Monthly Archives: December 2011

Oriental Rugs at Liberty: Bruce’s Office when he’s not off the beaten track sourcing rugs

I made a special connection with Bruce Lepere; Oriental Rug Buyer from Oriental Rugs at Liberty and a walking talking treasure for his knowledge of Liberty history. We pulled up a rug and discussed the essence of Liberty and his passion for discovering and personally sourcing rare rugs far off distant lands including the Khyber Pass, the bazaars of Peshawar and the Hindu Kusht mountains. All around us was evidence of his discerning eye and commitment to this passion.

Bruce and I talked surrounded by colour and pattern
Part silk antique rug from Turkmenistan with Liberty’s own Ianthe Rug beneath

We discussed the origins of the paisley an intriguing and beautiful figure widely used in Persia, India and throughout South Asia also later informing the designs of British interior fabrics, wallpapers and home wares. Persia is credited as being the first to create the boteh designs that later became known as paisley motifs. Boteh is a version of the Hindi word ‘buta’ which means ‘flower’ a symbol of fertility. It is described through analogy in many parts of the world including as ‘A twisted teardrop’ in Iranian and Indian, The ‘Persian pickle’ in Persia and ‘The egg: with white and yolk swirled together’ in China (Yin and Yang).

Many of the patterns looked very contemporary but in fact were very very old

Bruce spoke of his experience with Nomadic tribal weavers. The weaves are often dictated by process. The patterns are passed from generation to generation (Mother to Daughter). While there is seemingly little change to the overall pattern from generation to generation, individual women contribute uniqueness in subtle ways through color, material and knot count.

Very old Turkish woollen rugs

The rugs were out of this world; their colors electric; the patterns intricate, layered and beautiful. It was a treasure to see the different rugs in one place. They were from Iran, Morocco, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Persia etc. etc. The patterns, colors, motifs and materials within the rugs were a reminder of both man’s connection and dependence on nature and season.

The Four Seasons Rug (Persia) hanging centrally

One of the special rugs on display was The Four Seasons Rug, a rare intricately detailed rug made between 19th to early the 20th Century in Persia. It depicts Persian Life of the time “…the sowing of Spring Crops; the dancing and feasts of Summe; harvest in Autumn and the clearing snow from the steps of the Mosque in Winter”. The Blue Mosque is repeated in both the Summer and Winter scenes and was one of the places I visited while in Istanbul.

Thank you Bruce Lepere for your generosity in giving time and sharing your extensive knowledge.

A true gift.

Liberty of London: View to Entrance on Great Marlborough Street and wares

I have collected Liberty fabrics since I was eight years old. Even though I grew up in a rural Queensland town, we were lucky to have a little shop in the centre of Bundaberg that stocked only Liberty fine cottons. This was where my love for the floral and paisley patterned Liberty Tana Lawn began. I would collect little pieces of the precious cotton prints and make watchbands, hair ties, patchwork bags and purses. It was inspiring to know there were such beautiful things in the world. The color ways and patterns made a deep impression on me and were a window to distant exotic lands. I still collect Liberty fabrics to this very day, along with luscious and eclectic velvets and silks, and patterned John Kaldor viyella and jersy.

While I had arranged to meet with Anna Baruma, Liberty of London Archivist on my way back from Turkey, I decided I would take the opportunity during my stopover to visit Liberty of London the Store. I met with Brian Boyle from Japanese Prints and Fine Arts, as well as Bruce Lepere; Oriental Rug Buyer from Oriental Rugs at Liberty and a walking talking treasure for his knowledge of Liberty history. These two sections of Liberty, especially Oriental Rugs, have been a part of Liberty of London from the very beginning.

Still today a place you can find rare beauty gathered from all over the world

Through the vision of Arthur Lasenby Liberty, Liberty of London was originally conceived of as an emporium; bringing the best of the world to London. The essence of the store was to bring exotic and beautiful goods of quality from the East to the West: to stock things that no one else had seen and to make them available to discerning Londoners. Imported textiles; dyeing techniques; Japanese fans, screens and art prints; Blue and White Pottery from China: inlaid wooden boxes and carvings, metal work and rugs from Persia and Turkey filled the Emporium. The materials and richness of color and pattern, in turn, inspired a whole generation of British talent to design and produce high quality goods. In 1920 Liberty’s Tana Lawn was launched; made from a particular cotton plant from Lake Tana in Sudan. It had the feel of silk but did not come with the price of silk. Its quality was due to the long fine staple of the particular cotton and the skill of the weavers to pack a very high thread count into the fabric.

