Annette Kellerman, The Australian Mermaid, "the Diving Venus"
A few months ago I was contacted by Nick Bannikoff, a graphic designer in Sydney, Australia, who had recently worked on the refurbished Annette Kellerman Aquatic Centre in Marrickville. The centre is now finished, and Bannikoff was assisting with the creation of a graphic interpreting / explaining Annette Kellerman’s life to be installed at the pool. Because I’m rather well connected to Kellerman on the Internet, Bannikoff was hoping I’d be able to assist him finding decent quality images to include in the graphic; which I did, by connecting him to silent film collector Mary Ann Cade. Because I’m rather
nosy fascinated with Kellerman, film and art — and unable to get to Australia myself — I asked Bannikoff to tell me more about the project.
The redevelopment of the pool was undertaken by Marrickville council a while ago. The existing pool was only 33mm and a bit dilapidated. There’s plenty of information on the project here.
Annette was born in the council area and the centre (AKAC) was renamed after her in ‘94 (I don’t have any information on that process).
As part of the project a separate graphic design firm was engaged to design the logo for the AKAC (along with several other facilities), and we were engaged as specialists to design the signage and environmental graphics. For a better idea of what we specialise in, you can visit Society for Environmental Graphic Design.
We wanted to create an inviting entrance to the change rooms, and decided that the best way to do this was to create life-sized graphics of people standing at the entrances. In effect inviting people in (it also has the advantage of very clearly differentiating the male and female entrances). Annette was obviously a natural choice for the Female change room, but being such an extraordinary character it was difficult to select a male counterpart. In the end we settled on Cecil, a contemporary of Annette’s (this was important to us) who was sadly killed at the Somme in 1918. Had we not been constricted in our selection to an Australian, we would have recommended Jonny Weismuller, whose career so closely mimicked Annette’s.
Knowing what we wanted to do we were inspired by two sources. A photo of a confident young woman in a bathing costume with a very contemporary lighting scheme, and the work of mosaic artist Brett Campbell.
We particularly liked the confident pose and dynamic lighting for the young woman. We felt if we could present Annette in the same way it would convey more of her life and story (than any photo) and make her more relevant to a contemporary audience. We engaged the services of a talented illustrator, Justine Missen, who over 2-3 weeks developed sketches of Annette and Cecil with the stances, shading and attitude we wanted. I’ve attached a couple of images from the process. As we always knew we wanted to create the final work in mosaic, Justine sketched to that end, mapping out the broad areas of colour that we knew could only accommodate a limited amount of detail.
As I mentioned, we had decided early on that if we could execute the graphic as a mosaic we would. The material would fit beautifully within a swimming pool environment, and given Annette’s life was a perfect medium with which to portray her. Brett Campbell, being part of the inspiration, was then engaged to create the final pieces. Brett helped out a great deal with the selection of the tiles. There is actually a very limited range of colours out there, and we wanted a nice glossy finish and a ceramic tile which we felt matched our aims (there is a much greater colour selection available in glass tiles). Due to the fact the entrances were a little dark and out of the way, we also wanted nice bright colours which made the selection even more difficult. He worked in his studio in Queensland (about 1000km away) and would send photos of the progress on a weekly basis, which we would then discuss and occasionally make adjustments or suggestions. This part of the project took about 2 months.
Finally, Brett visited site in late November last year and installed the mosiacs over 3 days, along with another mosaic that formed the background for the main identification sign for the AKAC.
Other things you may be interested in:
As part of the project the council also commissioned artwork for a couple of locations. One of the artists, Mark Wotherspoon, took his inspiration from the life of Annette.
The piece is entitled “Silver Screen Mermaid” and a plaque will be installed soon that reads: Inspired by the collective consciousness of Annette Kellerman, the divine silver screen mermaid and Hollywood starlet (1887-1975)
My mother, as she will tell you, is neither a very artsy person nor a very domesticated woman. While she is a rather gifted decorator, with an eye for beauty, detail, & quality — and a pocketbook which supports the artsy along with the arts, she doesn’t make things (other than reservations!). The result is that she didn’t teach me to sew or anything like that, and she was always rather fascinated by my continued purchase and completion of craft kits. As a kid, I taught myself to sew.
