What motivated a country boy to become a designer in the late 1930s? This was the simple question that launched Heide Museum of Modern Art’s current exhibition, exploring the careers of Grant Featherston, arguably Australia’s most significant modernist designer, and his creative partnership with Mary Featherston.
From his innovation of new materials and technologies, to the production of trailblazing furniture throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the exhibition highlights the diversity of the Featherston’s practice – spanning interiors, exhibitions, photography, glass, sculpture and even promotional design!
Featherston guru and design historian Denise Whitehouse has been working with Mary Featherston for over a decade on cataloguing the vast Featherston archive. ‘What I discovered was that the Featherston story reached far beyond the Contour Chair, to include glass jewellery, interiors, and photography. I also discovered extensive drawings and writings by Grant that took me into his design processes and thinking, as well as the nature of his design consultancy that included Featherston Interiors,’ tells Denise, who previously worked as a senior lecturer in design history at Swinburne University’s School of Design, and is the convenor of brilliant online depository the Design History Australia Research Network.
Denise has co-curated this showcase with writer Kirsty Grant, who was responsible for the NGV’s ground-breaking Mid-Century Modern exhibition (2014), alongside coordinator Kendrah Morgan.‘Denise has a deep and unrivalled knowledge of the work of Grant and Mary Featherston, so we were a perfect match and worked together really well, learning from each other throughout the process!’ explains Kirsty Grant, who also served as director/CEO of Heide Museum of Modern Art (2015-2016) and senior curator of Australian Art at the National Gallery of Victoria (2007-2014).
While the bulk of the exhibition concentrates on Grant Featherston’s furniture and interiors, this exhibition is the first to explore the Featherston partnership in depth, and to include Mary Featherston’s significant career in design for children and learning. ‘Our aim has been to push beyond the chair to show insights into the design process and thinking… in particular Grant’s ‘design for life’ philosophy that prioritises human need and social good over profit-driven consumerism’ Denise explains. ‘Simple, beautiful, functional and affordable being their aim. And to lift the spirit as Mary would say!’ she adds.
The exhibition runs until early October, and incorporates a vast showcase of rare Featherston gems IRL, including Modular storage units from the 1955 Savoy Hotel Exhibition, a very beautiful Eleanor E 1 chair and the Floating series 102 chair designed for the Brighton Municipal Offices in 1960. ‘We were also able to persuade Mary to design an installation of her archive of natural objects and photography, as well as a wonderful interactive Design Studio where children and parents can experiment with the paper model making process that the Featherstons used when prototyping develop their furniture designs,’ entices Denise.
After years of research and logistics, the curatorial team are thrilled to finally open this show to the public. Their ultimate highlight? Mary Featherston’s enthusiastic seal of approval!
‘Design For Life: Grant And Mary Featherston’
June 30th to October 7th
Heide Museum of Modern Art
7 Templestowe Road