Over 130 Years of Vintage Christmas Cards

The practice of exchanging greeting cards has a very long history, but the modern Christmas card tradition really got its start in the 1840s. Changes in postal services made it affordable for ordinary people to send each other cards, and developments in printing technologies gradually made it cheaper to produce cards commercially. Plus, Queen Victoria was doing it, which is how a surprising number of our modern Christmas traditions became popular. In Australia, it wasn’t until the 1880s that sending Christmas cards started to reach the heights of popularity. For most of Western Australia’s post-colonial history, people have been sending and receiving Christmas cards, and the State Library of Western Australia holds a surprisingly large number of them.

Early Western Australian Christmas cards

To modern eyes, early Christmas cards from Western Australia don’t seem all that Christmassy. One of the earliest dated cards in our collection was produced by the Perth Postal and Telegraph Company in 1887, and was part of a tradition of Postal Services around the world exchanging Christmas courtesies between themselves. The card features sketches of Perth and Fremantle, and also of a pearling fleet. The Western Mail at the time described the imagery as “suggestive of the youth and vigor of this young country.” This card is part of a larger collection of greeting cards collected by Emily Prinsep, and came to the library as part of the Prinsep family papers.

Others were more like picture postcards showing places or events throughout the year, with Christmas messages attached. These two examples show views of Mounts Bay Road and the Narrow with inserts of a cycling race from around 1896; and a view of Perth esplanade on June 20th 1897, with festivities for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. They may have been produced by early photographers as a way of advertising their services or reselling existing images, but from a modern perspective it can be hard to see the Christmas connection.

One early card that is more Christmassy features a setting of an original Christmas carol, estimated to date from about 1890. The lyrics are by Henry Ebenezer Clay, who was a notable but somewhat uncelebrated Western Australian poet. The music was written by Sir William Robinson, who served three times as Governor of Western Australia; from 1875 to 1877, 1880 to 1883, and 1890 to 1895. Robinson was quite a well-regarded composer, and a number of his songs were popular in Australia at the time.

Increasing variety of Christmas cards

By the early 20th Century, a wide range of consumer cards were available and being exchanged by Western Australians. In the collection of records from the Young Australia League is an album of Christmas cards and other greetings, mostly sent to the League’s founder J.J. Simons from around 1911 to 1914. This shows the diversity of cards which were being sent at the time, including items designed and printed in Western Australia. Much of the imagery was still about the place the card was sent from, or floral and springtime. In fact, some cards came with small packets of seeds for the plants which they represented.

Floral images were featured on the very first commercial Christmas cards produced in Australia, and local flowers remained a popular theme. Amongst others, this card produced by the WA State Government Printer in 1912 features a rich illustration of Western Australian wildflowers.

Businesses were getting in on the act, as well. Many corporate Christmas cards were fairly plain, not much more than calling cards, but there were creative solutions too. The property company Peet and Company was one. While they had their fair share of serious cards, in the 1920s the company produced a novelty cheque for the payment of “ten thousand good wishes for Christmas and the New Year” for their Christmas messages.

Handmade Christmas cards

While there was a rich marketplace of commercially-produced cards available in the early 20th Century, it was not uncommon to send handmade cards as well, particularly if you were of an artistic bent. The artist and illustrator Amy Heap made this delightful view of the Swan River for a Christmas card in 1913. It was found in the collection of Frank Allum, who was Chief Clerk and later Deputy Master of the Perth Mint. Both Heap and Allum were members of the West Australian Society of Arts, and it is likely that the card was exchanged in that context.

We also hold a substantial collection of handmade cards produced by the “Brierley girls” in the 1920s. These were probably the daughters of the Brierley family who settled at Balangup, on the Frankland River west of Mount Barker, in 1913. Many members of the family were skilful artists, and these handmade cards certainly demonstrate that. The images are heavily European, but then the family had only emigrated from England about ten years prior to making the cards. These cards were later sent en masse to William Elsey, the Bishop of Kalgoorlie, and it’s in the Elsey family papers that they came to the library. Elsey had first met the Brierley family as an itinerant Clergyman in the Diocese of Bunbury, and they remained family friends.

