Signature Prints’ vast warehouse headquarters houses thousands of designs for wallpaper and fabric, stacked floor-to-ceiling in wooden, silk-printing screens. Many of these are the works of Florence Broadhurst, the eccentric and avant-garde Australian designer whose creative pursuits encompassed performance, painting and establishing an internationally successful wallpaper company before her death in 1977. Her name has become synonymous with Rosebery-based screen printers Signature Prints since they became custodians of her design archive and began restoring it in the early 2000s. There are enough designs stowed here to fill a gallery, so it’s no coincidence that owners David and Helen Lennie’s long-term plan includes the opening of a decorative-arts museum.
This weekend, the husband-and-wife team take a step towards this dream by holding a celebratory festival to launch a new archive, Blume. “These designs haven’t been seen before,” says Helen. “So that’s really important – opening up a decorative-arts archive to the public is quite an unusual thing for a company to do.”
Usually, the company is busy using traditional screen printing processes to transform their many designs – to which they own commercial licenses – into wallpaper, fabric, cushions, throws and art prints in any colour imaginable. Customers might admire their handiwork on the walls of a beautifully designed home, but rare is the chance to see how the magic happens: the combination of mesh-based stencils, inks, squeegees, physical strength and precision.
The Blume Festival, part of Spectrum Now festival’s Secret Sydney program, offers the chance to see these inner workings through a fun and experiential journey through the studio and invites you to experience screen printing first-hand. Signature Prints has invited its network of creative collaborators to reinterpret the archive, with artists including Linda Jackson, Tracey Deep and Gav Barbey creating one-off paintings, sculptures and public artworks specifically for the event.
“This event is also about pushing us creatively to get screens out that we’ve never used,” says Helen, who, alongside David and their team, dedicated years to meticulously restoring Florence Broadhurst’s designs. All the while, the Blume archive waited in the wings. A collection of largely Art Deco and Art Nouveau designs, Blume was developed during the ‘60s and ‘70s by three New Zealanders who travelled to London to research and recreate design archives from the city’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Their decorative, high-end wallpaper made it to Australia and was embraced by pubs and private bars across the country; a testament against a deluge of beige alternatives.
While the Signature Prints team members faithfully restore each design by hand, they aren’t precious about sticking to old colour combinations. “We learnt very early on that there are two components,” says David. “There’s design, and what does design do? It actually carries colour. From the very beginning, with all these archives, we’ve never held true to original colours. The design should be carrying colour for today: very few people want to live in museums.”
Helen agrees and looks to the other side of the warehouse, where artist Gav Barbey and Signature Prints’ cohort of printers are experimenting with screens and colourways ahead of the event. “The reason it’s so much fun is we’re working with some quite traditional motifs and we’re using these incredible golden metallics and fluoro orange,” she says. “We get an absolute buzz from this experimentation with something that was once quite traditional and that once we’ve finished with it, will have such a new energy and a new life.”
From 112 designs, seven screens have been chosen to form the basis of a 20-metre-long public artwork that will be made over the weekend. Led by Barbey, you’ll be invited to choose your favourite design and work, squeegee in hand, to commit it to paper. Afterwards you’ll be sent a section, to make with what you will.
Move around the space and you’ll encounter fashion designer and artist Linda Jackson sequestered in a colourful canopy of fabric and artwork, painting and talking to passersby. You’ll find a response to Blume by designer Akira and a sculpture by Tracey Deep. Journalist and biographer Helen O’Neill (who wrote Florence Broadhurst’s biography) will be speaking and answering questions about the company and its archives. The festival atmosphere continues outside in the yard, with a DJ, food vendors and street artists creating a living installation over two days.
Signature Prints Blume Festival runs March 14 and 15. Purchase morning or afternoon tickets for either day here.