Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Weekend Finds: 1950's Australian Aborigine Tea Towel by John Rodriquez (Say THAT Five Times Fast)

Good morning!

Whew, boy, hasn't it been a rainy but productive week over here. I went to the flea market last weekend and while it threatened rain a good part of the time I was there, I did manage to make out like a bandit. My loot? Full length raccoon fur coat , a tv lamp shaped suspiciously like a Billy Haines design from the forties' (this one is its twin, except mine is a pale grey blue instead of yellow), a ceramic desk clock shaped like a rotary phone (!!), and this, my favorite of all of them, a framed tea towel featuring Australian aborigines in full, abstract attire. If you follow me on Instagram, you saw this same-day, but I've been too lazy to take more pictures, so here it is again in its full, slightly blurry glory:

I had spent a perfectly uneventful hour walking the fairgrounds being disappointed by either the dearth of things I wanted to buy or the prohibitively expensive cost of things I DID want to buy. See: a Victorian mourning/memento mori hair wreath [similar to this one] that was in a reasonable $10-$50 price range type booth under one of the sheds...when I asked the price, the guy quoted me $350 without batting an is definitely worth in a retail setting...but everything else in his booth COMBINED wasn't $350, probably (I walked off carrying my crushed hopes alond with me). In a Charlie Brown kicking-the-dirt type mood, I was passing by a large spread near one of the building that every month features a boatload of bargain-basement-priced vintage and antique furniture, when I saw this leaning up against the trailer. I stopped talking to my mom midsentence ("Hang on a second...") and wandered over to hover behind a couple that was trying to decide whether or not a large antique window was suitable for converting into a picture frame (I guess it wasn't, Pinterest be damned, as they walked off without it). The colors, patterns, and weird subject matter pulled me inexorably toward my inevitable purchase-- I just had to hope it was somewhere vaguely in my price range.

I mean...seriously....the one second from the right is my favorite.
When I walked up to a lady in a folding chair asking about the price, she just pointed mutely behind me. There was a gaggle of people standing near the concrete retaining wall and I looked back like, "Which one of these people are affiliated with you, please?" She pointed again, I looked again, and looked back again. Finally, she called out the guy's name and a single figure in a white t shirt and ball cap walked towards me, holding the picture against my chest like a sandwich board. 

"How much are you asking on this one?"

"Gotta have $15 on that."


While this even-less-than-the-$20-I-wanted-to-spend-on-it price should have been good enough, I couldn't resist trying to bargain down to $ never know when someone will knock another dollar or two off to meet you in the middle! He demurred, and after a proper period of hem and hawwing to intimate that I wasn't completely willing to pay the $15 out of the gate and am just a cheapskate (which was true, but you have to keep your pride intact), I set the picture against my knees to fish three fives out of my satchel. Success!! The man said as I was handing him his money that the picture had come out of a career Navy officer's estate and that there were more Asian drawings in a pile on one of the tables, but as the plywood-and-glass frame was a little ungainly to carry around the narrow rows, I threw a cursory glance over the table and rejoined my parents.

Dad: What is it? [looking picture over doubtfully]
Me : [cheerfully] I don't know, but I hope it's haunted!
Dad: Nice frame....
Me: I know I need another picture like I need an actual hole in my head, but look at it! [shrugging] I don't care, I wanted it.
Mom: Knowing you, you'll find the perfect place to put it and it'll look fabulous. Or you'll sell it on Craigslist and make some money. So don't worry about it! [possibly the nicest thing my mom has ever said to me, so I had to memorialize this conversation in blog form]
When I got home, I (naturally) googled my find in a fit of curiosity as to what exactly I had on my hands (and, obvs, to make sure I hadn't paid too much at $15). The cursive script at the bottom of the textile reads "Australian Aboriginal Boomerang Corraborra" and what I thought was the surname "Rodriguez". Turns out, it's RodriQuez, as in John Rodriquez, who ran an eponymous business down under, specializing in abstract, Australian-themed designs. I was able to find a number of examples of his work on the Museum Victoria website. The MV owns a large collection of locally produced historic textiles among its holdings, and maybe a hundred digital images there are of items by Rodriquez. 