Celebration under adversity

Some of the more poignant cards in the State Library of Western Australia’s collection come from people celebrating under challenging circumstances. In the collection of Major A.E. Saggers are handmade Christmas cards exchanged between Australian soldiers who were prisoners of war in Singapore in 1943 and 1944. Saggers wrote a memoir of his experiences, and by 1944 his unit had already been captured in Singapore, sent to work building the Burma-Thailand railway, and been returned to Singapore after its completion. What’s striking about these cards is how good-natured they are, and how the senders managed to find positivity and even humour in trying conditions.

Modern Christmas cards

By the 1950s, what we would recognise as contemporary Christmas imagery was becoming established in Western Australian Christmas cards.

Percy Dix established the printing company Dix Print in the early 20th Century, and went on to make a tradition of producing humourous Christmas cards with his face on them every year. By the 1950s, these included familiar Christmas images such as wreaths and Santa Claus outfits.

Religious imagery seems less common that you might expect in the Christmas cards in the State Library’s collection. The exception, of course, is cards sent from religious organisations. This card was sent by the Parish of Williams, in the Western Australian wheatbelt, in 1952. It is part of a substantial collection of greeting cards collected by the Haynes family, who had farmed in the Williams and Quindanning districts since the late 19th Century.

The second half of the 20th Century also saw a flourishing of businesses sending Christmas cards. There are myriad examples, but some are found in the records of the Swan Brewery. These cards were sent in the 1960s, and feature images of various buildings that the brewery had operated from, including the art deco building on Mounts Bay Road which no longer exists today.

New Christmas cards

New Christmas cards are still being produced all the time, and the State Library regularly collects new cards. One recent example from the State Library’s collection is a series of cards commissioned by the William Street Collective in 2012. These feature local Western Australian artists such as Luisa Hansal, Anya Brock, Jen Garland, Martin E. Willis, The Yok and Lisa Max, and were available for free from various sites along William Street, just outside the State Library of Western Australia itself.

Much more to discover

In 1888, a Melbourne journalist predicted that “the Christmas card craze has reached its climax and will probably decline.”  In the 130 years since that prediction, Christmas cards certainly didn’t decline, and were created and exchanged in enormous numbers. At the State Library of Western Australia, Christmas cards can be found in our ephemera collections, in our pictorial collections, and spread throughout the private archives collections as items received or created by individuals and businesses. In writing this piece, it became apparent just how many Christmas cards the State Library holds, and we have only scratched the surface. There is so much more to discover, but then that’s true of all of our collections.

From Another View Project: Wiluna to the Carnegie Homestead, via the Canning Stock Route and Glenayle station 26 – 30 May 2018

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From 26-30 May, State Library staff, Bill Gannon and Rod Schlencker travelled from Wiluna via the Canning Stock Route to Windich Spring, Pierre Spring, the Weld Spring/Palatji and then via Glenayle Station to the Carnegie Homestead. The State Library recognise the right of Martu people to check images and content prior to posting online. Therefore, there will be a delay in posting information related to areas closer to the Canning Stock Route. Please check the Google Map for location details.

On 30 May 2018, the project team, Bill and Rod travelled to Mount Moore to view the cairn which John Forrest built at the eastern end of the peak.  During this trip, the project team worked closely with the Martu people from the Birriliburru Native Title area.  John and Alexander Forrest visited Mount Moore between 22 and 26 June 2018. John’s account in Explorations in Australia 1874 states that he visited on 22 June 1874. However, the published map contains the dates 25 and 26 June 1874, at Camp 50.  Mount Moore was named after Mr. W.D. Moore of Fremantle, a subscriber to the Expedition Fund.  On top of Mount Moore, Bill Gannon sketched the Timperley Range which John Forrest described in his diary:

Ascending the the hill we had an extensive view to the South-West, South and South-East. Fine grassy country all round and very little spinifex. To the south about nine miles we saw a lake, and farther off a remarkable red-faced range, which I named Timperley Range, after my friend Mr. W.H. Timperley, Inspector of Police, from whom I received a great deal of assistance before leaving Champion Bay. A remarkable peak, with a reddish top, bore South-South-East, which I named Mount Hosken, after Mr. M. Hosken, of Geraldton, a contributor to the expedition.  Forrrest, J. Explorations in Australia. 1875

To keep informed of project updates follow the From Another View project blog: https://fromanotherview.blog/

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Forrest’s Exploration Diaries now online

Artist Bill Gannon and surveyor Rod Schlenker, visited the State Library to see the original diaries of John and Alexander Forrest’s 1874 expedition from Geraldton to Adelaide. The diaries, which are held in the State Library collections, are now accessible online through the catalogue.(ACC 1241A)

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From Another View Project Coordinator Tui Raven with Rod Schlenker and Bill Gannon as they look at the diaries. (C) State Library of Western Australia, 2018. 