One of the Light Wells draped with Oriental Rugs

While Liberty is best known for its small floral prints, the first Liberty Tana Lawns were far more exotic. Ianthia was the first, followed by Hera (Peacock Feather) and the beautiful and complex Strawberry Thief (by William Morris). Why is this important? This process of travel and trade along the Silk Road to stores such as Liberty of London, assisted then and continues in the transmission and transformation of traditional patterns and techniques of making. They were assimilated through designers, makers and artists, inspired by the fluidity, materiality, depth and color, and especially ‘otherness’. Wallpapers, textile design, rugs, home wares, tiling patterns, furniture making and architecture were all transformed by exposure to the tradition and richness of making from the East.

(In conversation with Brian Bolye, Bruce Lepere and the generous staff at Liberty of London).


“Making is the most powerful way that we solve problems, express ideas and shape our world. What and how we make defines who we are, and communicates who we want to be.” Guest Curator, Daniel Charny

The Power of Making exhibition at the V&A, highlighted the importance of making through time and its continued presence in our lives today; for survival, as a tradition passed down, as a vocation and for discovery. The 100 objects from all over the world included in the exhibition, marked this moment in time, showing the varied techniques, combination of materials, hi-tech and lo-tech processes and technology, merging of professions, and the re-valuing of traditional techniques.

It was timely to visit this exhibition as it reminded me of the joy and peace I find in making. Even with the most experimental intentions there are always guiding parameters: from the materials (qualities and properties), tools, scale, the maker’s physical limits and eternal natural forces (gravity). Sometimes in making, things go wrong. Sometimes these are the moments when the ‘mistake’ becomes an innovation, a learning experience and a discovery.

Timber Wave by AL_A marking the entrance of the V&A Museum

Marking the entrance of the V&A was Timber Wave a large-scale sculptural structure by AL_A Architects with Arup Engineers. It was part of a series of Installations across London that marked the advent of the 2011 London Design Festival.

Using a combination of hi-tech and lo-tech processes Timber Wave made visible the continued value of hand-drawings and handcrafted models coupled with 3D modeling and precision engineering. Here furniture-making techniques were applied to a large rhythmic structure. It also made evident a series of simple two-dimensional patterns that could be generated from a seemingly complex three-dimensional and repetitive array depending on ones viewpoint. The sculpture was a beautiful three-dimensional pattern that showed the space of space.

Piccadilly Circus, London

In order to fly to Turkey I had to travel via London. So I took the opportunity to make a brief stopover. It meant that I could catch the end of the London Design Festival, visit the V&A Museum and meet with Liberty of London.

Even though London was in addition to my Winston Churchill Programme, I believed it would be integral in informing my experiences from Japan and China, and to prepare for Turkey. Many of the world’s treasures have been removed from their place of origin. Both the V&A and British Museum have an amazing collection of ancient through to contemporary objects, that originate from each of the places I was visiting for my Winston Churchill Research.

Hong Kong Collage 01
Hong Kong Collage 02

Hong Kong! A beautiful mix of extreme topography, tall buildings, great shopping, exciting nightlife and business. I had a well deserved break while in Hong Kong walking through the shopping district, visiting roof top bars, and eating amazing cuisine… A massive thank you to my host Tracy Hansen!

Typhoon Coming

During my visit quite an extreme typhoon made its way towards Hong Kong. We battened down the hatches on Lamma Island, especially since we were so close to the ocean. After the typhoon passed the beach was awash with large coral, shells and detritus.

Max heads out to the beach to investigate
Back to beauitful Lamma Island normal after the typhoon
SCAD’s amazing facilities; including break out areas featuring SCAD alumni’s work; green screen studios; and Court rooms adapted for lectures

We met with Grant Preisser, Associate Vice President of SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) Hong Kong. He guided us through SCAD’s new facilities focusing on works by SCAD students and alumni that lined the halls and public areas of the building.

The adaption of the Court House has made interesting spaces for SCAD students, especially installation artists, to explore their works

SCAD Hong Kong is housed in a heritage listed Court Building and so includes cells, court rooms and public spaces that have been sensitively adapted for their new function as a learning hub for creative careers such as drawing, photography, sculpture and digital imaging. SCAD believes in process led practice where intense studios encourage the medium to guide the experience and process of design and making in all of its forms.

Grant also walked us through Oceana at SCAD’s Moot Gallery, an exhibition of new photographic work by SCAD alumna Lisa M. Robinson. Her work beautifully captured the transformative nature of water (its shape, movement and mood during moments of becoming); during storm surges, changes of state from ice to fluid currents and vice versa. The work resonated with me and echoed the importance of nature’s role in the making of patterns. From early times to the ever-present nature continues to inform and inspire culture especially through art making.

Amazing Location: Tracy and Claire (Gallery Associate) at SCAD Central Gallery, Hong Kong

We made our way to SCAD Gallery in Central Hong Kong where we met with Claire Cheung, SCAD Gallery Associate and viewed work by Yeondoo Jung in the exhibition entitled The Mechanics of Invention.

