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Excavating Women’s histories: nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries

1 December 2022 at 2:30:00 am

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Session Convenors

Dr Sarah Scott, The Australian National University
Dr Christina Clarke, The Australian National University

Session Speakers

Emeritus Professor Harriet Edquist, RMIT University
Anna Stewart-Yates
Associate Professor Linda Tyler, The University of Auckland

Women artists and designers remain relatively unknown when compared to their male counterparts even when they were well known within their lifetimes. This is despite the publication of numerous pioneering feminist art histories including those of Cheryl Southernan and Anne Kirker in New Zealand and Joan Kerr and Jeanette Hoorne in Australia. Recent exhibitions such as ‘Know My Name’ held at the National Gallery of Australia (2021-2022) and ‘We Do this’ held at the Christchurch art gallery (2018) have addressed this lack of knowledge to some extent. However, there is still an urgent need to recover and further research these lost women, their histories and their works. This series of panels invites contributors working on women artists and designers from Australia and New Zealand to submit papers that recover these lost histories, expand known histories, or reconsider ‘the canon’ in order to include women whose opportunities within the fields of arts and ‘crafts’ were limited when compared to their male counterparts.

The consequences of neglect: Two Tasmanian case studies

Emeritus Professor Harriet Edquist, RMIT University

If, as the panel convenors state “Women artists and designers remain relatively unknown when compared to their male counterparts”, then Tasmanian women are the least known of all. Working from a small island that mainland Australia prefers to ignore, with tiny audiences their opportunities for commissions, recognition and a good living from their work, were limited. While a few have entries in Kerr’s Herstory and other survey titles, and nineteenth-century artist and author Louisa Meredith is comparatively well known, most languish in the island gloom.

This paper will examine the consequences of neglect in two case studies: Ellen Nora Payne, an art woodcarver and Edith Holmes, a painter. While separated by a generation their stories have similarities; both were considered highly during their lifetimes then disappeared from view after their deaths; both produced original work that remains unaccounted for in Australian art and design history, and the work of both has implications for the way in which we construct the canon of art and design.

Heather Sutherland – ‘architect wife’?

Anna Stewart-Yates

Heather Sutherland worked in partnership with Malcolm Moir, her husband and fellow architect, from 1936 to 1953 – designing some of Canberra’s most notable examples of interwar ‘functionalist’ modernism. Modern design history is full of analogous husband-and-wife design partnerships, but the figure of the ‘architect wife’ has long been obscured from the design historian’s view by her husband’s image as a ‘lone genius’.

Poring over blueprints in search of Sutherland’s own original ‘master work’ yields seemingly disappointing results – a staircase here, an extension there. However, emerging methodologies aim to shift the focus of modernist design history onto the relationships which facilitate design innovation, rather than individual ‘masterpieces’ and the ‘original geniuses’ who created them. Understanding dialogue and reflexivity – not originality and individuality – as the driving force behind modernist design brings the unique role of the ‘architect wife’ to light.

While an attempt shoehorn Sutherland into an original, individual genius personae would allow her to ‘compete’ with her husband for a place in the conventional historical narrative, it would necessitate buying into zero-sum questions of attribution, and interpreting Moir and Sutherland’s relationship as adversarial and hierarchical. This paper aims to better appreciate the contribution of women modernist designers like Sutherland by recognising the dialogue between Sutherland and Moir as the true location of their design innovation, regardless of whose name is on the plan.

Cora Wilding (1888-1982): catalyst for the Mural Movement in Aotearoa/New Zealand

Associate Professor Linda Tyler, The University of Auckland

With the closure of the Cora Wilding Youth Hostel in Christchurch in 1997, the name of a remarkable early twentieth century artist and pioneer of the Sunlight League in New Zealand passed from view. Studying at the Canterbury College School of Art with Sydney Lough Thompson in 1907, she also went sketching with Margaret Stoddart in 1910 before travelling to Europe to study at the Bushey School of Art in Hertfordshire and following Frances Hodgkins to Paris immediately before World War I. She returned to New Zealand to qualify as one of the first women physiotherapists at Otago University, before travelling and painting in North Africa, Europe, the United States and Tahiti. Founding first the Sunlight League and then the Youth Hostel Association in New Zealand in 1931 and 1932 respectively, she was also involved with The Group, the radical exhibiting organisation that broke away from the Canterbury Society of Arts in the 1930s. She had a strong belief in the social function of art, and her booklet Murals for New Zealanders published in 1946 was well-received locally. In it she advocated for the idea of murals by artists in all public buildings which she felt would achieve countrywide results akin to those she had seen in the United States where a 1933 Public Works Art Project had been funded by the federal government. This paper will examine Wilding’s contribution as an artist in the context of her ideas on social reform.



Dr Sarah Scott & Dr Christina Clarke, The Australian National University 

Sarah Scott and Christina Clarke are lecturers in the ANU Centre for Art History and Art Theory. Sarah is a historian of Australian art. She is co-editing a Routledge edited volume on cross-currents in First Nations and non-Indigenous art. Christina is a historian of metal material culture. Her current research focuses on early modern silver furnishings and Australian arts and crafts metalwork. Her monograph The Manufacture of Minoan Metal Vessels: Theory and Practice was published in 2013. 

Emeritus Professor Harriet Edquist, RMIT University 

Harriet Edquist is a curator and historian, professor emerita at RMIT University, founding director of RMIT Design Archives and founder of RMIT Design Archives Journal. Her research investigates architectural modernism, women’s histories, design history, European diasporas, and architecture at the colonial frontier. In each of the fields of her work Harriet has authored or collaborated on exhibitions and associated books and catalogues. 

Anna Stewart-Yates 

Anna Stewart-Yates is a graduate of the ANU Art History and Curatorship honours program. Her research focuses on modernist domestic architecture and design for the home in the early twentieth century, and emphasises interpersonal networks and intercultural exchange as driving forces behind design innovation. She has an interest in international best practice for the protection of heritage architecture and is currently completing her qualifications as a lawyer before pursuing further study in art history. 

Associate Professor Linda Tyler, The University of Auckland 

Linda Tyler is an Associate Professor of Art History in the School of Humanities and the Convenor of Museums and Cultural Heritage at the University of Auckland and the curator of exhibitions on the art of women modernists Anne Hamblett (A Table of One's Own: The Creative Life of Anne McCahon 2016, and Early Works 2020) as well as Gabrielle Hope: Lyric Watercolours 2008) with associated publications.

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