Frances Burke: Designer of Modern Textiles released

Frances Burke: Designer of Modern Textiles, a monograph presenting the life and work of Australia’s leading textile designer and promoter of modern design in the postwar era, Frances Burke, has been released.

Adjunct scholar and researcher at Swinburne’s School of Design and Architecture, Nanette Carter and independent scholar and founder of the Frances Burke Textile Resource Centre at RMIT, Robyn Oswald-Jacobs, collaborated to bring the book to life. Their research was a shared journey.

Robyn Oswald-Jacobs and Nanette Carter sit at a desk with a laptop out, collaborating on their research

Robyn Oswald-Jacobs (left) and Nanette Carter’s research was a shared journey.

Frances was a forerunner

By all accounts, Frances was a dynamic and innovative character. She possessed bright blue eyes, a commanding voice and an entrepreneurial streak.

‘Burke was the first Australian designer to receive an MBE in recognition of her contribution and influence,’ explains Carter. ‘She was the sole woman foundation member of the Society of Designers for Industry in 1948, the forerunner of today’s Design Institute of Australia, and a board member of the pioneering Museum of Modern Art and Design in Melbourne.’

Motifs and motivations

The book focuses on why and how Burke established her career as a designer; how she built a national market for her production; the creation of her personalised brand; her collaboration with leading Melbourne architects including Robin Boyd, Roy Grounds and Guilford Bell; her success in supplying clients during the postwar housing boom and a chapter on her final years when she moved from design practice and writing about design, to advocacy for design, art and craft.

A frances Burke textile, red and cream with bird and tree print

Bird and Tree (1940) by Burke, Courtesy Ararat Gallery TAMA, Ararat Rural City Council and MDP Photography & Video, ©RMIT University.

Six sections of the book discuss the motifs Burke explored in her work, including abstract designs, marine themes and Indigenous-influenced designs.

A green and cream print of the sea - waves and spots

Surf (1950), screenprint, 87 x 91cm, NGA, Canberra, Gift of Frances Burke, 1984, ©RMIT University.

An advocate for Australian design

Carter and Oswald-Jacobs conducted archival research at the State Library, National Library in Canberra, Mitchell Library in Sydney, University of Melbourne Archives and investigated various hospital and other institutional archives. They interviewed senior architects who recommended clients to Frances Burke in the 50s and 60s and spoke to clients who had purchased Burke’s fabrics or had grown up in homes where they were surrounded by them.

Golden toned screen print featuring angel fish and coral

Caption – Angel Fish (1949) commissioned by architect Guilford Bell for the Hayman Island Resort. Courtesy Ararat Gallery TAMA, Ararat Rural City Council and MDP Photography & Video, ©RMIT University.

‘We discovered Burke’s career was more varied than we thought. As a result, we’ve built a complex, detailed picture of her role as an advocate for Australian design and her collaborations with leading architects of the period,’ says Carter.

Frances Burke: Designer of Modern Textiles is published by Melbourne University Publishing.

/University Public Release. View in full here.