This week Bill Gannon and a team from the State Library will embark on a on a trip to engage with Aboriginal communities and visit key locations along the 1874 trek route.  This artistic and community engagement is part of the ‘From Another View’ project, a collaboration between the State Library and Minderoo Foundation.  The project considers the trek ‘from another view’, or rather from many views, incorporating various creative and Aboriginal community perspectives.

Explore some of the camp locations referenced in John and Alexander Forrest’s diaries through the Google map.

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Forrest’s Expedition to Central Australia, State Library of Western Australia, ACC 1241A

For more information about the From Another View project go to: https://fromanotherview.blog/  Follow the From Another View blog to keep updated with the project.

 

Five minutes with Kylie Howarth

Kylie Howarth is an award winning Western Australian author, illustrator and graphic designer. Original illustrations and draft materials from her most recent picture book 1, 2, Pirate Stew (Five Mile Press) are currently showing in The Story Place Gallery.

We spent some time hearing from Kylie Howarth about the ideas and inspiration behind her work. Here’s what she had to say…

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1, 2, Pirate Stew is all about the power of imagination and the joys of playing in a cardboard box. How do your real life experiences influence your picture book ideas? What role does imagination play?

The kids and I turned the box from our new BBQ into a pirate ship. We painted it together and made anchors, pirate hats and oars. They loved it so much they played in it every day for months… and so the idea for 1, 2, Pirate Stew was born. It eventually fell apart and so did our hot water system, so we used that box to build a rocket. Boxes live long lives around our place. I also cut them up and take them to school visits to do texture rubbings with the students.

Your illustrations for 1, 2, Pirate Stew are unique in that they incorporate painted textures created during backyard art sessions with your children. What encouraged you to do this? How do your children’s artworks inspire you?

I just love children’s paintings. They have an energy I find impossible to replicate. Including them in my book illustrations encourages kids to feel their art is important and that they can make books too. Kids sometimes find highly realistic illustrations intimidating and feel they could never do it themselves. During school and library visits, they love seeing the original finger paintings and potato stamp prints that were used in my books.
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Through digital illustration you have blended hand drawings with painted textures. How has your background and training as a graphic designer influenced your illustrative style?

Being a graphic designer has certainly influenced the colour and composition of my illustrations. In 1, 2, Pirate Stew particularly the use of white space. Many illustrators and designers are afraid of white space but it can be such an effective tool, it allows the book to breathe. The main advantage though is that I have been able to design all my own book covers, select fonts and arrange the text layout.

Sometimes ideas for picture books evolve and change a lot when working with the publisher. Sometimes the ideas don’t change much at all. What was your experience when creating 1, 2, Pirate Stew? Was it similar or different to your previous books Fish Jam and Chip?

I worked with a fabulous editor, Karen Tayleur on all three books. We tweaked the text for Fish Jam and Chip a little to make them sing as best we could. With 1, 2, Pirate Stew however, the text was based on the old nursery rhyme 1, 2, Buckle My Shoe. So there was little room to move as I was constrained to a limited number of syllables and each line had to rhyme. I think we only added one word. I did however further develop the illustrations from my original submission. Initially the character’s faces were a little more stylised so I refined them to be more universal. Creating the mini 3D character model helped me get them looking consistent from different angles throughout the book. I also took many photographs of my boys to sketch from.

1, 2, Pirate Stew – an exhibition is on display at the State Library of Western Australia until 22 June 2017. The exhibition is part of a series showcasing the diverse range of illustrative styles in picture books published by Western Australian authors and illustrators. For more information go to http://www.slwa.wa.gov.au

Local illustration showcase

From digital illustration to watercolor painting and screen-printing, three very different styles of illustration highlight the diversity and originality of picture books published this year. 

In a series of exhibitions, The Story Place Gallery will showcase original artwork by Western Australian illustrators from the picture books 1,2 , Pirate Stew, (Five Mile Press 2017), One Thousand Trees and Colour Me (Fremantle Press 2017).

