The match holder is part of a large collection of Vera Whitesides’ work that was inherited by Joan Graney and forms part of a collection bequeathed by her to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.
Vera Whitesides was born in Oatlands, Tasmania. She was connected through her father to the cabinetmakers T Whitesides and Son and was a niece of the wood carver Ellen Nora Payne. Vera studied at the Hobart Technical under Benjamin Sheppard and Lucien Dechaineux from 1906 to 1909. Initially successful as a portrait painter, she began exhibiting with the Arts and Crafts Society of Tasmania in 1910 and subsequently practiced in diverse media, including woodcarving, leatherwork, china painting, raffia and metalwork. She learnt metalwork from the locally influential architect and craftsman Allan Cameron Walker. Walker was a key proponent of the Arts and Crafts style and its aesthetic philosophies in Tasmania.
Walker instigated the foundation of the Arts and Crafts Society of Tasmania—Australia’s first such society—in 1903. Stripped of the radical political and social philosophies that characterised the British movement, and largely the domain of leisured members of the state’s middle and upper classes, many of Tasmania’s early studio crafts pioneers were women.
Although Tasmanian native plants and animals had previously been used in the decorative arts, the arts and crafts philosophy of artistic originality and of drawing inspiration from the immediate environment, made such motifs central to decoration and ornament in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Vera Whitesides’ repousse match holder is decorated with stylised gum leaves and seedpods based on the Tasmanian blue gum (Eucalyptus globulus).
The Arts and Crafts Movement philosophy also called into question the distinction between the applied and fine arts, arguing for the application of ‘art’ to all things, however humble. This match holder is typical of the decorative items produced by the movement locally and it would have been very much at home by the fireside in an arts and craft house.
A wall mounted matchbox holder made of embossed copper sheet. The back plate is a wide, symmetrical shield that has a rectangular central panel with shaped, convex sides and a centre evenly filled with a pattern of small raised marks. The central panel is framed by a symmetrical arrangement of repousse gum leaves and seedpods. There is a vertical box mounted at the centre of the shield to receive a box of matches. Mounted below this is a horizontal box with a symmetrical, shaped edge to receive used matches. The gum leaf decoration of the mounted boxes is a more formalised and abstract variant of that of the shield.
The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery seeks to build a comprehensive representation of Tasmanian colonial decorative arts. This includes items made in Tasmania from 1803 through until 1945. Tasmania had a vibrant arts and crafts movement in the early decades of the twentieth century and much of the work produced, including this matchbox holder, incorporated native plants and animals into the designs. The stylised organic form of the leaves and flowers is indicative of the influence of the Art Nouveau style in later arts and crafts design. The artistic enrichment of everyday objects such as a matchbox holder is also typical of the movement’s philosophy of beautifying all objects, no matter how humble.
Miley, C 1987, Beautiful and Useful: The Arts and crafts Movement in Tasmania, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, Australia, pp. 20, 58–9.
Mercury, ‘Arts and Crafts Exhibition, the Awards’, 14 October 1909, p. 6.