fig. 1
Display cases, internal lighting and display furnishings, oriental gallery, NGV, 1968

On 20 August 1968 the National Gallery of Victoria’s much-heralded building on St Kilda Road opened amid a fanfare of publicity acclaiming the completion of what all agreed was a major architectural and cultural achievement (fig. 2). Designed by Roy Grounds, the new Gallery had been in development since 1959 as the first stage of the Cultural Centre for the Arts that the Premier of Victoria Henry Bolte had promised to build for the Victorian people.1 See Eric Westbrook, Birth of a Gallery, Macmillan, Melbourne, 1968; Vicki Fairfax, A Place across the River: They Aspired to Create the Victorian Arts Centre, Macmillan, Melbourne, 2002; and Leonard Cox, The National Gallery of Victoria 1861 to 1968: A Search for a Collection, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1970. Expectations were high that Grounds’s masterpiece would draw the international spotlight onto the NGV’s important collection and meet the promise made by its director, Eric Westbrook, that this would be a people’s gallery: a ‘living museum’, designed not for ‘the highbrow elite’, but for ‘the community it has to serve and who will use it’.2 The idea of a living museum was promoted by Dr Milliken, Director Emeritus of the Cleveland Museum of Art, who was brought in to advise the National Gallery and Cultural Centre Building Committee prior to the appointment of the architect. The report was influential, guiding every aspect from the choice of the architect to the gallery design (William Mathewson Milliken, ‘Report Presented to the National Gallery and Cultural Centre Building Committee’, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 11 June 1959). Fortunately for Westbrook, Milliken’s ideas matched his own, as expressed in ‘Spirit and Progress’, Westbrook’s first report to the NGCCBC: Eric Westbrook, autobiographical notes, Eric Westbrook/Dawn Sime Archive from Peter Perry Executor, box 7, 0119-004263, NGV Archive. Culture, Westbrook told the press, now ‘means something very close to the way of life of the people and the individual’, and this had inspired him and Grounds to develop a new type of art gallery, the aim of which was to take people on a comfortable ‘voyage of exploration’ of the world of art by making its entire collection available for all to enjoy and study for the first time.3 Eric Westbrook, quoted in ‘Cultural centre to attract all: “not designed for highbrow elite”’, The Age, c. Feb. 1961; also Stuart Sayers, ‘A sense of excitement: ladies and gentlemen your new arts centre’, Age Literary Review, 9 Dec. 1967. The promise of a people’s gallery was promoted by the state-wide ‘Vision’ funding campaign, launched in Feb. 1961.

When the Victorian public flocked in thousands to the opening weekend, fears about security were countered with excitement over the possibility that the appreciation of art and culture would now be as important to Australians’ way of life as cricket and football.4 See ‘Cultural centre to attract all’; ‘100,100 visit the new gallery, art-lovers cause a jam like a football final’, The Age, 26 Aug. 1968; and ‘The day that Melbourne went culture-mad’, The Age, 26 Aug. 1968. After opening weekend, during which people, including children with dirty hands, touched the art, a list of dos and don’ts for gallery visitors was published in the press; smoking, once permitted, was banned. Grounds’s bluestone palazzo fortress, with its playful moat and mouse-hole entry, light-filled courtyards and cathedral-inspired Great Hall was, as promised, a welcoming space in which to see more works of art more easily in less time and in more imaginative surroundings. From the moment visitors entered the modernist foyer, with its starburst chandelier, mountain ash ceiling, golden carpets, glass walls and overlooking balconies, they were embarking on a skilfully orchestrated experience that included not only extensive exhibitions of art from the past to the present, but also a set of new gallery-going activities – study areas with access to objects in storage display, a library and bookshop, educational activities for families, guided tours and a restaurant – all designed for visitors’ comfort and ease of use.

Six times larger than the Swanston Street gallery, the new building ’s architectural detailing, the publicity emphasised, was designed with fatigue – ‘the greatest challenge of enjoyment’ – in mind.5 Eric Westbrook, ‘Second report by Director presented to the National Art Gallery and Cultural Centre Building Committee on requirements for new buildings to house the National Gallery of Victoria and related services’, 1 March 1960, Eric Westbrook/Dawn Sime Archive from Peter Perry Executor, box 7, 0119-004263, NGV Archive. Its simplicity, spaciousness and language of materials and colour created an ambience of restrained luxury, while the floor plan of three inner courtyards, around which different galleries flowed in sequence, could be easily travelled with none of the tiring staircases or endlessly long galleries of old. Relief from fatigue was provided by Grounds’s innovative ceiling and clerestory lighting system which, together with the courtyards, flooded the internal spaces with daylight and provided refreshing glimpses of the outside world. Similarly, a play of different lighting, ceiling heights, and wall and floor treatments had been introduced to mark transitions in space and ambience, and provide variety for visitors as they moved through the exhibition spaces to view the art on display.6 See Roy Grounds, ‘Victorian Arts Centre, Stage 1: the Gallery building ’, Architecture Today, Sept. 1968, pp. 20–8; and Geoffrey Hutton, ‘Roy Grounds and his Arts Centre’, Age Literary Review, 25 March 1967.

With the NGV’s collection taking hours to view, leisurely spaces like the cafe were included so people could pause on their voyage of discovery to reflect and have a coffee while watching the spectacle of fellow appreciators of art moving about engaged in the practice of spectatorship that is so integral to the shaping of modern subjectivities and identities. As an exemplar of the living museum, the new NGV was part of the postwar revitalisation of art as a key narrative of Western progress and civilisation, and central to the reshaping of national identities to humanist, democratic values.7 See Donald Horne, The Great Museum: The Re-presentation of History, Pluto Press, Sydney, 1984; Germain Bazin, The Museum Age, trans. Jane van Nuis Cahill, Universe Books, New York, 1967, pp.  263–76; G. Pollock & J. Zemano (eds), Museums after Modernism: Strategies of Engagement, Blackwell, Oxford, UK, 2007; and Museums, Imagination and Education, no. XV, UNESCO Museums and Monuments Series, UNESCO, Paris, 1973. Widespread enthusiasm for the arts was stimulated by the media and television programs such as Any Questions, on which Westbrook appeared as a panellist.8 Eric Westbrook, ‘Brief CV’ and ‘A star is born’, autobiographical notes, Eric Westbrook/Dawn Sime Archive from Peter Perry Executor, box 2, 0119-004258, NGV Archive. This was accompanied by the arts publication boom that in Australia produced Bernard Smith’s Australian Painting: 1788–1960 (1962), Robin Boyd’s The Australian Ugliness (1960) and Robert Hughes’s The Art of Australia: A Critical Survey (1966); all essential reading for the culturally concerned.

