Waratahs in staircase window at St Cloud, Burwood. By Douglass Baglin. Contributed by Private collection. By kind permission of the Baglin estate.

There is a great exhibition currently showing at the State Library of NSW called ‘Inspiration by Design‘. It is an international exhibition, touring from the acclaimed Victoria and Albert Museum in London, that that showcases some of the world’s finest book art, graphics, photography and illustration. Alongside this exhibition, the State Library has curated a smaller display called ‘Australian Inspiration‘ which draws upon the Library’s amazing collections to demonstrate how the waratah, the koala and the Sydney Opera House have become sources of inspiration and design.

This got me thinking: Sydney’s landscape, its flora and fauna has been an inspiration for design for thousands of years. We have many articles in the Dictionary of Sydney which touch upon the artistic endeavours of Sydneysiders and the inspiration that Sydney has provided for artistic expression. The sandstone country of the Sydney coastline provided platforms for Aboriginal rock engravings and art which depict local fauna such as whales, sharks, fish, birds and animals. You can read about rock carvings in Bondi and Manly, as well as their contribution to our understanding of Aboriginal life in Sydney before invasion.

Artists’ camps flourished around Sydney Harbour, mainly in the Mosman area, in the 1880s and 1890s, dying out after the first decade of the twentieth century. They developed as a result of the enthusiasm for plein-air painting. Robin Tranter provides a wonderful overview of the camps that hosted artists including Livingston Hopkins, Julian Ashton, Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton.

Beverley Sherry has written a fascinating article about Stained Glass in Sydney, which is illustrated with stunning photos that really pop on the computer screen. An integral part of Sydney’s nineteenth-century architectural heritage, stained glass was a medium where artists displayed their visions of the colony’s future. Sydney life and ambitions are depicted in all sorts of ways.

Lucien Henry was one designer who designed some stunning stained glass windows for Sydney Town Hall. He came to Sydney in the nineteenth century after being freed from incarceration in New Caledonia for his revolutionary activities in the Paris Commune. He made a new life in Sydney as an artist, teacher and an advocate for native Australian motifs in the decorative arts. He was a particular fan of the waratah.

Margaret Flockton made an enormous contribution to early Australian botanical illustration and taxonomy in her role as the first botanical illustrator at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney. Margaret’s patience, passion for nature and rendering detail matched perfectly with her unique and valuable skills as a lithographer, as hundreds of botanically accurate drawings, lithographs and coloured sketches attest. Flockton is a relative unknown, but she should be a household name! Her work was extremely important in documenting our native wildflowers, among other plants, and the botanic gardens has over 1000 illustrations by her in their archive. We have a beautiful drawing of waratahs illustrating our article in the Dictionary.

If you want to explore the Dictionary of Sydney’s resources in relation to artistic design a little bit more, have a look at the following subject listings which list articles, images and people of artistic interest:

And if you’re into graphic design and illustration, then check out the exhibitions at the State Library of NSW. They’re free and open for just another couple of weeks, until 27 September. Don’t miss out.

If you missed Lisa’s segment on 2ser with Mitch this morning you can catch up here. Tune in next Wednesday morning for more Sydney history courtesy of the Dictionary and 2SER on 107.3 at 8:15am.

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