Before IKEA dictated the pattern on our curtains, Australian designers like Helen Grey-Smith had full control of the print process.
Born in India, Grey-Smith studied in England before arriving in Western Australia in 1949 with her husband and prominent artist, Guy Grey-Smith.
She began designing and producing textiles for the domestic market, with large commissions for public buildings such as the University of Western Australia’s Staff House and the Council Chambers in Canberra soon following.
To celebrate the centenary of Grey-Smith’s birth, AGWA is presenting its collection of the artist’s work in a WA Focus exhibition.
Curator Melissa Harpley came across Grey-Smith’s work at the gallery while researching designs for another exhibition. Drawn to the natural world, Grey-Smith’s textiles express an affinity with Asian culture and the Australian landscape.
“She liked the openness,” says Harpley. “Australia had echoes of the freedom she knew in India where she spent her childhood.”
Grey-Smith produced everything by hand, and felt strongly about the individuality of craftsmanship.
“Helen was very much a believer of people using handmade objects, something that was lost through industrialisation.”
As part of the exhibition, Grey-Smith’s textiles will be displayed alongside furniture from the era to recreate the look of a mid-century West Australian lounge room.
WA Focus: Helen Grey-Smith is showing at the Art Gallery of Western Australia from December 10 to March 19. Curator Melissa Harpley and Gwen Phillips, author of a new book on Helen Grey-Smith, will discuss the artist’s life and work at a talk between 2pm and 3pm on Sunday December 11. Tickets are free and available online.