With its platform of social and cultural education, the NGV’s primary purpose, the socially democratic Westbrook explained, was to bring the individual into contact with the art object by showing it ‘in the most sympathetic and interesting way possible’.9 Sayers. Accordingly, the NGV’s collection had been broken into accessible themes – European and Australian painting, decorative arts, prints and drawings, oriental art, and antiquities – each with an exhibition space skilfully curated to tell its story of art and draw the viewer into the contemplation of the art object. What was not on permanent display for popular enjoyment was easily accessible in the study storage areas, the inclusion and design of which was a world first. Another innovation was the inclusion of a temporary exhibition hall to ensure there was always something new to see, including The Field exhibition which created controversy with its efforts to assert the maturity of Australian art and its place in the contemporary international mainstream. Together with the NGV Education department, temporary exhibitions of contemporary art and design were essential for establishing the evolutionary continuity that made the art of the past vitally relevant to contemporary life.10 Westbrook’s directorship was distinguished by his commitment to public education, the building of networks of regional galleries and pioneering large-scale temporary exhibitions of art and design in New Zealand and Australia. He was also influential in establishing the education section, in keeping with his belief that children should be educated to a love of the arts from an early age, and was involved with the establishment of the Industrial Design Council.

Encountering these innovations and seeing the collection installed in the new building came as something of ‘a shock’ for the young art critic Patrick McCaughey, who would become director of the NGV in 1981. Not only, he wrote, was one struck by the diversity and quality of the collection, but also by the many ‘surprises, revelations and masterpieces’ one encountered while moving through the different exhibits. Even the ‘well known’ had ‘become strange again and more exciting’, as one was drawn ‘on ineluctably to look, contemplate and immerse ourselves in them’. The history of art, he concluded, had been brought to life.11 Patrick McCaughey, ‘Collection in a new light’, The Age, National Gallery Supplement, 20 Aug.1968.

Considerable attention has been paid to the  role  of Grounds’s architecture in creating the cultural spec-tacle of the NGV and its contribution to the history of modernist architecture.12 See Philip Goad, ‘From critique to orthodoxy, from National Gallery (1968) to NGV International (2003)’, in Michael J. Ostwald & Steven Fleming (eds), Museum, Gallery and Cultural Architecture in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Region: Essays in Antipodean Identity, Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, NY, 2007, pp. 93–198; Philip Goad, ‘An oriental palazzo: Roy Grounds and the National Gallery  of Victoria’, Backlogue 1999: Journal of the Halftime Club, vol. 3, pp. 72–105. Little, however, is known of the role Grant and Mary Featherston played in helping to bring the NGV’s vast and diverse collection to life (fig. 3). Commissioned to conduct the furnishing and fit-out, the Featherstons worked intensively from 1966 to 1968 with Gallery staff to develop an integrated interior design approach that involved ‘every moving fitting but the phones’. The greatest challenge, as the Featherstons phrased it, was how best to display the art objects, and while this involved the new exhibition galleries with their innovative language of display and storage, it also involved the layout, furnishings and fittings for every space from executive offices to backdoor security.13 Christine Andrews, ‘Everything but the phones’, Sun News-Pictorial, Arts Centre Supplement, 20 Aug. 1968. While there are few traces of this project left today, the archival materials indicate the enormity of the task and record the manner in which the Featherstons brought their design expertise – in the form of rigorous, systems thinking – to the process and enabled those involved to come to grips with what the NGV’s transformation into a modern organisation, dedicated to cultural tourism, meant in everyday functional terms.

The Featherstons’ involvement was contentious given the appointment of Grounds as the sole architect, answerable only to the National Art Gallery and Cultural Centre Building Committee (NAGCCBC).14 Goad, ‘From critique to orthodoxy’; and Goad, ‘An oriental palazzo’. It was, however, in keeping with overseas developments and reflective of the emergent use of professional interior designers, as evidenced by Knoll Design and Featherston Contract Interiors being engaged to create distinctive interiors that, in spatially communicating the function and value of an enterprise, shaped people’s social attitudes and behaviours.15 Denise Whitehouse, ‘Design for life: “Grant and Mary Featherston”’, in Kirsty Grant (ed.), Mid-Century Modern; Australian Furniture Design, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2014, pp. 44–53. Significantly, the Italian architects Roberto Aloi and Carlo Bassi focused the attention of their highly influential study Musei: Architettura-Tecnica (1962) not on architectural innovation, but on the collaborative efforts of designers and gallery experts to apply functionalist design principles to the development of a new language of interiors and display to support the radical reinvention of the world’s art collections.16 R. Aloi, Musei: Architettura-Tecnica, Ulrico Hoepli Editore, Milan, Italy, 1962. As Bassi explained, the shift from a collection preservation culture to one of community and experiential education meant that the ‘problems of gathering, setting and arrangement, the study and efficient presentation [of collections] to the public’ were now the highest priority. Furthermore, ‘the young science of museums’ was fostering new forms of expertise – curatorship, conservation, publicity, publication, display, education and the growth of the museum as a multifaceted organisation with complex design needs. All of which was informing efforts to bring rationalist thinking to the development of a design pattern language specifically for art museums, the driving principle of which was the creation of immersive environments that acted as a catalyst between the visitor and the art object.17 Carlo Bassi, ‘Introduction’, in Aloi, pp. xxii–xxvi. Less enthusiastic, the French art historian Germain Bazin ranted that the rise of cultural tourism in gallery going by ordinary people had created an organisational beast and changed the role of the curator from scholarly collection to interior decoration.18 Bazin, pp. 272–4.

Function versus aesthetics

The Featherstons accepted the commission to manage the interior design of the NGV in October 1966, as they were winding up the Montreal Expo 67 talking chair project, the first project of their new partnership. While the prospect of another cultural project was attractive, the Featherstons knew of the politics that had seen the Gallery Trustees insist an experienced professional be appointed to work with Gallery staff on finalising the furnishing and fit-out in preparation for the transfer and installation of the collection into the new St Kilda Road building.19 Mary Featherston, interview by the author, Melbourne, 6 Aug. 2014; see also Minutes of Meeting of National Gallery Trustees, 1 Feb. 1966, NGV Council of Trustees Minute Books, vol. 2, Feb. 1956 – June 1967, NGV Archive. The NGV was a pioneering project and, given the Sydney Opera House debacle, anxieties were high, particularly as to whether Grounds had the experience or disposition to complete a fit-out of such scale and complexity.20 Cox, p. 334. As sole architect, Grounds wielded considerable power and his sense of autonomy was compounded by his propensity to play the hero architect in a Frank Lloyd Wright manner. While he enjoyed a relatively harmonious relationship with Westbrook, his relationship with the Gallery Trustees and staff was troubled.21 Eric Westbrook, autobiographical notes titled ‘Travels with my architect’ and ‘R. G.’, Eric Westbrook/Dawn Sime Archive from Peter Perry Executor, box 4, 0119-004260, NGV Archive. In ‘R. G.’ Westbrook wrote of Grounds’s style of conversation: ‘he became first irritating and then a bore’. In ‘Travels’, he wrote: ‘he was one of the great performers in the Frank Lloyd Wright tradition of the prima-donna, or perhaps more exactly prima-ballerina architect, for he was remarkably quick on his feet. He posed, “showed-off ” and relentlessly elbowed his way to the front of the stage to receive the maximum applause and the largest bouquets. He quarrelled with members of staff and with some of the Trustees’.