There was an older woman in our family who could have taught me, or at least nurtured me and and encouraged my interest; but she didn’t. (I’ll not name her, nor the relationship to me; so as not to hurt others and because the specifics of who she was does not matter as much as what she did or didn’t do.)
When I spotted this woman’s jar full of buttons, I was allowed to examine them. I fell in love with some adorable vintage lamb buttons (like these, except the ones I loved were made of white plastic). When she wouldn’t even broker the idea of giving me one, I decided I had to earn those coveted figural buttons. So I decided to teach myself to sew.
I began with what I thought would be a simple beginner’s project, using an iron-on transfer to place the blue outlines of a cheery juvenile bunny rabbit onto a piece of scrap muslin (both from a garage sale), and earnestly began making my first stitches.
After completing most of Mr. Bunny Rabbit’s head, I — in that shy sense of accomplishment of a beginner — presented my first wobbly stitches to this woman. I receive not one word of praise, even for taking up such an activity; instead she told me my stitches were uneven, clumsy, and generally poor.
They were uneven, clumsy, and generally poor — I was a child teaching herself needlework.
Had her appraisal included any sort of constructive tips in terms of just how to improve my stitches, I might not have been so devastated.
But I didn’t give up. I just didn’t show her, or anyone else, what I was working on. In my mind, I thought if I could improve, if I could make something worthy of showing, that one day I’d earn her respect — and those cute figural lamb buttons.
But I never did.
I never felt skilled enough to show that woman what I made, needlework or otherwise.
Years passed. I continued to make things. But, full of that woman’s scorn for my work, feeling that my skills were so poor that I’d never be worth mention let alone any investment in time, supplies or support, I just “piddled about” with projects on my own. My parents knew what I did, simply because good parents know what their children are up to, be it reading, crafting, or whatnot.
So when this woman got too old to use any of her sewing machines, my parents asked if I could have one. That woman refused; like the jar full of old buttons, the sewing machines just vanished from her house — and my life. But not my memory.
Instead of giving me the gifts of her time and counsel, of nurturing me and my skills, this woman left me with a very poor opinion of my work. I made less things, tried less projects, and, certain what I was making was crap, I obviously wasn’t going to let my peers see the fruits of my “piddling about.” By the time high school ended, so had my crafting efforts. I put them on hold for that “someday” when I’d have my own apartment and could piddle in private.
The story of that path or a promised “someday” is another story. But today’s point is that children and beginners need to be encouraged to create things. No matter how uneven, clumsy, and poor their initial (and subsequent) works may be.
Needlework is especially worth encouraging — not only as a nearly lost art, but as a practical life skill; the number of persons who cannot even replace a button or repair a separating seam is astonishing.
To help foster a young child’s interest in ans mastery of needlework, check out Easy Hand Sewing for Kids. Heck, if you don’t consider yourself a child but your stitches are childish, check out that article (and the slew of resources within it). It’s never too late to learn.
And, as far as I can see, it’s never too late to give an old lady her comeuppance.
Vintage animal buttons via Prestige-Enterprises.
Vintage iron-on transfer of baby animals via Blondies-Spot.
Over at The Emerging Times, Michael Ferrare has written The ‘Picture Painting’ Gene, an article on Thomas Harrison’s book, Instinct:
In the book Instinct, Thomas Harrison describes many ways to leverage who you are (using your DNA) to promote success in business and in life. Of the many natural genes he mentions, one gene that may be hidden inside of you is the “Picture Painting” gene—a natural desire or way to create an evolving picture of yourself.
While Harrison, a corporate CEO, has written the book to explore the connections between DNA and entrepreneurial success, the author’s message is that “no matter who you are, there are learned success secrets you can put in place to compensate for what you inherited in ‘your’ genetic lottery.” According to the author, it’s a matter of “inborn traits that have to be ‘switched on’ to create the personalized winning scenario that’s right for you.”