Like this one!
Brothers to my group above...a little more subtle, but still great.
From the website's catalog entries:
John Rodriquez studied art and design at RMIT in the late 1940s and became well known for his screen-printed textile designs in the early 1950s. From 1950 to 1980 he was one of a handful of Australian textile designers who developed a new contemporary style with innovative use of colour. His designs in the early 1950s were mostly of Aboriginal or geometric style. Later he turned to more abstract designs in the Scandinavian style. Later still he made bold use of colour. Rodriquez introduced unique Australian styles which have been imitated often since. He always stressed the importance of innovation. Many homes in Australia and overseas still have his art works in the linen cupboard. 
John Rodriquez retired in 1988, handing the Rodriquez company to his son Rimian, who has computerised the screen printing and mostly employs other designers for the products, but still uses a few of his father's most popular designs. Rodriquez passed away in 2000.
And from tea towels to fabric calendars to upholstery fabric to greeting cards, the collection really runs the gamut of items you could buy from the textile house. I bet the Navy man mentioned by the flea market dealer bought this as a souvenir of his travels in Australia and brought it home framed to commemorate his trip. I LOVE. ALL THE WEIRD THINGS. YOU WILL FIND. WHILE ESTATE SALE/THRIFT STORE/ FLEA MARKETING. Sometimes I wonder how people shop for non-essentials at retail department stores when there are all these weird and wacky second hand goods to be had (and usually for a pittance). But, as you can imagine, I'm biased.

More designs from Rodriquez, including some fashion sketches for a triad of mid century marvelous circle skirts (I'll take one of each, please):

Place Mat - Human Figures With Headdresses & Spears, Blue on Cream, 1960

Greeting Card - Man With Tools, Blue & Red, No. A0076, circa 1954

Place Mat - Human Figures With Headdresses & Spears, Maroon & Red, circa 1950s

Greeting Card - Shields, Bark Painting & Men Dancing, Blue & Red, circa 1949-1955

Artwork - Fabric Design, John Rodriquez, 1950s

Aforementioned skirts...are they not perfect?

Greeting card

A commemorative fabric from the 1956 Summer Olympics, held in Melbourne 

Greeting Card - Human Figures & Shields, Green & Brown, circa 1949-1955

What I look like in my mind's eye (another greeting card)

Business card, circa 1970

I pause now to tell you that I've spent the past twenty minutes trying to find more information about Aboriginal dress, hats and ornamentation, as seen in the tea towel's illustration. In spite of my finely honed Googling skills, from years at the library's reference desk, I have not been able to find information on said topic. But I WILL share with your what I have found:

  • A Youtube video called "Aborigine hunt huge bats with boomerangs", which, in spite of my loyalty and love of bats, is possibly one of the most metal/amazingly weird things I have seen on the internet, and that is saying something.
  • A wikipedia article about Kotekas, which I will leave you to discover on your own if you dare click the link (but if you do, please let's discuss).
  • This 1939 Life article about Boomerangs becoming a novelty in the US, which contains the following (instructive) statement: "Catching an Australian boomerang is dangerous, may result in a broken head". 
Needless to say, I was not a very good factfinder with regards to this particular query, but I thought you might be interested in that information in spite of its lack of relevance to my original research goals. Another job for another day!

How about you? Found anything great out at the sales or the flea market lately? What kind of things trigger your impulse-buy impulse? Do you have any crazy textiles proudly framed and hung in your house? Where do some of the weirder/far flung items in your house come from? Let's talk!

That's all for today...have a great Wednesday and I'll talk you soon! :D

1 comment:

  1. i love how weird that thing is! i feel the same about people who buy their decor at big box stores. people always wonder (some with disgust?) and where i get all the weird stuff i have. it's not hard to find cool stuff!



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