Doubts first surfaced in 1963 when staff, after viewing the building prototype, approached the Trustees concerned that Grounds’s office had ignored their fundamental needs as set out in the report on requirements for the new building submitted to the NAGCCBC in March 1961.22 An outline of the politics involved is given in Cox, pp. 331–41; and Fairfax, p. 85. See also Eric Westbrook, ‘Second report, 1 March 1961’, Featherston Archive, NGV File. This report was a strategic effort by Westbrook and his new generation curators – Dr Ursula Hoff, Kenneth Hood, Brian Finemore and John Stringer – to ensure that Grounds followed the recommendations of the American expert, Dr Milliken, that the new NGV be designed in consultation with and according to the users’ needs.23 Milliken promoted the idea of designing from the inside, stating that a successful museum could only be built from within with a sympathetic architect developing his ideas about a plan set before him by the professional staff and that ‘he must be a man who is willing to work closely with professional staff, taking their ideas and clothing those ideas with a fabric that is mutually acceptable to the professional staff and to him’; see Milliken, p. 3. For the staff, several of whom were art history graduates, the report was also an exercise in scoping the collection, the majority of which was in storage, and envisaging what the transformation into a modern gallery with new technologies and facilities would entail organisationally and operationally. With their defining brief being to make the entire collection accessible, and in so doing, shape it into contemporary art-historical narratives, the challenge was both philosophical and physical. Thus the question of functional requirements was linked to their vision of breaking the vast collection, which encompassed ‘1200 years of art’, into curatorial departments, each with its own set of objects and collection management requirements. The success of this reinvention was dependent on attaining their essential requirements: spacious galleries without columns or intrusions, for unimpeded viewing; generous display and storage space allowance for collection expansion; plentiful display walls of appropriate heights; stable floors; collection-specific combinations of natural and artificial lighting; and state-of-the-art display equipment, workshops, preparation and curatorial areas.24 Westbrook, ‘Second report’; see also ‘Reports on interviews with members of professional staff at the National Gallery by the architects, Grounds, Romberg and Boyd’ (represented by Mr Paul Wallace and Mr Roy Courtenay), April 1961, Featherston Archive, NGV File.

When Grounds unveiled his prototype in 1963 and staff were confronted  by exhibition spaces studded with columns, lift wells and courtyard doors, perplexing lighting, and insufficient display and storage space, consensus was that aesthetics ruled over function. Conflict followed as the Trustees, led by their chairman Leonard Cox, forced a heated debate in the NAGCCBC as to whether Grounds’s claims that his building ‘would display the gallery collections in a highly satisfactory manner’ was defendable. Grounds was forced to facilitate changes before the building plans were approved by the Trustees and the NAGCCBC in September 1964.25 Cox, p. 334; see also Minutes of Meeting of National Gallery Trustees, 12 Nov. 1963, NGV Council of Trustees Minute Books, vol. 2, NGV Archive. The trustees instructed staff (Brian Finemore, Ursula Hoff, Kenneth E. Hood, David Lawrence, Gordon Thomson) to prepare a report for the NAGCCBC which, when tabled in January 1964, was titled ‘Comments arising from visit of Gallery Trustees and professionals to prototype on 18 December 1963’. Eric Westbrook/Dawn Sime Archive from Peter Perry Executor, box 7, 0119-004263, NGV Archive.

In early 1966 the Gallery Trustees, faced by the handover of the building in December 1967, once again became concerned about the capabilities of Grounds’s office and whether adequate funding had been calculated for the fit-out and move from Swanston Street to St Kilda Road.26 Minutes of Meeting of National Gallery Trustees, 1 Feb. 1966, NGV Council of Trustees Minute Books, vol. 2, NGV Archive. Staff were particularly concerned that no progress had been made on the design of the all-important display furniture. Invigorated by the appointment of Robin Boyd and Andrew Grimwade to their board, the Trustees began lobbying for ‘the best man available  … [with] qualifications and experience in similar type of design’. When Grounds’s office submitted a set of estimates in May 1966 that were problematic, the NAGCCBC was forced to acquiesce. In August the Trustees instructed Grounds to select a designer from a shortlist comprising Grant Featherston, George Kral and Kjell Grant.27 Boyd and Grimwade were appointed Trustees on 1 March 1965. In June 1966 the Trustees instructed Westbrook to submit a report to the NAGCCBC (Eric Westbrook, ‘Fittings and furnishings estimate for completion of Gallery building, report to Mr J. D. Roger, Chief Executive Office, NAGCCBC, 9 June, 1966’, Featherston Archive, NGV File). The decision to instruct Grounds to make a choice of designer is recorded in the Minutes of Meeting of National Gallery Trustees, Aug. 1966, NGV Council of Trustees Minute Books, vol. 2, NGV Archive. Grounds notified the Trustees in Sep. 1966 that he had selected Featherston.

Grounds’s selection of Featherston was expected. They were professional colleagues, having worked together on Gromboyd projects, and Featherston had designed the dining chairs for Grounds’s Toorak home. He also had extensive experience with contract interior and furniture design, having established Featherston Contract Interiors (1956–62), in the process pioneering the contract steel furniture industry through his consultancy with Aristoc Industries. Furthermore, Grant and Mary Featherston’s prestige was high on the back of the Expo talking chair project, which was attracting media attention with its technical and aesthetic innovation. A project of tight deadlines, the Expo chair’s physical immersion of the visitor in an audiovisual experience of Australian culture was a sophisticated solution to expo fatigue, and as such was good preparation for the Gallery commission.28 Denise Whitehouse, ‘Speaking for Australia: the “talking chair”: an interview with Mary Featherston’, in Ann Stephen, Philip Goad & Andrew McNamara (eds), Modern Times: The Untold Story of Modernism in Australia, Miegunyah Press and Powerhouse Publishing, Melbourne and Sydney, 2008, pp. 186–91.

Nevertheless, Grounds was unhappy and made this clear to the Featherstons when briefing them at his Hills Street house on 3 October.29 Mary Featherston, interview by the author, Melbourne, Aug. 2015; Grant Featherston, handwritten notes of the meeting with Grounds on 3 Oct. 1966, Featherston Archive, NGV File. See also Grant Featherston’s notes of conversations with Robin Boyd in which Boyd advises the keeping of accurate notes to counter Grounds’s purported tendency to blur the truth. Grounds’s haggling is recorded in Grant’s notes of their meetings and telephone conversations and in an exchange of letters over the contract, 3–22 Oct. 1966, Featherston Archives, NGV File. His subsequent efforts to block their involvement were defeated by the establishment of the NAGCCBC Steering Committee (Completion of Gallery and Move from Swanston Street), whose first action, on 12 October, was to confirm the Featherstons’ appointment as interior design consultants.30 J. D. Roger, Chief Executive, ‘Steering committee: completion of Gallery and move from Swanston Street’, 17 Oct. 1966, Featherston Archives, NGV File. This letter was the official notification of the establishment of the steering committee, which held its first meeting on 11 Oct. 1966, the minutes of which were attached with members named: ‘Mr Roger Chairman, Architects nominees – Mr Grounds, Mr Nelson, Mr Strachan, Mr Featherstone [sic]. Trustees  nominees  – Westbrook and Stringer, BBC, Mr S. G. Mitchell and an Advisor on transportation yet to be appointed’. Their brief was to work with staff to produce accurate and comprehensive estimates, and ensure that furnishing, fit-out and installation were completed for a proposed opening in March 1968. They also were to select, design and supply items and finishes as required, and manage the process of their production, supply and installation in strict consultation with the architect and his office.31 The minutes of the meeting of National Gallery Trustees, 11 Oct. 1966, make it clear that the purpose of the steering committee was to facilitate cooperation between Grounds, the Featherstons and NGV staff.

