A good facsimile
People who look after historic places and collections are most attracted to the authentic, the real, the genuine. Facsimiles and reproductions, not so much.
But there are times when a facsimile can be a good thing—such as at the Old Museum in Brisbane, where visitors are now enjoying a new copy of an old picture.
The Old Museum was originally called the Exhibition Building, and it replaced an earlier exhibition building that was destroyed by fire in 1888.
The Queensland National Agricultural and Industrial Association (ancestor of the present RNA) held an architectural competition for the design of the new building. The winning architect was George Henry Male Addison, who used the pen name Rough Sketch (the competition rules required the entrants’ names to be kept secret until after the judging).
G H M Addison illustrated his design in a beautifully executed pen, ink and gouache drawing—in no way a rough sketch. I assume that this drawing, in its original oak frame, stayed in the architect’s possession and when he died in 1922 it passed to his son and practice partner George Frederick Addison, and when G F Addison died in 1955 it passed to his partner Herbert Stanley Macdonald. Stan Macdonald gave it to the Queensland Art Gallery in 1958. Since then it has been kept safe but mostly out of sight, except as an entry in the collection database.
As is usual in design competitions, the building was not built in accordance with the winning design. The brief was altered and the budget was cut back. Details of land tenure and finance had to be sorted out. Eventually in 1891 work began on a plainer brick building, designed by Addison, that included a large concert hall as well as the exhibition hall. Construction started around the same time as the deep depression of the 1890s hit—a depression that put the National Association into financial strife.
In 1899 the Queensland government rescued the National Association by taking over the building and adapting the exhibition hall wing to house the Queensland Museum. The concert hall was managed by the Brisbane City Council until the City Hall was finished in 1930; the concert hall was then used by the Queensland Art Gallery until 1970. The museum moved out in 1987. Since then the building has been home to the Queensland Youth Orchestra and other arts organisations.
The building has been, and still is, an important place for public gathering. Generations of Queenslanders have fond memories of visits there. This is the place where the observation of Anzac Day was first proposed, where Dame Nellie Melba gave a farewell concert, where Bert Hinkler’s Avro Avian and Pablo Picasso’s La Belle Hollandaise were displayed, where beautiful displays of flowers appeared each Spring, and where musicians and their audiences still gather.
I recently arranged for a copy of G H M Addison’s Rough Sketch to be made and hung in the building, where it helps to interpret the story of this place. This was a small aspect of some excellent work done by the Queensland Department of Public Works to conserve the building.
The copy is a close match for the original, although the two will never be seen together. The success of this project brings credit to the people who helped to make it happen. At the Queensland Art Gallery Michael Hawker (Associate Curator) and Phil Lawless (Assistant Registrar) brought the picture out of storage and into the inspection room so that I could record the details of the frame, and Samantha Shellard (Conservator) removed it from the frame so that Natasha Harth (Photographer) could make a new digital image. The facsimile print was made by Martin Barry of Brisbane Digital Images, and placed in an accurate replica frame made by Graham Reynolds. Matt Artemieff from Building and Asset Services hung the picture in the exhibition hall entrance.
If you are in the neighbourhood I recommend a visit to see the finished work. The coffee is excellent too.
Brisbane City Botanic Gardens
Yesterday, at the annual general meeting of the Australian Garden History Society, Queensland, the guest speaker was Dale Arvidsson. Since March of this year he’s been the curator of both the Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mount Coot-tha (opened in 1976) and the City Botanic Gardens (established as a botanic reserve in 1855).
This appointment, as curator of both gardens is a good thing. It hints at the possibility that the city gardens might recover some of their former botanical attributes. Since the new gardens were established at Mount Coot-tha the city gardens have became a general-purpose civic park—over-trampled and under-maintained.
Lighthouses in the spotlight
The ABC Radio National program Off Track is on my regular listening list. Each week Ann Jones interviews all sorts of ratbags and obsessives. She catches the intimate voice of her subjects, along with the sonic atmosphere of the places they inhabit, and assembles radio pieces that teleport the listener there. Magic.
To mark the centenary of the Commonwealth Lighthouse Service Ann Jones has made a program with a focus on the Queensland timber-framed, iron-clad towers that I am so fond of.
I got to be one of Ann’s subjects this time. I met her beside the Brisbane River at the Queensland Maritime Museum and we talked lighthouses. She wove our conversation in with the sounds of Double Island Point and the voices of Lyndon O’Grady, Jack Duvoisin, Col Gladstone, and Glenn Wiggin, and made a wonderful show, if I may say so.
Marks of use
It’s an ordinary woodworker’s smoothing plane, a tool used by joiners, cabinetmakers, shipwrights and carpenters. Its job is to remove thin shavings of wood to produce a finished smooth surface. It might look crude, but is actually a highly evolved and capable tool, composed of a wooden body, a wooden wedge, and a steel blade.
I know the history of this particular example because it belonged to my grandfather, John Victor (Vic) Marquis-Kyle (1897-1981). I remember, as a five year old, watching curly pine shavings streaming out of the plane, and the sweat dropping off Pa’s chin. I associate this tool with him—this emotional connection has stayed with the plane since it came into my hands in the 1970s.
As a lad, Vic was apprenticed to a cabinetmaker in Brisbane and this plane was probably part of his initial kit of tools, acquired (I’m guessing here) around 1910. He marked the top of the plane with his initials, VK, with chisel cuts. Probably later, he added more prominent marks with letter punches—similar marks appear on many of his other tools.
He finished his apprenticeship during the Great War, and promptly joined the navy. He never returned to the cabinetmaking trade but he did continue to work with tools and to develop fine skills in a good number of other trades and crafts.
Vic’s plane shows the marks of long use. It is made of beech, a hardwood favoured by European toolmakers. The name of the maker—John Moseley & Son of London—is barely readable on the toe of the plane beneath the hammer-bruises.
The cutting blade of a plane like this—called the plane iron—is held in place by a wooden wedge. To tighten and loosen the iron, and to adjust the projection of the iron (and the thickness of the shaving), the worker uses a small hammer to tap different parts of the plane. Vic’s plane shows the marks of taps on the front and back of the body, on the iron, and on the wedge. I have contributed to those marks, to a small degree.
Some collectors put a high value on old objects that are in ‘mint’ or ‘as new’ condition. But some artefacts are culturally valuable for the opposite reason: they are worn and marked with evidence of having been used, or of being changed to suit new patterns of use. Connoisseurs use the term patina for the aesthetic quality of the marks of use. You don’t need to be an expert to enjoy the sight of these marks, but a little explanation can help.
Some old buildings have gone through many changes of use, and the physical evidence of those alterations is part of their cultural significance and can be used to tell engaging stories.
The Mercy Heritage Centre, within the campus of All Hallows School in Brisbane, occupies Adderton, the house built for Dr Fullerton in the 1850s—one of the best houses in the town at that time. The house was taken over by the Sisters of Mercy in the 1860s and became part of their convent and school. Successive additions and alterations have been made there, to bring the building to its present state. One of the items on display in the heritage centre is an area of internal wall whose paint has been meticulously stripped back to show remnants of the interior decoration from various times. This is a wonderful glimpse of the taste of the different periods.