In Mid-Century Modern at NGV Australia, we see simple furniture transcend into something more than just the objects that could be found in the homes of the fifties, and in today’s retro interiors. Seeing the exhibition for the first time was an incredible experience, but amidst the iconic designs there were other things resurfacing from the past. It was in the stories that you could hear being retold or maybe even told for the first time within the gallery spaces that night that also caught my attention. When asked to write a blog entry for this exhibition, I knew it was one of these stories I wanted to share with you.

On the night of the exhibition opening I arranged to meet up with botanical artist and former owner of the Boyd/Ednie home, Beverley Ednie, and her daughter Gillian, a biographer. As I wandered through the gallery with them that night, I noticed Beverley paying close attention to the Frances Burke fabrics. Another woman also stopped to look at the swatches of vintage fabric draped on the wall. “I remember that fabric”  Beverley said as she turned to the lady nearby, “you remember it too, I could see it as you looked”. The stranger answered but I couldn’t hear what she said and in a way I’m glad. Their exchange, which started so casually, became something more personal and familiar. It’s not my memory, it belongs to them, and I feel like an intruder so I walk away and leave them to talk. I know if Beverley wants to share it she will, and later when she has caught up with me again she briefly mentions the exchange. “You know my trousseau was all Frances Burke”, she says in passing as a collection of Michael Hirst/Clement Meadmore designs catches her attention and the conversation shifts to a new topic.

A few weeks later I catch up with Beverley and Gillian. Beverley is recounting her story and I am imagining her in late 1953 preparing for her wedding in February 1954. I can see her carrying bolts of Frances Burke fabric from the store which included ‘Tiger Stripe’ 1939 in an ochre, and ‘Tartan’ 1948 in blue/grey. Some of these will be used for her trousseau, but some will be saved for another special occasion. The Tiger Stripe is later used for a maternity top in 1955. Beverley explains that the garments were quite heavy as the fabric was made from thick cotton usually reserved for curtains and soft furnishings. As I look at the black and white photograph of Beverley I see a modern independent woman, and I am reminded that the patronage of people like Beverley and Ian Ednie played an important role in supporting Australian modernist designers of the period.

Image 1: ‘Tiger Stripe’, courtesy RMIT Design Archives.

Image 2: Beverley Ednie in maternity top, 1955. © Beverley Ednie.

With thanks to Beverley Ednie and Gillian Ednie, and Kaye Ashton and Harriet Edquist, RMIT Design Archives.