It is clear from the archival records that the approach to the furnishing and fit-out had been ad hoc before the appointment of the Featherstons. For example, no planning or provision had been made for the offices of the executives and curators other than using donated furniture for the boardroom and recycling furniture from Swanston Street, with Grounds being largely uninterested in non-architectural concerns. One of the first actions of the Featherstons was to argue the urgency for an integrated built-in office furniture system to be developed and with this the need for a holistic, integrated interior-design approach.

Faced with a tight schedule, they immediately began working with staff to map the design needs of the Gallery as an organisational culture. This engagement with the users was pivotal to their philosophy of using the human experience as their starting point, and to the research and development process that informed their practice. Needing to come to grips with the challenges facing the Gallery, they interviewed staff about their expertise and the activities they envisaged would characterise their practice in the new building. Beginning at the top, they detailed people’s furnishing and fitting needs, which in Westbrook’s case comprised a writing-height desk and chair, lounge chairs and table, and the accoutrements of the modern businessman – intercom, art display, food and drinks cabinet, clothes cupboard, a model of the building, an escape door and secretarial offices.32 The Featherston archive on the NGV project is comprehensive and contains full records of interviews with staff, meetings with the steering committee and Grounds’s office, the quantitative surveys of the individual collections, and of furniture and fitting needs, detailed estimates and schedules, correspondence with staff, contractors and manufacturers, sketches, drawings, and photographs. Grant Featherston was requested by staff to advise and design the graphics, including the NGV symbol. In a letter, ‘VAC Gallery Symbol’ to Gordon Thomson, 4 Feb. 1968, he provided advice about the possible design of a symbol before stating, ‘I can foresee some delicate aspects (with the architect) which might suggest to you the desirability of commissioning another designer’.  These discussions would shape a comprehensive design brief that covered everything from the intricacies of collection management, furniture, fittings and equipment for services areas – library, education, photography, conservation and workshops – and the design of public amenities, such as the cloakroom, restaurant, washrooms and bookshop, and the late addition of the Gallery Society rooms, down to the finer details of signage, labels and tableware.

This immersion in the organisational culture enabled the Featherstons to map the Gallery in its entirety, and, having identified recurring usage patterns, develop an integrated, all-purpose system of furniture, materials and finishes which, applied holistically, would express the NGV’s new identity as an efficient, modern organisation. The aesthetic and functional logic, still evident in the archival drawings (fig. 4), was set by the development of a simple system of modular desks, tables, chairs and cabinetry, the components of which could be configured according to need, be it the executive and curatorial suites, multi-purpose tables and chairs for study and workshops, furniture for the bookshop or a stylish suite for reception areas.

Light in structure and rigorously simple in geometric form, construction and use of materials – mountain ash and steel tubing – the rigorously minimalist aesthetic was designed to blend seamlessly with Grounds’s simple, light-filled interiors, with their extensive use of steel, concrete and glass softened by the warm use of timber and gold carpeting. In their characteristic manner, the Featherstons used the furniture to not only shape movement and functioning spaces, but also to set a play of form, texture and colour that was in part played out in the language of chairs, the star being the Delma Mk 4 (fig. 5). Exactingly simple, Delma could be configured according to requirement: executive chairs came with the gravitas of arms, satin-finish chrome swivel bases and mole vinyl seats, the Great Hall banquet chairs with elegant dulled brass and luxurious white vinyl upholstery, the restaurant chairs with dulled brass and old-gold wool upholstery, and the chairs for security were totally black. Delma was thus used in its hundreds (500–600) and combined with Bruce Hyett’s modular Tarrenlea chair, which was sourced for lounge areas, contributed to the building of a unifying ‘good design’ aesthetic, the rationalist ethic of which evoked associations with modern business efficiency and professionalism (fig. 6).33 ‘Background to Arts Centre interior design’, The Australian Architects and Master Builders’ Journal, Dec. 1968, p. 21.

Reinvention: identifying the design problems and defining principles

The curators welcomed the Featherstons as they began analysing the challenges involved in translating the vision of a living museum, in which the entire collection was to be made accessible to the public in an entertaining and stimulating way, into a reality. Reading the interview records, one gets a sense of the enormity of the task and the relief curators felt as they described the specialist nature of their collection of objects and their specific curatorial and exhibition needs before moving on to discussing design solutions with the Featherstons.34 Mary was note-taker for the inter views, which were conducted between October 1966 and March 1967. They focused on the design of curatorial offices, collection management and display. The collections were also quantitatively surveyed to get some accuracy into the estimates.

For Dr Ursula Hoff the challenge was to establish the Print and Drawings Department as a world-class centre of scholarship, and her solution was to insist it be modelled on the print room at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. This would require a serious research library, a receptionist’s area, desks for assistant curators, as well as especially designed study tables and print and reading stands. Shelving and a trolley would be needed to manage the solander boxes in which prints were stored, as well as a hand basin. The prints and drawings gallery, which was also to follow international practice, would require glass display cases and tables, while moveable hanging panels would need to be designed so that the exhibited print or drawing could ‘float’ in its own space to be studied free of distractions. Calibrated artificial lighting was to be used to both protect the works of art and create an intimate and studious ambience.

Similarly, Gordon Thomson had strong views about the 2100-piece oriental collection, which he and Cox ensured had a purpose-built gallery by arguing that it required more intimate viewing than the grand gallery vistas favoured for Western art.35 Roy Grounds, Frederick Romberg & Robin Boyd, ‘Notes on display of the collection, following discussion with Honorary Curator Dr Leonard Cox’, Memorandum: Project: National Gallery and Culture Centre, 5 Feb. 1962, Featherston Archive, NGV File. Detailing the categories of objects in the collection, he explained the factors that dictated how they were to be arranged and displayed. The scrolls, Chinese paintings and costumes were fragile and sensitive to dust and light, and would need to be hung on screens or in wall niches with protection and specific lighting to accent their qualities. The ceramics and sculptures required side lighting and daylight to be fully appreciated in the round, and thus were to be arranged in display cases and tables near the courtyard windows, taking into consideration problems with reflective light. All items needed to be studied from close proximity, with each object being seen without distractions or obstructions. With an estimated 1400 items for storage, there was also the problem of how the study storage furniture would be designed given the Featherstons brief that ‘not one piece to be stored out of sight’.36 Grant & Mary Featherston, ‘Victorian Arts Centre’, press release, c. Aug. 1968, Featherston Archive, NGV File; and Mary Featherston, record of interview with Gordon Thomson, Oct. 1966, Featherston Archive, NGV File.