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7, 8, he took the bait © Kylie Howarth 2017

In 1,2 , Pirate Stew,  Kylie Howarth has used a digital Illustration process to merge her drawings created using water soluble pencils, with background textures painted by her two adventurous children Beau and Jack. Kylie Howarth’s playful illustrations of gentle colours, together with her entertaining rhyming verse, take readers on an imaginative adventure all about the joys of playing in a cardboard box. Illustrations from 1,2, Pirate Stew are on display from 26 May – 22 June.

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Among © Kyle Hughes-Odgers 2017

Kyle Hughes-Odgers’ distinctive illustrations blend geometric shapes, patterns and forms. In his watercolour illustrations for One Thousand Trees, he uses translucent colours and a restricted colour palette to explore the relationship between humankind and the environment. Shades of green browns and grey blues emphasise contrasts between urban and natural scenes. Kyle Hughes-Odgers places the words of the story within his illustrations to accentuate meaning. One Thousand Trees is on display from 24 June to 23 July.

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If I was red © Moira Court

Moira Court’s bold illustration for the book Colour Me (written by Ezekiel Kwaymullina) were created using a woodcut and screen printing technique. Each final illustration is made from layers of silk screen prints created using hand cut paper stencils and transparent ink. Each screen print was then layered with a patchy, textural woodcut or linoleum print. Colours were  printed one at a time to achieve a transparent effect. The story celebrates the power of each individual colour, as well as the power of their combination. Colour Me is on display from 26 July – 16 August.

Each exhibition in this series is curated especially for children and is accompanied by a story sharing area, self-directed activity, and discussion prompters for families

  • The State Library of Western Australia is a wheel chair accessible venue
  • The exhibitions are located in the The Story Place, a vibrant and accessible area with plenty for children and families to do. Located on the mezzanine floor of the State Library The Story Place hosts regular activities including Baby Rhyme Time, Story Time and Activity Time. For more information go to www.slwa.wa.gov.au 

In conversation with the J.S. Battye Creative Fellows

How can contemporary art lead to new discoveries about collections and ways of engaging with history?  Nicola Kaye and Stephen Terry will discuss this idea drawing from the experience of creating Tableau Vivant and the Unobserved.

In conversation with the J.S. Battye Creative Fellows
Thursday 27 April, 6pm
State Library Theatre.

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Tableau Vivant and the Unobserved is the culmination of the State Library’s inaugural J.S. Battye Creative Fellowship.  The Creative Fellowship aims to enhance engagement with the Library’s heritage collections and provide new experiences for the public.

Tableau Vivant and the Unobserved
visually questions how history is made, commemorated and forgotten. Through digital art installation, Nicola Kaye and Stephen Terry expose the unobserved and manipulate our perception of the past.  Their work juxtaposes archival and contemporary imagery to create an interactive experience for the visitor where unobserved lives from the archive collide with the contemporary world. The installation is showing at the State Library until 12 May 2017.

For more information visit: http://www.slwa.wa.gov.au

Tableau Vivant and the Unobserved

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Still scene: Tableau Vivant and the Unobserved, 2016, Nicola Kaye, Stephen Terry.

Tableau Vivant and the Unobserved visually questions how history is made, commemorated and forgotten. Through digital art installation, Nicola Kaye and Stephen Terry expose the unobserved and manipulate our perception of the past.  Their work juxtaposes archival and contemporary imagery to create an experience for the visitor where unobserved lives from the archive collide with the contemporary world.

Tableau Vivant and the Unobserved is the culmination of the State Library’s inaugural J.S. Battye Creative Fellowship.  The Creative Fellowship aims to enhance engagement with the Library’s heritage collections and provide new experiences for the public.

Artists floor talk
Thursday 6 April, 6pm
Ground Floor Gallery, State Library of Western Australia.

Nicola Kaye and Stephen Terry walk you through Tableau Vivant and the Unobserved

In conversation with the J.S. Battye Creative Fellows
Thursday 27 April, 6pm
State Library Theatre.

How can contemporary art lead to new discoveries about collections and ways of engaging with history?  Nicola Kaye and Stephen Terry will discuss this idea drawing from the experience of creating Tableau Vivant and the Unobserved.