Simply put, it’s a matter of visualization; the old sports dealio, where you see the basketball going in the hoop. Or, for those who fear they are talentless but wish for greater ability to create, you unlock the talent within your DNA by seeing your future as a more creative type or a successful artist (which surely is entrepreneurial).
Surely most of us could use a little more faith in our creative abilities. And if entrepreneurialism is an art, or some sort of talent, certainly other arts and talents can be so unlocked.
Ferrare, in his post, uses an example of a friend who uses the “picture painting” to leave a corporate ad agency for a more creative career in writing — and sums up the trickiest part of the process, post visualization techniques:
When you share your picture with a friend, get ready for a comment like “Hold on, don’t get ahead of yourself.” Don’t let their comments, or cynicism diminish your vision. Instead, remember that that’s the point—getting ahead of yourself.
I’m imagining that perhaps it’s best to paint a picture of your friends and family being supportive of your picture-painted-perfect future before you share it.
Image Credits: via Amazon.
I can’t get enough of artist Tamar Stone — her corset and bed books inspire me so much!
With all these projects and interests, I knew she’d collect lots of stuff, but I wanted to know more about what the artist draws from…
I collect a lot of books, images etc. However, because of limited space and finances, I also go to the NY Public Library to do research with their really old books. Before you could find things on-line, I used to go to the library to do a lot of patent research (something I learned while being a para-legal) — and learning how to read a patent’s family history — to get you to other resources.
With the internet, so much stuff is online — but a lot of it is low-res, which I can’t really use, and also you have to make sure the images are in the public domain (due to copyright issues).
As with my latch-hook rug, works are inspired by my travels.
One of my hobbies is “Polaroiding dolls on the road,” which I’ve turned into paper books from Polaroids. I also have a series of bathrooms/outhouses along the road… And meals on the road… But I haven’t had the money to turn those into books (all the scanning of those is just so time consuming, and I rather just keep moving ahead with the sewing projects).
You can get copies of Tamar Stone’s books at PrintedMatter.org: Dolls on the Road: The Barbie and Ken Series. Vol. 1, Dolls on the Road: Baby Dolls and Others. Vol. 2. And you can visit Tamar Stone’s website to keep up-to-date on the artist and her projects.
When I was about to turn 10, my mother took me out — just her and I — to go shopping for my own gifts. It may sound silly, but at the time it was the coolest thing ever. A few blissful hours in which I was the only kid and had the sole attention and direction of my mother. And her wallet. We even stopped for sundaes too.
The only thing that topped it was the actual gifts I chose.
There was the Louis Marx Comanche horse, the bay with black mane and tail with articulated head and legs; sure to make my sister pea-green with envy. And there was a boxed set of colored pencils — not just any colored pencils, but water color pencils.
Comanche was lovingly played with, surviving far better than most plastic horses, and was eventually given to a younger horse-loving cousin. But the pencils are another story.
I’d had colored pencils for years in school, of course; but these were different. They were water color pencils. They even had a permanent plastic case which stated their magnificence and superiority above the usual temporary cardboard box. These pencils were so prized, so grown-up, so filled with the colors and promise of real art, that they intimidated me. I rarely used them. In fact, 30-odd years later, they sit, looking nearly untouched.
I won’t lie and say that Comanche wasn’t loved; he really was. But I was willing to put him to use as the manufacturer intended. The water color pencils, however, were so loved I didn’t dare use them.
Without getting overly sentimental (and risking sounding like a cliche), it’s really sad to acknowledge that somehow I’ve thought the world needs more loved-into-being-tailless horses more than whatever art I might have made. The world, and I, can survive both.
Memo to self: One of the New Year’s Resolutions is to get out the water color pencils and make something. Maybe even some horses.
Art Credits: Horse Running in Gold Field and Prancing Horse by Hosslass Art.