Barbara Heath and Malcolm Enright are distinguished artists and inveterate collectors. Barbara, a respected jeweller and sculptor, and Malcolm, an artist and commercial designer, warmly invited The Fashion Archives to their incredible home and studio in Brisbane. Their combined collection is both immense and important, and includes a number of significant items relating to Queensland’s fashion history (as well as to Queensland history in general). They hold an eclectic range of objects, from ephemera, to gemstones, signage, books and antique clocks, but each part of the collection has a special relevance to their respective creative practices.
Malcolm says the pair’s distinct interests, developed over a lifetime, have harmoniously come together. "Now that Barbara and I have merged our creative practices into one entity, Enright Heath Trust, we share a large studio and our resources delightfully spill into both home and studio."
It was near impossible to select just five items for this Pieced Together, but we’ve taken a look at some pieces that we think tell an interesting story about fashion in Queensland.
“Ownership is most definitely blurred and drawers and trays of objects become precursors, stimuli and often end up as something else entirely. At the other end of the story, when something new arrives at our place there can be a struggle to work out just where it belongs.”
These three jewellery trays display a collection of what Barbara and Malcolm term 'elemental keepsakes'. Amongst these small items are pendants, rings, brooches, buttons and coins that play off each other through shared themes or repeated motifs. They are particularly pertinent to Barbara’s practice, with the jeweller continually returning to these items as studies for new work. A number are in fact made by Barbara—some are early experiments, put aside to be revisited later—while others are remnants of Malcolm's life-time of collecting smalls and rarities.
Much of Barbara and Malcolm’s collection serves as a library of reference material for the generation of new work. The objects are carefully stored or displayed according to groupings they’ve developed around idiosyncratic threads or concepts. As they explain, “books and reference material find their way into two separate libraries, ephemera can end up in one of the many storage boxes depending on the dominant visual theme but small objects tend to settle into the studio downstairs to be referenced, recycled or priced for resale.” These pieces share a beautiful display cabinet in the studio with some of Barbara’s finished work.
Pictured here are some of the Queensland fashion highlights from Malcolm's 'urban–archaeology' collection. This local Queensland packaging and ephemera is part of the artist’s huge life-long project of collecting interesting fragments of urban detritus and commercial design history (you can see some of this documented on his blog). We were immediately drawn to the standing painted figure (right) that was used to dispense programs at the 'Wintergarden' theatre in Queen Street from the 1940s. Upon it stands a mountain of packaging which serve as mementos of Queensland department stores, jewellers and optometrists—some forgotten (Finney Isles & Co., Flavelle, Roberts and Sankey, Greenfield Bros.), and some still standing (Wallace Bishop).
Also in the ‘still standing’ category is McWhirters, and in the top left of this image are two early advertising pieces from the Fortitude Valley department store. Malcolm says that these items are particularly close to his heart as he started his career there, at the Myer advertising department in the late 1960s.
Paper fans were popular advertorial items, as they allowed stores such as McWhirters to take advantage of eye-catching printing, and in Queensland’s heat we imagine they would have been embraced by local shoppers. Underneath is a hat box from the local millinery establishment of Patrick Ogilvie, which we found sitting alongside a box from American clothing boutique Ruth McCulloch.
The holy grail
"There comes a time in every collector's experience when storage, available funds or a change of heart stops the activity."
There are many stories passed around by collectors about incredible finds in the unlikeliest of places, the heart-stopping auction wins, as well as the treasures that got away. Malcolm and Barbara have endured each of these scenarios over the years, and have some incredible stories to tell about the manner in which items have found their way into the collection. This collection of rare and valuable bookplates is one of their great collecting success stories.
Though not strictly dress-related, these bookplates, or ex-libris, from the early 1800s are a fashion of a sort. The print labels inserted in the inside front cover of a book were used to distinguish their owner, often featuring a coat-of-arms, crest or other badge to denote the owner’s family. With books expensive items in the 19th century, these decorative additions conferred a fashionable status. Held between sheets of paper inside these gilt-rubbed leather-bound ‘book’ vessels, we found a bookplate from the Vatican (see inset image), belonging to Pope Gregory XV and dated 1621. It displays a Continental engraving with coloured features and quilled annotation.
In the background of this picture, you can see a glimpse of Malcolm’s large collection of antique clocks. Barbara and Malcolm explain this significant feature of the collection: “With the exception of Malcolm's contemporary art collection, sold at the end of the 1990s, he continues to add to all the collecting categories he has focused on since childhood; printed articles and ephemera, objects and furniture. These days his attention is focused almost exclusively on items of horology, mainly top shelf clocks and time pieces which he restores using woodworking, metal and old brush skills learned in his graphic design career. When asked about the last six items to come home; two were colonial picture frames which have been cleaned and are hanging on a bedroom wall. Two were books on Tasmanian buildings and heritage and two were timepieces, both also cleaned, their movements restored and now are ticking away in the living room.”
A box of portraits
"A large part of the pleasure and responsibility of collecting lies in the research and documentation, restoration and preservation as well as storage and security."
Malcolm is the custodian of a large collection of Queensland portraits. With so little remaining of colonial dress in Queensland, photographs can tell us a great deal about what people wore. The Fashion Archives draws heavily on photographs for our research, although with some degree of caution. Studio portraits, like the ones in this spectacular collection of colonial Queensland 'tintypes' and daguerreotypes, can be quite deceiving artefacts. Of course their subjects would invariably dress up for the camera, often donning garb that came up best under the lens, rather than what was true to everyday dress. There are some great examples of Victorian fashion in these images, and the finery on display may suggest the subjects are of high social status, although we can’t be sure, as often items of dress were borrowed for the sitting. Nestled amongst the box of photographs was an engraved silver portrait fob, also pictured here.
Better than real?
These are six pieces of costume jewellery owned by Barbara. Though she is known to work with some of the highest grade metals and gemstones, she also has a fondness for bold fashion pieces. Displayed are: a graduated French Lucite necklace; a Georgian paste and painted buckle; a Schiaparelli bug perspex bangle; a pressed metal and gilded anklet; a Ric 'n Rac French dog bracelet; and, a rolled and textured anodised chain with tassel pendant.
Malcolm explains that the costume jewellery is not out of place amongst their collection of more valuable or rare items. “Barbara's collecting has been generally object based: jewellery in all its forms, from items to books, gems and tools. She sees the gem collection as quite simply a colour palette, providing scope to combine and re-combine depending on the theme. Costume jewellery appeals with its exaggerated scale and wit, but also antique pieces often for their quirky status or unusual materials. Her astrology, gardening and animal loves have given rise to many categories that sometimes compete for her free-time attention. Her dog and bird material, such as the lovely collection of Brittens painted lead farmyard animals are housed in their own cabinets. These childhood items were expanded by a large find in Hobart and later added to by a friend who donated his childhood collection to finish the farm.”
Published in Issue 4, on October 8, 2013.