Tableau Vivant and the Unobserved is showing at the State Library from 4 April – 12 May 2017.
For more information visit: www.slwa.wa.gov.au

Through the mirror-glass: Capture of artwork framed in glass.

 

State Library’s collection material that is selected for digitisation comes to the Digitisation team in a variety of forms. This blog describes capture of artwork that is framed and encased within glass.

So let’s see how the item is digitized.

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Two large framed original artworks from the picture book Teacup written by Rebecca Young and illustrated by Matt Ottley posed some significant digitisation challenges.

When artwork from the Heritage collection is framed in glass, the glass acts like a mirror and without great care during the capture process, the glass can reflect whatever is in front of it, meaning that the photographer’s reflection (and the reflection of capture equipment) can obscure the artwork.

This post shows how we avoided this issue during the digitisation of two large framed paintings, Cover illustration for Teacup and also page 4-5 [PWC/255/01 ] and The way the whales called out to each other [PWC/255/09].

Though it is sometimes possible to remove the artwork from its housing, there are occasions when this is not suitable. In this example, the decision was made to not remove the artworks from behind glass as the Conservation staff assessed that it would be best if the works were not disturbed from their original housing.

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The most critical issue was to be in control of the light. Rearranging equipment in the workroom allowed for the artwork to face a black wall, a method used by photographers to eliminate reflections.

 

We used black plastic across the entrance of the workroom to eliminate all unwanted light.

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The next challenge was to set up the camera. For this shoot we used our Hasselblad H3D11 (a 39 mega pixel with excellent colour fidelity).

 

Prior to capture, we gave the glass a good clean with an anti-static cloth. In the images below, you can clearly see the reflection caused by the mirror effect of the glass.

 

Since we don’t have a dedicated photographic studio we needed to be creative when introducing extra light to allow for the capture. Bouncing the light off a large white card prevented direct light from falling on the artwork and reduced a significant number of reflections. We also used a polarizing filter on the camera lens to reduce reflections even further.

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Once every reflection was eliminated and the camera set square to the artwork, we could test colour balance and exposure.

In the image below, you can see that we made the camera look like ‘Ned Kelly’ to ensure any shiny metal from the camera body didn’t reflect in the glass. We used the camera’s computer controlled remote shutter function to further minimise any reflections in front of the glass.

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The preservation file includes technically accurate colour and greyscale patches to allow for colour fidelity and a ruler for accurate scaling in future reproductions.

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The preservation file and a cropped version for access were then ingested into the State Library’s digital repository. The repository allows for current access and future reproductions to be made.

From this post you can see the care and attention that goes into preservation digitisation, ‘Do it right, do it once’ is our motto.

Simpson and his Donkey – an exhibition

Illustrations by Frané Lessac and words by Mark Greenwood share the heroic story of John Simpson Kirkpatrick in the picture book Simpson and his Donkey.  The exhibition is on display at the State Library until  27 April. 

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Unpublished spread 14 for pages 32 – 33
Collection of draft materials for Simpson and his Donkey, PWC/254/18 

The original illustrations, preliminary sketches and draft materials displayed in this exhibition form part of the State Library’s Peter Williams’ collection: a collection of original Australian picture book art.

Known as ‘the man with the donkey’, Simpson was a medic who rescued wounded soldiers at Gallipoli during World War I.

The bravery and sacrifice attributed to Simpson is now considered part of the ‘Anzac legend’. It is the myth and legend of John Simpson that Frané Lessac and Mark Greenwood tell in their book.

Frané Lessac and Mark Greenwood also travelled to Anzac Cove to explore where Simpson and Duffy had worked.  This experience and their research enabled them to layer creative interpretation over historical information and Anzac legend.

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On a moonless April morning, PWC254/6 

Frané Lessac is a Western Australian author-illustrator who has published over forty books for children. Frané speaks at festivals in Australia and overseas, sharing the process of writing and illustrating books. She often illustrates books by , Mark Greenwood, of which Simpson and his Donkey is just one example.

Simpson and his Donkey is published by Walker Books, 2008. The original illustrations are  display in the Story Place Gallery until 27 April 2017.

  • This exhibition is supported by a self-guided trail and educators guide. For school group bookings visit our website.
  • Copies of the book are available for sale from the Discovery Store at the State Library.

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