The Featherstons spent considerable energy surveying each department in exacting detail, with the benefit being that a pattern of identifiable design problems began to emerge, not the least of which, they told the press, was the sheer number of objects. While the European and Australian painting collections were relatively straightforward, the decorative arts section presented a raft of problems. The collection was vast, comprising, among other things, the 1006-centimetre Trinitarias carpet, bark paintings, 1500 European ceramics, 716 pieces of glassware, 680 oriental costumes, 110 chairs, a colonial sitting room, carpets, chandeliers, candelabras and embroideries. Kenneth Hood and his assistants had begun shaping the collection into viewer experiences that would educate and delight by organising them into art historical categories or eras (antiquities, Greek and Roman), regions (oriental, European) and types (furniture, ceramics, glass, costumes). With each section requiring its own language of presentation and display, the issue was going to be to how to design a cohesive display language for – what the Featherstons described as – the bewildering size and diversity of objects involved.37 Mary Featherston, record of interview with Kenneth Hood, Nov. 1966, Featherston Archive, NGV File. See also Featherston, ‘Victorian Arts Centre’; and Grant Featherston & Mary Featherston, ‘Interior design’, Architecture Today, Sep. 1968, pp. 35–41.

In the antiquities section, for example, objects ranged from tiny precious Egyptian beads to life-size statues, maps, a mummy case, glassware and urns, the bulk of which were to be viewed individually with lighting that accented their rarity and formal qualities. Further, the design of their display – the spatial arrangement, texture, colour and lighting – would need to evoke the ambience of archaeological discovery and ancient pasts so that the objects felt ‘as if they came from the earth’.38 Mary Featherston, record of interview with Eric Westbrook and William Culican, Nov. 1966, Featherston Archive, NGV File. An honorary curator, Culican was renowned for the theatricality of his popular archaeological lectures at the University of Melbourne. An aura of ancient beginnings was also required for  the Greek and Roman section, where each individual piece was to be placed at eye level so they could be studied from all angles in order to establish their authorship, style and period through the visual analysis of form and decoration.39 Honorary curator Professor Dale Trendall, along with Eric Westbrook, advised on the Greek and Roman section.

In contrast, glassware was all about light, transparency and the repetitive beauty of collective production. It was to be arranged as groupings in secure, transparent, dust-free display cases that would enable the viewer to appreciate the changing language of form that accompanied the evolution from craft to industrial production. Again, lighting technology was all-important, but this time the desired effect was translucency, with artificial and natural lighting used to create a sparkling luminosity that echoed the brilliance of department-store displays.

While Grounds’s introduction of daylight and the latest lighting technologies was an excellent antidote for visitor fatigue, it created display problems, especially for the costumes collection, the bulk of which, Marion Fletcher stressed, was fragile and susceptible to light, heat and dust.40 Mary Featherston, record of interview with Honorary Curator Marion Fletcher, Nov. 1966, Featherston Archive, NGV File. It was clear to the Feathersons that while protective lighting, dust-free glass cases, wall panels and pyramid stands would need to be designed for exhibition purposes, the fugitive nature of the textiles and costumes meant that study storage was going to be required for the entire collection, much of which, such as the 600 pieces of lace, needed to be stored flat in drawer units. Added to this, special furniture would need to be designed for study and conservation activities, including laundering facilities.

John Stringer’s concerns were not with the past and preservation. Faced with establishing the temporary exhibition gallery, his concerns were with the new and the development of a flexible display system of hanging panels, platforms and stands to accommodate large, contemporary works of art and a constantly changing selection of art and design objects. He also needed a workshop nearby with specialist furniture and equipment.41 Mary Featherston, record of interview with John Stringer, Oct. 1966, Featherston Archive, NGV File.

How best to display works of art

With time and cost as driving factors, the Featherstons solved the design of curatorial spaces using their general purpose system, supplemented by specialist pieces, such as Hoff ’s study and print stands, Stringer’s workshop tables and sourced pieces such as library shelving. This meant they could focus their design energies on solving the pressing problem of display and storage furniture. With roughly only one-third of the NGV Collection being selected for permanent display, a storage system that was secure yet accessible for consultation and study was as significant a need as the development of a new language of presentation and display. But the consistency of the key issues – size, lighting, materiality, accessibility, protection and security – required by both opened the possibility of developing an integrated modular system that could be applied with variations across all areas. Comprehensive, it would include a modular system of demountable screens and panels, as once again the design problems – whether to be suspended from the ceiling or fixed to the floor, proportional relationships to the architectural space, ease of configuration, renewable coverings – were essentially the same, with the variation being the huge size of Stringer’s vertical and horizontal panels.

But Grounds resisted the display cases, insisting instead that the works be viewed without protective barriers. This prompted discussions about electric fields, glass screens and, playfully, piranha-infested water barriers, before agreement was reached to explore the possibility of frameless glass cases and create a prototype.42 Andrews; Featherston, ‘Victorian Arts Centre’; and Mary Featherston, interview by the author, Melbourne, Aug. 2015. There was considerable anxiety expressed by Westbrook in the steering committee meetings about the urgency of the display cases. Approval to create a prototype was granted in March 1967. Recalling the display cases he and Westbrook witnessed on their overseas research tour, Grounds told the Featherstons, ‘I don’t want to be able to see the furniture, it is the Greek urn that is important, not the display case’.43 Eric Westbrook and Roy Grounds, ‘Report by the Director, National Gallery of Victoria and the Architect to the National Art Gallery and Cultural Centre Building Committee being a summary of investigations made in Europe and America during 1960 with recommendations’, San Francisco, Aug. 1960, p.24. This report detailed their opinions about the good and bad display designs they saw, with their chief complaint being ‘ill designed display cases being more prominent that the objects on display’, Eric Westbrook/Dawn Sime Archive from Peter Perry Executor, box 4, 0119-004263, NGV Archive.

Studying international developments, the Featherstons experimented with different types of glass boxes and their configuration with supports and light boxes.44 Aloi’s Musei: Architettura-Tecnica and UNESCO’s journal Museum were particularly important because of their illustrated case studies and, in UNESCO’s case, articles about viewing angles and lighting display cases. Notes in the archives indicate the Featherstons were looking at developments in Japan, Europe and Mexico. They also studied the reports tabled to the NAGCCBC, including Westbrook and Grounds’s report of their three-month study tour of Europe and the United States in 1960. Grant used the report to research the galleries they visited with the help of illustrated texts such as Musei. Ultimately the task was one of simplification: finding the simplest solution in a modular system of interchangeable glass boxes, lightweight mountain ash cradles and light boxes. A three-part system, it comprised island cases for viewing from all sides, freestanding desk cases for viewing from above, and glass wall cases that were designed to fit into the 1.5-metre deep cavities of the Gallery’s walls and provided the basis for a proportional system, which directly related to architecture (fig. 7). Designed to an exacting grid, the system provided a unifying modular order and had the capacity to be adapted for specific objects, as with the addition of hood lighting over Greek amphora and the outsized glass cases developed for the huge Spivak River masks.

The essential requirements for prototype testing was that the cases be secure and sealed to prevent dust, and devoid of obstructions that might hinder viewing. They needed to have integrated lighting – top, bottom and sides – be flexible in a modular manner, moveable and easily accessible for curators. There was considerable scepticism about whether this was possible. Grant Featherston however, had begun his career in the glass industry with Oliver-Davey and had used glass extensively in his interior design and exhibition work. Further, the Featherstons knew that frameless glass cases were being developed overseas with the use of glass cement, specifically at the Louvre in Paris. Glass technology, along with lighting, were features of new museum design, with the more radical manifestations, such as the temporary exhibition building at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, taking the form of a Miesian glass box in which objects float on glass display forms as if suspended in a continuity of timeless space.45 See Aloi, p. 26. This was attractive to the Featherstons, who valued technical innovation and spatial simplicity highly. It was also important given the metaphor of transformative light that informed Grounds’s building, especially the Great Hall.

