What is your specialty area?
I trained as an art and design historian and curator in Poland and my interests encompass decorative arts and design from the 17th century to now, mainly European and Australian. Some focus areas have been Meissen porcelain, Australian colonial gold and silver, Australian Art Nouveau, European and Australian product design and studio glass, metalwork and jewellery. At the Powerhouse, I’m responsible for a range of collection areas from ceramics and glass to metalwork and jewellery.
How long have you been working at the Museum?
Since 1985, when I joined the project team researching and developing exhibitions for the new Powerhouse Museum (opened in 1988).
Favourite object in the collection?
The Museum has an outstanding collection of early Doulton ceramics and among its many rare and striking objects is a pair of little-known porcelain wall plaques featuring red waratahs (Australian bush flowers) by the English artist Louis Bilton. Bilton’s luscious waratahs are magnificent! He painted one plaque when in Sydney in 1886 to illustrate ‘The picturesque atlas of Australia’ and it secured him a gold medal at the Centennial Exhibition in Melbourne. Its pair (see main image), which is almost identical, was painted in the Burslem studio soon after Bilton joined Doulton as a painter in 1892.
I suppose I should also mention my weakness for teapots (and kettles!) and tea services as seen from both social history and design perspectives. We have an exciting selection and among my favourites must be the 1878 Japanese-inspired kettle by Christopher Dresser, England’s pioneer of industrial design. Sharing the honour, are three sculptural tea and coffee sets, also in silver, crafted more recently in Italy and designed by three prominent architects: Aldo Rossi, Zaha Hadid and Melbourne’s Denton Corker Marshall. Interestingly, DCM was one of two Australian architectural firms (and 20 other architects ’fundamental to the debate on contemporary design’) invited by Alessi to submit designs for tea and coffee sets for their acclaimed ‘City of Towers’ project of 2002. The other was Tom Kovac Architecture who created another extraordinary set – I’m afraid it is not in our collection yet but you can see it in our book ‘Contemporary silver made in Italy’.
What piece of research or exhibition are you most proud of in your career at the Museum?
For the 1980s: ‘Style’, the Powerhouse’s inaugural decorative arts gallery which was considered highly innovative. Also my research for an article about our Meissen porcelain bust of Saxon court jester Schmiedel (complete with a mouse in his mouth), which is one of the most significant 18th century objects in our collection. This was pre email/internet era and my research took me to Dresden, then in East Germany, where my interest in Schmiedel was treated with great suspicion (I could be a Western spy!) and my contact, a librarian, would only meet with me secretly and definitely not in her public library. For the 1990s: exhibition ‘Australian gold and silver 1851-1900’. It was a sumptuous selection of about 190 treasures from public and private collections in Australia and England – some newly located and many never before on public display. The show remains the most important survey of Australian colonial jewellery and presentation pieces mounted in this country.
For the 2000s: exhibition book ‘Contemporary silver made in Italy’ and co-authoring, with Professor Kenneth Cavill, another publication about Australian studio and commercial jewellery and silver of the 1900-1950 period. Including stories about the Melbourne cup, Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race trophy and Arts & Crafts jewellery, this book will be published next year.