Tracy and I at Sotheby’s HK Autumn Preview

Through Tracy Hansen’s role in Contemporary Art within Hong Kong we had special preview tickets to Sotheby’s Hong Kong Autumn Sales. This would be an opportunity to see some amazing traditional and contemporary works close up, as well as meet Artists and Gallery Representatives.

I spent a lot of time within Dragons and Silk from the Forbidden City a display featuring works from Teresa Coleman Fine Arts.  Here there were antique silk textiles and costumes from the Imperial Court of China. She had a beautiful collection of Formal Court Robes from The Forbidden City, including Dragon Robes (The Chi-fu) and Women’s Ceremonial Court robes (Women’s Chao-fu) that highlighted the Twelve Symbols of Authority.

Dragon Robe at Teresa Coleman Fine Arts display

The Dragon Robes’ overall design, in content and form, represents a diagram of the universe. The robe’s lower edge included a wave border represented by diagonal stripes edged above with rolling waves. Four peaks symbolize the earth and mountains with the four elements (air, earth, fire and water) each represented by a dragon. Dragons on a robe are a symbol of authority; good fortune and good luck as well as a symbol of the nature male vigor and vitality. The robe’s neck is the gate of Heaven with the symbolism only complete when the robe is worn; the wearer’s head represents the Heavens. The robe also includes cranes (for longevity) and the ‘Ji’ character (luck) together meaning ‘hope for life’.

The Twelve Symbols of Authority (from the Ming Dynasty) arranged on the Imperial Robes include: The Sun, The Moon, Constellations, Mountains, Pair of Dragons, Pheasant, Fu Symbol, Axe, Water Weeds, Liberation Cup, Flames and Millet. The symbols have specific form and meaning and are arranged in order around the neck, waist and knees. Together they make a complete message that the Emperor is blessed with a mandate from Heaven to govern over all creation.

The robes were displayed in a way that allowed close up experience. It was incredible to see the meticulous embroidery; intense colors and detailed patterns. One could gain an appreciation for the traditional embroidery and textile techniques used in these ancient times including peking knot stitch (da zi meaning ‘making seeds’ the small knots resemble seeds), couching and brocade as well as the brilliant colors achieved through natural dyes and pigments such as Indigo (Blue), Gardenia Flowers (Yellow) and Cinnibar (Vermillion).

Sotheby’s HK Autumn Preview

While at the Sotheby’s Preview Tracy also introduced me to painter Takahide Komatsu represented by Tezukayama Gallery, Japan; and Fiona Ho, Gallery Manager of The Cat Street Gallery, Hong Kong.

L>R PolyU Design Staff Roger Ball, Scot Laughton and Martin Wong in front of student’s work

We met with Roger Ball (PHD) Director and Founder of the Size China Project and among other things is Assistant Professor at PolyU’s School of Design. As a co-founder of Paradox Design in Canada, he created high performance sports products for clients such as Itech Sport, Burton Snow boards, Brine Lacrosse, and Nike/Bauer.

Out on the snowfields he found that many of his Asian snowboarding companions removed their headgear frequently, even when descending a slope. They suffered headaches from their helmets. On further research he discovered that the majority of headgear proportions were based on a non-Asian set of standards. No one had mapped the Asian head! And so the Size China Project began; to map a digital database of Asian head and face sizes for use by manufacturers and designers internationally. It was the first such digital database of its kind.

Roger and Tina with Size China Standard Head Types (Male)

Through 3D digital scanning, measurement data was collected from males and females in six distinct areas on the Chinese mainland to ensure the patterns of features and differences were captured in the study. These areas included Guangzhou, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Langzhou, Beijing, and Shenyang. This process was undertaken in collaboration with Chinese universities and local industries with expertise in ergonomics.

While there Roger, Tina Yan Luximon ( PHD, Chief Scientist) and Janis Tsui Ka Man (Research Assistant; CAD Specialist) scanned my head for prosperity. They have a database of designers’ heads too which includes scans of Australian Designer Marc Newson’s and Architect Zaha Hadid’s head.

Janis prepares me for the scanning process

Roger gave a tour of PolyU’s School of Design where we saw some great work by Industrial and Product Design, Environment and Interior Design students and graduates. In 2012/13 PolyU Design will move into a new home, Innovation Tower, the first permanent architectural work in Hong Kong by Zaha Hadid. It will provide additional space to facilitate multidisciplinary collaboration.

I also met other members of the School of Design including Scot Laughton and Martin Wong. The team at PolyU Design was amazingly generous with their time and thoughts and I felt a special connection with their inquisitive and creative process, and forward thinking approach to the teaching of design.