The development of the glass cases and the mountain ash cradles was complex and involved working with a team of experts, including Oliver- Davey, the CSIRO, the lighting engineers W. E. Bassett and the furniture craftsman Paul Danby, over many months.46 Grant Featherston, notes for ‘Prototype display case briefing Oliver-Davey’, and ‘Proposed tests and modifications and additions’, Featherston Archives, NGV File. The development of the study storage was also complex given the number and diversity of objects that needed to be accessible yet protected from the elements. The solution was a two-part system: ‘pull-out’ sliding vertical panels housed in large cases on opposed tracks for objects such as bark paintings, medieval altarpieces and paintings; and cabinets of drawers, some detailed with felt lining and perspex covers, for textiles, lace, gloves, jewellery and other such items (figs 9 and 10). The aim, Grant stressed, was to achieve the highest possible ease of function, technical perfection and excellence in the detailing of form and finishes: the furniture was to be as excellently crafted as the art it would display. When the furniture designs were finally approved for tender in August 1967, Grounds, Mary recorded, was ‘very pleased’.47 Mary Featherston, notes of meeting with Roy Grounds, Aug. 2014, Featherston Archives, NGV File.

The journey of discovery

With the display cases and screens providing an organisational and aesthetic logic, attention shifted to designing the installation and bringing the curators’ visions of their exhibition spaces to life. With floor plans in hand, the curators and the Featherstons began detailing the arrangement of the different collections using the exacting geometry of the screens and display cases to plot the layout of spaces and the passage of visitors as they passed from one display to another. The Featherstons used drawings to help visualise how the cases would sit within the spaces with their different ceiling and floor treatments, columns and windows, and how objects would look arranged within their cases so that each work was seen without obstructions and reflections (fig. 11).48 An insight into the process is contained in Grant Featherston’s handwritten notes from his report to the steering committee meeting, 3 April 1967, when he presented the display-case prototypes for discussion. The aesthetic issues that needed to be addressed were obscuring pillars; obtaining pleasing proportions; avoiding stilted, leggy appearance; the ability to be conveniently moved; providing a variety of sizes suited to works of art and display groupings; and, tentatively, planning groups. His report concluded, ‘We will be ready to follow the designs here presented with study storage-office furniture and others in the next fortnight with presentation of estimates’.

A characteristic of interior design is how, having captured a cultural moment, it becomes ephemeral only in some circumstances to be re-imagined from photographic and archival records, with the challenge for the historian being how to recapture the nature of the experience. Studying Mark Strizic’s photographs of the new NGV installations and specifically Thomson’s oriental gallery (figs 1 and 3), one is struck by how the three elements of the display cases – mountain ash, glass and light – blend seamlessly into the architecture so that the glass boxes, transparent with artificial and natural light, draw attention to the ceramic pieces, strategically placed in ideal viewing positions on glass stands. Floating dislocated in time and space, these ancient works take on a strikingly modern quality and become lessons in form, shape, line and colour. Moving around the boxes, viewers could study each object intimately as an individual within its evolutionary sequence, before lifting their eyes to grasp, though the continuity of space and light, a sense of a greater whole, encompassed not only in the works of art but also in the architecture and the presence of other viewers absorbed in the contemplation of creativity and beauty (fig. 12).

As the curators shaped their objects into engaging, informative encounters, the Featherstons concentrated on display strategies, beginning with refining the cases’ internal system of hidden lighting, glass shelving, and fabric-covered platforms and panels, according to curators’ needs. Here Grant drew on his extensive experience with retail display design and lighting to prompt discussions with curators about the modelling properties of different types of light and what they wanted their displays to communicate – form, scale, silhouette, texture, fragility, colour, line – and how to tailor the lighting and display accordingly.49 Featherston, ‘Victorian Arts Centre’. Grant Featherston’s mastery of lighting and display was grounded in his experience with product photography, and exhibitions and retail projects, such as the designer homeware store Deco in Camberwell, which made groundbreaking use of back-lit glass shelving and spotlights.

With lighting vital to the creation of ambient space and the visitor’s journey of discovery, each collection required its own theatre of light. The darkness of the antiquities archaeological theatre was to be punctuated by dramatically lit masterpieces, while in decorative arts the surprise discovery of glittering landscapes of glassware would be followed by the revelations of intimately viewing a richly embroidered oriental costume, glowing in its perfectly lit wall niche, and then the startling juxtaposition of an artistic composition of contemporary glass in a niche nearby. And then there was the temporary exhibition hall with its bold use of ceiling lighting and silver floor-to-ceiling hanging panels, taking one into an experience of the avant-garde. Thus, as the Victorian public moved from collection to collection, they were to be subjectively drawn into the experience of the NGV’s vast collection of art within its new building and, like Patrick McCaughey, be stimulated by the innovative vitality of its presentation and display to a new appreciation of its relevance to contemporary concerns.50McCaughey.

While photographs of the interiors capture the technical and aesthetic excellence the Featherstons brought to the furnishing and fit-out of the NGV, the human experience that resulted from their collaboration with Gallery staff is more vividly captured by The Bulletin’s art critic, Elwyn Lynn, in his review of the NGV opening. The art, he wrote, was

displayed to such breathtaking advantage. The glassware so sparkling in ecstasy and the old masters glowing so rapturously … One would have never thought that the lighting of glassware, with fluorescent for form and spots for vitality could have provided such intimate viewing … The alcoves, which delicately lit, provide some startling juxtapositions  … The gallery is full of … sudden extensions of aesthetic experiences; cabinets containing Mediterranean antiquities are excellently placed and designed. Egyptian hieroglyphics sing in an orange alcove, and a funerary boat steers its predestined course in a black niche; the new Sumerian Head of Gudea of about 2080 BC is so presented that it surges with life. The Dutch paintings look fabulously serene and self-sufficient   … It is going to be a shock to the young.51 Elwyn Lynn, ‘Not perfect, but here is Australia’s greatest gallery’, The Bulletin, 31 Aug. 1968, p. 59.

Briefing the media, the Featherstons expressed their sense of privilege at being involved in the design of ‘a vital living centre of the Arts’, and commented that they ‘found the work more demanding but also more rewarding than commercial work ’. In concluding, Grant Featherston expressed the hope that Victoria’s designers would be inspired by the new decorative arts displays, before drawing attention to the all-important fact that the new NGV was a people’s gallery by stating, ‘As for the new centre, I think it will shock Victorians with its unequivocal invitation to enjoy art – to make art as much as integral part of their lives as football or golf’.52 Featherston & Featherston, ‘Interior design’, p. 36.

Dr Denise Whitehouse, co-founder of the Design History Australia Network and author of a forthcoming monograph on Grant and Mary Featherston (in 2015)

Notes

1      See Eric Westbrook, Birth of a Gallery, Macmillan, Melbourne, 1968; Vicki Fairfax, A Place across the River: They Aspired to Create the Victorian Arts Centre, Macmillan, Melbourne, 2002; and Leonard Cox, The National Gallery of Victoria 1861 to 1968: A Search for a Collection, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1970.

