Inspired ! Design Across Time @ Sydney Powerhouse Museum – has been archived

Inspired ! Design Across Time @ Sydney Powerhouse Museum – has been archived

To INSPIRE someone is to “fill them with the urge to do or feel something, especially to do something creative”.


Inspired! Design Across Time uncovered the ways in which designers, makers, industries and entrepreneurs interact to make extraordinary objects. It revealed the passion of creators, the power of objects and the pleasure they give people who use and treasure them.

right click here and open in a new tab to see the fly through movie for the “Inspired! Design Across Time” exhibition

Inspired! explored concepts such as beauty and function, style and substance, tradition and innovation. It showed how changing values and attitudes influence design and shape our taste and imagination. We seek the new while exploring the past, strive for the personal while enjoying the popular and value the handmade beside the mass-produced.


The Inspired! exhibition explored how social, cultural and technological changes have influenced the decorative arts and design over a period of 300 years and discovers the ways designers, manufacturers, industries and entrepreneurs have collaborated in making innovative objects.

The Inspired! exhibition was a Powerhouse Museum signature since 2005, from the Enlightenment to the present, showcasing both the delicacy and drama of some of the most significant objects in the Museum’s collection.

right click on the image above to see the Full Teachers Guide PDF to the exhibition

But, like all things, it must end and make way for an exciting new era of Museum development.

However controversy is raging in the Design community as to how this was decided upon and what role Design will have in the next phase of the Powerhouse Museum‘s growth –  please read on to learn more …………….


In 2006   Inspired! Design across time was the biggest Powerhouse Museum gallery to open since ’88.  It was the one of the largest galleries of design and decorative arts in Australia – covering 1,000 square metres.

Inspired! presented a stunning selection of around 800 Australian and international objects spanning 300 years and drew from Australia’s foremost and extensive collections of design, decorative arts and crafts held by the Powerhouse Museum.

Situated in a prime location at the Museum’s main entrance, the Inspired! permanent gallery showcases iconic as well as rarely-seen pieces of furniture, fashion, textiles, graphics, glass, ceramics, jewellery and metalwork.

“This permanent gallery reinforced the Powerhouse as Australia’s premier design Museum. The best of our collection over 100 years in the making, positions us as a gateway to design nationally and internationally,” said Dr Kevin Fewster, Director, Powerhouse Museum.

Objects ranged from the most innovative designs of the present, such as furniture by Marc Newson and a specially commissioned sofa by Zaha Hadid, to rare survivors from the past, like a bust of Baron Schmiedel from the Meissen porcelain factory of the 1700s, a spectacular gilt tea set designed by Napoleon’s silversmith and a rare gothic style chair made for Governor Macquarie.

Starting today and going back 300 years, Inspired! explored six major themes: Going global: design and the marketplace (1960s to now); Mark of the maker: the crafts revival (1940s to now); New century, new look (1900s to 1950s); Australia: adapting to a new world (the 19th century); Europe: design in the industrial age (the 19th century); and Age of Enlightenment (the 18th century).

Unique contemporary handmade objects by Gwyn Hanssen Pigott and Yvonne Koolmatrie sit beside one-off 19th century masterpieces, such as a silver and emu egg cricket trophy by William Kerr; classics by Italian and Swedish manufacturers; and an amazing selection of nineteenth century dress and key pieces by fashion designers including Mariano Fortuny, Akira Isogawa and Comme des Garçons; as well as a rich selection of wallpaper designs by the legendary Florence Broadhurst.

From Meissen to Newson, Wedgwood to Westwood, design in all its forms and processes is a central part of our lives. The gallery presents case studies illustrating the many ways in which ideas become reality; from the passion and skill of designers, makers and manufacturers in the development of ideas and products, and their relationships, to the needs and pleasures of the people who use, collect and commission their work.


“The Powerhouse’s collection is unusual in Australia as it crosses past and present, Australian and international, and given the Museum’s wide interests, Inspired! offered the unique opportunity to explore decorative arts and design in the context of technology, industry and social history,” said Eva Czernis-Ryl, Curator, Decorative Arts and Design.

“A series of public programs and changing temporary displays will inspire visitors to return to the Museum and gallery to discover new aspects of arts, crafts and design, yesterday and today,” she added.

The gallery also features a number of state-of-the-art interactives including a 360 degree, immersive video experience of a glass makers studio; programs where audiences can design their own screen-based quilts and batiks; and a nostalgic dip into the memories of Rowe Street, centre of Sydney’s bohemia until the 1970s.


Letter from Grace Cochrane 

to   Dr. Dawn Casey /  Director / Powerhouse Museum

17th Sept 2010

Dear Dawn,

You may not have received the letter I wrote to you on 25 July, about the dismantling of what was meant to be a permanent, or at least long-term, changing exhibition, Inspired! Design across time.

I am writing again, because in the intervening weeks, I have been approached by many people across the broad sector who shared an interest in what Inspired! represented. They want to find out why this had happened, and what the Museum’s plans are for the future of this important aspect of the collection, which they see as equally significant as, for example, science and technology and popular culture.

