Monday, October 01, 2007

Griffin drawings of Canberra displayed

Federal Capital Competition City and Environs plan: 1912, Delineator: Marion Mahony Griffin, From the Collection of National Archives of Australia: A710,38 1912 Section B-A Southerly Side of Water Axis: Government Group,  1912, Artist: Marion Mahony Griffin, From the Collection of National Archives of Australia: A710,43 1912Two of the original designs for Canberra were displayed by the National Archives of Australia on Sunday. These were two of the works by by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin, submitted to the competition for the design of the national capital in 1911. Ian Batterham talked about his work as a conservator, spending years restoring the works.

Ian had previously written a detailed paper on the restoration process: "The Walter Burley Griffin Design Drawings of the City of Canberra".

The twelve Griffin Canberra design drawings were added to the UNESCO Memory of the World in 2003:
There are twelve Walter Burley Griffin (WBG) Canberra design drawings. Standard size is 760 x 1525 mm. The drawings are mostly on cotton cloth and are executed in inks and watercolours. The drawings were created by WBG and his wife Marion Mahony Griffin in 1912 for entry into the Australian Federal Capital Design Competition. The quality of the design as well as the beauty of the drawings resulted in WBG winning the competition. Griffin was appointed Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction in October 1913 and utilized the winning design as the basis for the new city. The design is considered an outstanding example of landscape design, utilising the natural topography and investing the city with ideas prevalent in the City Beautiful and Garden City movements which dominated town planning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The documents are also central to the development - both physical and conceptual - of Australia's national capital. ...

From: The Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin Design Drawings of the City of Canberra, Register no 006, UNESCO, 2003
Ian gave an interesting summary of the process used to select Canberra as the site of the national capital and then the Griffin entry for the design of Canberra. One of the criteria for the city was "ample water" which is currently an issue due to drought and climate change. Competitors for the design competition were supplied with maps of the location and required to draw their design on this map. In addition the Griffins supplied detailed notes with their entry, preserved by the NAA and available online.

Also the copy of the telegram received by the Griffins advising them of winning the competition is preserved. It was found in a copy of Marion Mahony Griffin's manuscript "The Magic of America". Marion had written on it "This undertaking awakened the world to town planning in modern times".

Ian explained that the images were prepared first as pencil sketches then made as lithographic prints, water colored by hand, with metallic paint and ink washes. This make conservation difficult, with pencil lines to be preserved as well as ink and paint.

Photographs of the work, taken at the time of receipt in 1912 aided the restoration work. These showed some works had already been damaged with holes in the fabric (the entry was labeled Griffin: 29). The works were lost between 1935 and 1953, then found in a shed in Canberra.

Analysis showed the works were on cotton (not silk or linen , as previously thought). These were originally stretched on wooden frames, but then pasted (with wallpaper paste) onto "masionite" and then "chipboard" causing damage. Three months were needed to clean each work, using an eraser. They were then removed from the boards using a sharpened plastic icing spatula (a line drawing was found on the back of one work). Polyester cloth and BEVA adhesive was used to repair tears and mount the works with a new margin before stretching on frames.

After the talk the two works "City & Environs" and "Section B-A Southerly Side of Water Axis Government Group" were displayed for thirty minutes. The works looked much smaller in reality than in various reproductions.

Ian mentioned the recent interest in Marion Mahony Griffin with the book "Marion Mahony Griffin : Drawing the Form of Nature". As an example the Walter Burley Griffin Society, now attributes Marion as the "delineator" or "artist" for the Canberra works, "envisaged" by Walter; whereas earlier listings, such as by the National Library of Australia, only attribute Walter.

Ian is now working on a project about "Office Copying in the 20th Century". furthering his thesis work on Thermographic Processes (old photocopying).

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