2     The idea of a living museum was promoted by Dr Milliken, Director Emeritus of the Cleveland Museum of Art, who was brought in to advise the National Gallery and Cultural Centre Building Committee prior to the appointment of the architect. The report was influential, guiding every aspect from the choice of the architect to the gallery design (William Mathewson Milliken, ‘Report Presented to the National Gallery and Cultural Centre Building Committee’, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 11 June 1959). Fortunately for Westbrook, Milliken’s ideas matched his own, as expressed in ‘Spirit and Progress’, Westbrook’s first report to the NGCCBC: Eric Westbrook, autobiographical notes, Eric Westbrook/Dawn Sime Archive from Peter Perry Executor, box 7, 0119-004263, NGV Archive.

3     Eric Westbrook, quoted in ‘Cultural centre to attract all: “not designed for highbrow elite”’, The Age, c. Feb. 1961; also Stuart Sayers, ‘A sense of excitement: ladies and gentlemen your new arts centre’, Age Literary Review, 9 Dec. 1967. The promise of a people’s gallery was promoted by the state-wide ‘Vision’ funding campaign, launched in Feb. 1961.

4     See ‘Cultural centre to attract all’; ‘100,100 visit the new gallery, art-lovers cause a jam like a football final’, The Age, 26 Aug. 1968; and ‘The day that Melbourne went culture-mad’, The Age, 26 Aug. 1968. After opening weekend, during which people, including children with dirty hands, touched the art, a list of dos and don’ts for gallery visitors was published in the press; smoking, once permitted, was banned.

5     Eric Westbrook, ‘Second report by Director presented to the National Art Gallery and Cultural Centre Building Committee on requirements for new buildings to house the National Gallery of Victoria and related services’, 1 March 1960, Eric Westbrook/Dawn Sime Archive from Peter Perry Executor, box 7, 0119-004263, NGV Archive.

6     See Roy Grounds, ‘Victorian Arts Centre, Stage 1: the Gallery building ’, Architecture Today, Sept. 1968, pp. 20–8; and Geoffrey Hutton, ‘Roy Grounds and his Arts Centre’, Age Literary Review, 25 March 1967.

7     See Donald Horne, The Great Museum: The Re-presentation of History, Pluto Press, Sydney, 1984; Germain Bazin, The Museum Age, trans. Jane van Nuis Cahill, Universe Books, New York, 1967, pp.  263–76; G. Pollock & J. Zemano (eds), Museums after Modernism: Strategies of Engagement, Blackwell, Oxford, UK, 2007; and Museums, Imagination and Education, no. XV, UNESCO Museums and Monuments Series, UNESCO, Paris, 1973.

8     Eric Westbrook, ‘Brief CV’ and ‘A star is born’, autobiographical notes, Eric Westbrook/Dawn Sime Archive from Peter Perry Executor, box 2, 0119-004258, NGV Archive.

9     Sayers.

10   Westbrook’s directorship was distinguished by his commitment to public education, the building of networks of regional galleries and pioneering large-scale temporary exhibitions of art and design in New Zealand and Australia. He was also influential in establishing the education section, in keeping with his belief that children should be educated to a love of the arts from an early age, and was involved with the establishment of the Industrial Design Council.

11   Patrick McCaughey, ‘Collection in a new light’, The Age, National Gallery Supplement, 20 Aug. 1968.

12   See Philip Goad, ‘From critique to orthodoxy, from National Gallery (1968) to NGV International (2003)’, in Michael J. Ostwald & Steven Fleming (eds), Museum, Gallery and Cultural Architecture in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Region: Essays in Antipodean Identity, Edwin Mellen Press, Lewiston, NY, 2007, pp. 93–198; Philip Goad, ‘An oriental palazzo: Roy Grounds and the National Gallery  of Victoria’, Backlogue 1999: Journal of the Halftime Club, vol. 3, pp. 72–105.

13   Christine Andrews, ‘Everything but the phones’, Sun News-Pictorial, Arts Centre Supplement, 20 Aug. 1968.

14   Goad, ‘From critique to orthodoxy’; and Goad, ‘An oriental palazzo’.

15   Denise Whitehouse, ‘Design for life: “Grant and Mary Featherston”’, in Kirsty Grant (ed.), Mid-Century Modern; Australian Furniture Design, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2014, pp. 44–53.

16   R. Aloi, Musei: Architettura-Tecnica, Ulrico Hoepli Editore, Milan, Italy, 1962.

17  Carlo Bassi, ‘Introduction’, in Aloi, pp. xxii–xxvi.

18  Bazin, pp. 272–4.

19   Mary Featherston, interview by the author, Melbourne, 6 Aug. 2014; see also Minutes of Meeting of National Gallery Trustees, 1 Feb. 1966, NGV Council of Trustees Minute Books, vol. 2, Feb. 1956 – June 1967, NGV Archive.

20   Cox, p. 334.

21   Eric Westbrook, autobiographical notes titled ‘Travels with my architect’ and ‘R. G.’, Eric Westbrook/Dawn Sime Archive from Peter Perry Executor, box 4, 0119-004260, NGV Archive. In ‘R. G.’ Westbrook wrote of Grounds’s style of conversation: ‘he became first irritating and then a bore’. In ‘Travels’, he wrote: ‘he was one of the great performers in the Frank Lloyd Wright tradition of the prima-donna, or perhaps more exactly prima-ballerina architect, for he was remarkably quick on his feet. He posed, “showed-off ” and relentlessly elbowed his way to the front of the stage to receive the maximum applause and the largest bouquets. He quarrelled with members of staff and with some of the Trustees’.

22   An outline of the politics involved is given in Cox, pp. 331–41; and Fairfax, p. 85. See also Eric Westbrook, ‘Second report, 1 March 1961’, Featherston Archive, NGV File.

23   Milliken promoted the idea of designing from the inside, stating that a successful museum could only be built from within with a sympath- etic architect developing his ideas about a plan set before him by the professional staff and that ‘he must be a man who is willing to work closely with professional staff, taking their ideas and clothing those ideas with a fabric that is mutually acceptable to the professional staff and to him’; see Milliken, p. 3.

24   Westbrook, ‘Second report’; see also ‘Reports on interviews with members of professional staff at the National Gallery by the architects, Grounds, Romberg and Boyd’ (represented by Mr Paul Wallace and Mr Roy Courtenay), April 1961, Featherston Archive, NGV File.

25  Cox, p. 334; see also Minutes of Meeting of National Gallery Trustees, 12 Nov. 1963, NGV Council of Trustees Minute Books, vol. 2, NGV Archive. The trustees instructed staff (Brian Finemore, Ursula Hoff, Kenneth E. Hood, David Lawrence, Gordon Thomson) to prepare a report for the NAGCCBC which, when tabled in January 1964, was titled ‘Comments arising from visit of Gallery Trustees and professionals to prototype on 18 December 1963’. Eric Westbrook/Dawn Sime Archive from Peter Perry Executor, box 7, 0119-004263, NGV Archive.

26   Minutes of Meeting of National Gallery Trustees, 1 Feb. 1966, NGV Council of Trustees Minute Books, vol. 2, NGV Archive.