Their responses to the dismantling – which astonishingly started in the first week of Sydney Design – range from puzzled and disappointed, to betrayed, frustrated and angry. After anticipating such an exhibition for many years, few can believe it has been pulled out after less than five years, with no discernable explanation, or plan for the future. It is as if their interests didn’t count, and I fear that you will lose their support.

I can’t provide an answer for them, of course, but I must say I also share their feelings.

While clearly not providing the figures that might be expected for a blockbuster or short-term, popular exhibition, the audiences for this part of the museum’s collection (where the exhibition was intended as a core, changing reference for temporary exhibitions) are varied, substantial and influential. They are local, national and international in their origin, and have used the exhibition as a point of reference and research as designers and makers, students, professional colleagues, historians, critics, teachers and collectors, as well as members of the general public who felt that, through this collection, the Powerhouse Museum was ‘for them’.

The Powerhouse Museum’s collection of decorative arts, crafts and design is unique inAustralia through the associations that can be made, not only across its specific field, but also with science, industry, technology and society. But it has to be visible and accessible, and also tell its own significant stories.

I strongly recommend that you consider making public whatever plans you may have for ensuring that this part of the collection will be accessible in the Museum’s exhibition spaces.

I will also recommend to the people whom I know to be concerned, that they should write directly to you for information.

Yours sincerely,

Grace Cochrane

25 Morris Street / Summer Hill / NSW / 2130 / Australia


04 252 152 44 mobile


Letter from Grace Cochrane  to Design Friends

Dismantling Inspired! design across time: plans for the future?

27th Sept 2010

Dear all,

The issue:

Many of you have been asking why the Powerhouse Museum’s permanent/long-term collection-based exhibition of decorative arts, crafts and design, Inspired! Design across time, was dismantled after only 4 ½ years, without warning or explanation, in the first week of the 2010 Sydney Design festival.

In not announcing reasons, or plans for the future, it is as if we, the many constituents and audiences, are not acknowledged or valued.

( above ) is my letter ( 17th Sept 2010 ) to the Museum’s director, Dawn Casey, asking that she reassure the various stakeholders for what this exhibition represents, that plans are in place to reinstall it in some way, very soon. Her reply to this (second) letter, advised: ‘you may rest assured the Powerhouse is not limiting its collecting and overall programming in the areas of design, fashion, decorative arts and crafts.’

However, despite rumours of redevelopment to take place in some form on the floor below, there appear to be no plans, either for the displaced exhibition, or for the vacated space (presumably to be used for temporary incoming exhibitions). As it took 8 years to develop and finally install Inspired!, after 20 years of negotiation, your concerns about its successor appear to be valid. There appear to be no plans to dismantle the permanent exhibitions of science and technology.

I have advised the Director that I will refer your enquiries to her.

Background information:

The collection:

• The Powerhouse Museum is still, in fact, the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, and the holdings of applied arts/decorative arts/crafts/design, developed over 130 years, are a core aspect of its responsibility, as set out in the legislation. The collection has international recognition, and is considered the major example of its kind in Australia.

• These holdings are unique in Australia not only for their scope and span across time, but for the links that can be made with science, technology and industry, as well as social history (whose collection-based exhibitions are now largely dismantled).

• Inspired! Design across time was developed as a core, collection-based, changing, exhibition, designed to provide a story of development that would be a key reference to the field; contextualise a range of temporary exhibitions; and also complement the Indigenous and Asian galleries (now dismantled).

• Constituents and audiences, built up over some decades, feel strongly that they have ‘earned’ a stake in the Powerhouse Museum, and expect a continuing commitment to this field, both historical and contemporary.

Repercussions of decision to dismantle:

• Apart from the strength of the Museum’s website, the loss of direct access to collection objects through exhibitions such as this, diminishes the cultural profile of NSW and the Museum’s reputation.

• It also diminishes its role as an educational resource, where the historical informs the contemporary, by providing context, stories and exemplars – past and present; and broadening perspectives across time, space and cultures. Temporary exhibitions, however excellent, do not provide these broad, contextual, core frameworks.

• Notwithstanding the excellence of online access to the collection, this is no replacement for the experience of seeing objects, and discovering their stories, in the Museum itself. Direct access to the collection is an essential part of the Museum’s obligations.

• There is a real danger of the various stakeholders becoming disenfranchised.

Other factors: repercussions:

• This decision appears to be the result of a combination of internal decisions about priorities and preferences, and external funding pressures.

• In recent years the State Government has vastly reduced funding to cultural institutions, although it appears that funds have been allocated to the Powerhouse recently for some capital development.

• In the Powerhouse Museum, curatorial staff has been depleted, with serious loss of knowledge in some fields; there appears to be no clear succession strategy towards to a new generation of curators; the position of Deputy Director has been abolished; in the management team of Associate Directors there is no permanent position responsible for collections.

• Acquisition funds have been seriously cut, and the Museum is falling badly behind in its representation of contemporary crafts and design, a factor difficult to rectify in future years. This is affecting the profile of the Museum in the broad design, crafts and education communities.

