the society of arts and crafts of new south wales
History 1972 to 1991
In January 1972, the Society's books, equipment fittings etc. were distributed amongst various members for storage. In February, a small gallery was reestablished in the city, but was moved again in May. In August 1972, a disastrous robbery occurred and $1120 worth of members' work (predominantly jewellery) was stolen. Thus the gallery was closed in November 1972 and the society no longer had a permanent home.
Although homeless, the society continued to function as an organisation holding exhibitions.
1974 was a big year. Premises were rented in The Rocks, an area which was just being recognised as a tourist attraction. These premises, though upstairs, were large enough to establish a gallery, with an area for craft tuition, space for a library and craft equipment, and an area to provide a meeting place for the membership. For the first time since 1906 all the activities of the society were concentrated in one centre and the aims and objectives of the founders became a reality. Two grants, one Commonwealth, the other State, were applied for and received. These were for the purchase of equipment to facilitate classes. Thus, classes began in enamelling, silver jewellery, weaving and spinning, copperwork, macrame, leatherwork etc., many of the instructors were drawn from the membership.
Growth continued through 1976, and the society's membership climbed back to 126. The new gallery was refurbished, and classes and workshops continued. Grants from the Australia Council and the NSW government assisted with tutors fees, a much needed fordifax machine and adding machines.
Membership was steadily increasing, and a larger venue was required for the annual exhibition. This was a huge success, five thousand pamphlets were printed and distributed and many invitations were sent. Lacemaking was added to the list of craft classes available at the gallery.
The Art Gallery of NSW in conjunction with the Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, mounted a small exhibition entitled 'Cicadas and Gum Nuts'. This comprised work by members of the society and the Society of Arts and Crafts of Victoria, from the 1910-1930 era. Many of the pieces on display had been acquired by the Art Gallery and the Museum over the past decades. A concurrent exhibition of contemporary craft selected by the Craft Board of the Australia Council was held.
Classes continued, together with special workshops. The society's books and records, dating from 1906 were lodged with the Mitchell Library.
The gallery relocated to the first floor of their Rocks home, greatly improving accessibility. These premises were refurbished. Staffing was still a struggle; with 180 members, only 40 of these carried the burden of keeping the gallery open. Classes and workshops continued to grow, stained glass was added, leatherwork, bobbin lace and lost wax casting. The Leatherworkers Guild of NSW was formed from society members. At the end of 1981 membership increased dramatically and sales were improving. Credit cards were accepted for the first time.
Extra space was rented in the gallery premises, for craft classes, allowing the existing space to be used entirely as a gallery-showroom.
These were very successful years for the society, with special exhibitions, special commissions for members, additional classes and workshops.
Late in 1984 notice to quit the premises was given; the building was to be redeveloped as a hotel. This meant the loss of the gallery, the loss of teaching and meeting areas, and little hope of acquiring either elsewhere. The executive of the society were tireless in their efforts to find suitable premises and very persistent in their requests for substitute locations. They lobbied every Member of Parliament who was in any way connected with the arts, or The Rocks area, believing that as it had been in existence since 1906, it was an integral part of the Sydney craft scene. This was especially true at a time of expanding tourism and a consequential demand for quality Australian craftwork. Their efforts were rewarded, and premises were again available in The Rocks, space for a gallery, but with no possibility for classes. Eventually, in June 1985, the new gallery opened. The society was now paying commercial rent, but from the first, sales exceeded expectations and the step fully justified the committee's earlier decision and the cost of setting up the new site. Classes were resumed on a smaller scale in temporary accommodation in the suburbs. New rules were drawn up regarding craft standards, and staffing the gallery became compulsory. A decision was taken to cancel the annual exhibition.
To monitor standards, a system of craft co-ordinators was established, and the library was updated. In 1987 a system of special displays of individual members' work was proposed and initiated. After a slow start it became very popular with members as it resulted in greater exposure of their craft and added interest to the gallery.
1988 was a very busy year; the Australian Bicentennial Year. Members continued with television and radio interviews, and took part in special planned exhibitions such as the First State Exhibition at Darling Harbour.
The main activity of 1989 was to attempt to increase public awareness of the society and the gallery through public promotion. Members demonstrated their craft at many public functions, some were featured in a book published on The Rocks. The society became a full member of The Rocks Chamber of Commerce (one member had won the contest for the design of its logo). Many members gave radio interviews. Life members now received a sterling silver waratah brooch.
In 1990 the gallery was refurbished. The society participated in Heritage week with a bang, or rather a baa. Three sheep were borrowed, penned and shorn, then members carded the wool, spun and knitted it in public demonstrations. The publicity received brought many visitors and the sheep behaved wonderfully. Responding to the demands of tourism, it was decided to accept travellers cheques. Members continued their individual successes with prizes in competitions, and commissions. The Powerhouse (Applied Arts & Sciences) Museum presented a major exhibition lasting many months, and several members actively participated by engaging in demonstrations.
This was our 85th year and we were the second oldest arts and crafts society in Australia, pipped at the post by Tasmania by two years for the honour of being the oldest, still established craft association. To mark the occasion, the Art Gallery of NSW and the Powerhouse Museum lent a representative collection of past members' work for display in the gallery. As a special tribute the Powerhouse Museum hosted a reception, a gesture of recognition much appreciated by all the membership. As the Grand Finale to the 85th year, the decision was made to sponsor an Australian Decorative Arts Exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW. 60% of the exhibited craft was to be members' work acquired by the Art Gallery in the early 1900s.
At the time of our society's history book's publication, 1991, notice had again been given that the lease on the gallery was to be terminated with plans to change the whole structure of the arcade. This did not happen and we continue to thrive, producing beautiful craft work and maintaining our original objectives; to foster Australian handcraft in both materials and design.
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