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image icon 'Goanna curtain', c1958

'Goanna curtain', c1958
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is a single-colour, screen-printed curtain designed by Frances Burke (1907-94) and manufactured around 1958 by Frances Burke Fabrics (1937-94). Measuring 148.0 cm x 161.5 cm, the curtain has a decorative all-over design that consists of a series of regularly spaced, light-toned horizontal bands set against a dark blue background. Each band is composed of several square units linked by a chain of wavy lines. Each unit contains one of four alternating motifs: a spiral, a mask, a goanna or a turtle. These motifs have been simplified to basic shapes and lines and resemble Indigenous Australian bark painting designs.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a work by Frances Burke (1907-94), who is nationally recognised for her strongly patterned modernist designs that reflect a distinctly Australian spirit - Burke studied at RMIT, the National Gallery Art School and the George Bell School in Melbourne; she founded her own firm, Frances Burke Fabrics in 1937; her work was used in interiors by architects such as Roy Grounds and leading Sydney interior designer Marion Hall Best; in 1948 she opened Good Design (later known as New Design), Melbourne, to market products of good design; her designs and colours were regularly featured in fashionable home and interior design magazines of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s; in 1970 Burke was awarded an MBE for services to design and in 1987 was made an Honorary Doctorate of Arts by RMIT in recognition of her instigative and continuing influence on Australian design
  • is characteristic of Burke's style - her designs usually involved simple repeat patterns printed in a single colour
  • is based on Indigenous Australian designs - Burke was conscious of the need to find a distinctively Australian design style; in searching for such a style she looked to Indigenous Australian art for inspiration and made studies of Indigenous Australian bark paintings in the collection of the National Museum of Victoria; the subtle earth colours and bold patterning used in the bark paintings helped shape Burke's approach to decorative design; the Australian Modernist artist Margaret Preston (1875-1963) also sought inspiration from Indigenous Australian art in her quest for a distinctively Australian style
  • is an excellent example of new approaches to fabric design that emerged in Australia in the period between the 1940s and 1960s - an ambitious attempt to re-invigorate Australian textile design in the immediate post-Second World War period was a project instigated by Claudio Alcorso at his firm Silk and Textile Printers Ltd (1939-69), Sydney; this involved a number of leading Australian modern artists including William Dobell (1899-1970), Russell Drysdale (1912-81), James Gleeson (1915-) and Margaret Preston in the development of textile designs; by involving these creative talents in the design process, Alcorso hoped to derive a range of good modern dress and furnishing fabrics; the 46 different fabric designs produced were a radically different alternative to those commercially available at the time
  • reflects the influence of architecture on the decorative arts in Australia in the post-Second World War period - Australian architects and designers began to use the rich and varied colours of the Australian landscape; a revitalised building industry and new styles of architecture, which incorporated light-filled interiors and natural finishes, produced a demand for well-designed modern furnishings, which in turn stimulated the production of attractive mass-produced objects and textiles suitable for domestic use.