27   Boyd and Grimwade were appointed Trustees on 1 March 1965. In June 1966 the Trustees instructed Westbrook to submit a report to the NAGCCBC (Eric Westbrook, ‘Fittings and furnishings estimate for completion of Gallery building, report to Mr J. D. Roger, Chief Executive Office, NAGCCBC, 9 June, 1966’, Featherston Archive, NGV File). The decision to instruct Grounds to make a choice of designer is recorded in the Minutes of Meeting of National Gallery Trustees, Aug. 1966, NGV Council of Trustees Minute Books, vol. 2, NGV Archive. Grounds notified the Trustees in Sep. 1966 that he had selected Featherston.

28   Denise Whitehouse, ‘Speaking for Australia: the “talking chair”: an interview with Mary Featherston’, in Ann Stephen, Philip Goad & Andrew McNamara (eds), Modern Times: The Untold Story of Modernism in Australia, Miegunyah Press and Powerhouse Publishing, Melbourne and Sydney, 2008, pp. 186–91.

29   Mary Featherston, interview by the author, Melbourne, Aug. 2015; Grant Featherston, handwritten notes of the meeting with Grounds on 3 Oct. 1966, Featherston Archive, NGV File. See also Grant Featherston’s notes of conversations with Robin Boyd in which Boyd advises the keeping of accurate notes to counter Grounds’s purported tendency to blur the truth. Grounds’s haggling is recorded in Grant’s notes of their meetings and telephone conversations and in an exchange of letters over the contract, 3–22 Oct. 1966, Featherston Archives, NGV File.

30   J. D. Roger, Chief Executive, ‘Steering committee: completion of Gallery and move from Swanston Street’, 17 Oct. 1966, Featherston Archives, NGV File. This letter was the official notification of the establishment of the steering committee, which held its first meeting on 11 Oct. 1966, the minutes of which were attached with members named: ‘Mr Roger Chairman, Architects nominees – Mr Grounds, Mr Nelson, Mr Strachan, Mr Featherstone [sic]. Trustees  nominees  – Westbrook and Stringer, BBC, Mr S. G. Mitchell and an Advisor on transportation yet to be appointed’.

31   The minutes of the meeting of National Gallery Trustees, 11 Oct. 1966, make it clear that the purpose of the steering committee was to facilitate cooperation between Grounds, the Featherstons and NGV staff.

32   The Featherston archive on the NGV project is comprehensive and contains full records of interviews with staff, meetings with the steering committee and Grounds’s office, the quantitative surveys of the individual collections, and of furniture and fitting needs, detailed estimates and schedules, correspondence with staff, contractors and manufacturers, sketches, drawings, and photographs. Grant Featherston was requested by staff to advise and design the graphics, including the NGV symbol. In a letter, ‘VAC Gallery Symbol’ to Gordon Thomson, 4 Feb. 1968, he provided advice about the possible design of a symbol before stating, ‘I can foresee some delicate aspects (with the architect) which might suggest to you the desirability of commissioning another designer’.

33   ‘Background to Arts Centre interior design’, The Australian Architects and Master Builders’ Journal, Dec. 1968, p. 21.

34   Mary was note-taker for the inter views, which were conducted between October 1966 and March 1967. They focused on the design of curatorial offices, collection management and display. The collections were also quantitatively sur veyed to get some accuracy into the estimates.

35   Roy Grounds, Frederick Romberg & Robin Boyd, ‘Notes on display of the collection, following discussion with Honorary Curator Dr Leonard Cox’, Memorandum: Project: National Gallery and Culture Centre, 5 Feb. 1962, Featherston Archive, NGV File.

36   Grant & Mary Featherston, ‘Victorian Arts Centre’, press release, c. Aug. 1968, Featherston Archive, NGV File; and Mary Featherston, record of interview with Gordon Thomson, Oct. 1966, Featherston Archive, NGV File.

37   Mary Featherston, record of interview with Kenneth Hood, Nov. 1966, Featherston Archive, NGV File. See also Featherston, ‘Victorian Arts Centre’; and Grant Featherston & Mary Featherston, ‘Interior design’, Architecture Today, Sep. 1968, pp. 35–41.

38   Mary Featherston, record of interview with Eric Westbrook and William Culican, Nov. 1966, Featherston Archive, NGV File. An honorary curator, Culican was renowned for the theatricality of his popular archaeological lectures at the University of Melbourne.

39   Honorary curator Professor Dale Trendall, along with Eric Westbrook, advised on the Greek and Roman section.

40   Mary Featherston, record of interview with Honorary Curator Marion Fletcher, Nov. 1966, Featherston Archive, NGV File.

41   Mary Featherston, record of interview with John Stringer, Oct. 1966, Featherston Archive, NGV File.

42   Andrews; Featherston, ‘Victorian Arts Centre’; and Mary Featherston, interview by the author, Melbourne, Aug. 2015. There was consider- able anxiety expressed by Westbrook in the steering committee meetings about the urgency of the display cases. Approval to create a prototype was granted in March 1967.

43   Eric Westbrook and Roy Grounds, ‘Report by the Director, National Gallery of Victoria and the Architect to the National Art Gallery and Cultural Centre Building Committee being a summary of investigations made in Europe and America during 1960 with recommendations’, San Francisco, Aug. 1960, p.24. This report detailed their opinions about the good and bad display designs they saw, with their chief complaint being‘ill designed display cases being more prominent that the objects on display’, Eric Westbrook/Dawn Sime Archive from Peter Perry Executor, box 4, 0119-004263, NGV Archive.

44   Aloi’s Musei: Architettura-Tecnica and UNESCO’s journal Museum were particularly important because of their illustrated case studies and, in UNESCO’s case, articles about viewing angles and lighting display cases. Notes in the archives indicate the Featherstons were looking at developments in Japan, Europe and Mexico. They also studied the reports tabled to the NAGCCBC, including Westbrook and Grounds’s report of their three-month study tour of Europe and the United States in 1960. Grant used the report to research the galleries they visited with the help of illustrated texts such as Musei.

45   See Aloi, p. 26.

46   Grant Featherston, notes for ‘Prototype display case briefing Oliver-Davey’, and ‘Proposed tests and modifications and additions’, Feather- ston Archives, NGV File.

47   Mary Featherston, notes of meeting with Roy Grounds, Aug. 2014, Featherston Archives, NGV File.

48   An insight into the process is contained in Grant Featherston’s handwritten notes from his report to the steering committee meeting, 3 April 1967, when he presented the display-case prototypes for discussion. The aesthetic issues that needed to be addressed were obscuring pillars; obtaining pleasing proportions; avoiding stilted, leggy appearance; the ability to be conveniently moved; providing a variety of sizes suited to works of art and display groupings; and, tentatively, planning groups. His report concluded, ‘We will be ready to follow the designs here presented with study storage-office furniture and others in the next fortnight with presentation of estimates’.

49   Featherston, ‘ Victorian Arts Centre’. Grant Featherston’s mastery of lighting and display was grounded in his experience with product photography, and exhibitions and retail projects, such as the designer homeware store Deco in Camberwell, which made groundbreaking use of back-lit glass shelving and spotlights.

50   McCaughey.

51   Elwyn Lynn, ‘Not perfect, but here is Australia’s greatest gallery’, The Bulletin, 31 Aug. 1968, p. 59.

52   Featherston & Featherston, ‘Interior design’, p. 36.