tendency: I do it myself. How often have I downplayed my skills? Given things away rather than charged money for them? Referred to my own art practice as a hobby rather than as a passion? Only now, at the rather late age of 40, am I beginning to reinterpret my own behaviour and reassess the world around me - thank you, Jules, for three years of conversation that have subtly opened my eyes!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Lawn mowing, anyone?

Good News

Two great things have happened, on successive Fridays, so I wonder what will happen next week? First my print Rusty Wharf, Murano got into the Focus group show in Coffs Harbour, at the Bunker Gallery. Then it was purchased! How lovely it was to walk into the gallery at the private view and see a red 'sold' sticker on the label... As a result of that sale I hope I will be able to explore the possibility of a show at the Regional Art Gallery in early 2008, AND I've made contact with someone who might be able to help out with studio space.

Then today I've been talking to Tim at Southern Cross University about the possibility of a residency in January 2007. The timing couldn't be better: just before I go back to the UK. So it's been a good week!


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