What you can do:

• You are one of the many stakeholders/audiences for this aspect of the collection: of designers, craftspeople, students, collectors, museum professionals, dealers, writers, educators and researchers. If you share these concerns about removing the exhibition with no warning, and no clear plans for its replacement, it would be very helpful if you wrote about them, from your point of view, to:

Dr. Dawn Casey / Director / Powerhouse Museum

PO Box K346, Haymarket, Sydney, NSW 1238,

• Of most value, I believe, would be confirmation of exactly what the collection, and an exhibition drawn from it, means to you and the field of which you are part, and what you would expect in any plans for the future.

• Some of you have also expressed an interest in also approaching the Chair of Trustees, to make sure your views are known.

• You may also have the opportunity to approach both sides of the NSW State Government about the funding for institutions such as this.

• I would be grateful if you could send a copy of your letter to me.

Yours sincerely,

Grace Cochrane / 25 Morris Street, / Summer Hill, /  NSW 2130,


tony bilson with grace cochrane

About Grace Cochrane

Born in New Zealand, Grace Cochrane has a background in both art and education. She gained a B.Ed (1976) from the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education, and BFA, MFA (1984, 1986) and PhD (1999) from the University of Tasmania. Her professional appointments have included membership of both the Crafts Board and the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council.

Grace Cochrane was the senior curator of Australian decorative arts and design at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia.

Since starting there in 1988 she has had a key responsibility for the development of the holdings of contemporary Australian crafts and design, has worked on numerous exhibitions within the museum.

She was the co-ordinating curator for the permanent exhibition, Inspired! Design across time (2005), and curator for the exhibition, book and symposium, Smart works: design and the handmade (2007).

She is the author of the The Crafts Movement in Australia: a History (NSW University Press, 1992); has contributed to a number of other publications; given lectures and papers in all fields of the crafts; and has a long record of judging awards, opening exhibitions and assessing graduating students. Following exhibition and collection research in SE Asia in 1994 she co-ordinated museum training workshops for ASEAN museum professionals in Malaysia in 1995. She received the Australia Council’s Visual Arts/Craft Board’s Emeritus medal in 2001.

In 2007 she was awarded a Doctor of Letters by the University of New South Wales. Professional roles include membership of both the Crafts Board and the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council.

The Archiving process – From the Powerhouse Museum website

Photography by Alison Brennan © Powerhouse Museum

Where do you start? An exhibition the scale of Inspired! takes a lot of planning and forethought to dismantle. Assistant Registrar, Sarah Pointon (pictured below), and Registrar, Exhibition and Collections, Alison Brennan, have been at task compiling lists and reports for all of the objects displayed in Inspired! , tracing their previous storage locations and creating barcodes and labels for EVERY single part of EVERY single object!

After a series of meetings discussing the logistics of such a large dismantle it was decided to begin the dismantle from the back of the exhibition in the Rocco and Enlightenment period – sounds easy enough? Well the rumours are true that even the most seasoned of Registration and Conservation staff still have 3am nightmares that they have dropped an 18th century vase! Needless to say, the ‘scariest’ objects were the first to be removed. When taking objects off display they are first handled by the Assistant Registrar, checked against the object register, tagged and barcoded. The Assistant Collection Manager then places the object in a trolley and moves it to the conservation station where a Conservator gently cleans the object and assesses its condition while making notes on the objects highly detailed Conservation file.

The Assistant Collection Manager then prepares the object for movement. It sounds a lot easier than it is – there is an art to packing a trolley! Objects need to be completely stable during the long trip to the collection store – calico bags filled with polystyrene balls and countless layers of tissue are used to buffer the objects as well as avoiding any stress on structurally vulnerable parts of the object. Once the trolley is packed and covered, Registration staff take the trolley on the convoluted route through the Museum (now whose idea was it to make the 80s exhibition so trolley unfriendly!?) down the two levels to level 1, across the courtyard teeming with children eating foodstuffs laden with tomato sauce, across the car park (which is meant to have a 5 km speed limit), through the roller doors at the dock, down the hoist and finally to the safety of the Basement Collection store. Phew…..what a trip!

Once downstairs, the Assistant Collection Managers working in the basement re-house the objects – ceramics and glass on to static shelving, the textiles to the drawers in the textile store and mannequins are dismantled, boxed and stored for the next exhibition. Even the labels are collected and the information transferred onto the object blue files.

After an object comes off public display it has even more of a history than before and like an actor taking a bow after a performance as the curtains close- so the object is returned to storage and the lights switched off til next time . . .

The Powerhouse Museum

The Powerhouse Museum is the major branch of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney, the other being the historic Sydney Observatory. Although often described as a science museum, the Powerhouse has a diverse collection encompassing all sorts of technology including Decorative arts, Science, Communication, Transport, Costume, Furniture, Media, Computer technology, Space technology and Steam engines.

It has existed in various guises for over 125 years, and is home to some 400,000 artifacts, many of which are displayed or housed at the site it has occupied since 1988, and for which it is named — a converted electric tram power station in the Inner West suburb of Ultimo, originally constructed in 1902

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