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decorative arts

Left: ‘Caledonia’ (detail) paste resist and block-printed on rayon, 1950. Courtesy Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading & Seamus O’Connell Right: ‘Sirens’, block-printed on linen, 1931. Courtesy Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading & the Estate of Michael O’Connell

weekly paper) described O’Connell as ‘one of the few artists we have here who does dress the part, and at least looks like the picturesque Chelsea painters we all read about. He makes those beautiful hand blocked linens that quite a number of our very smartest girls have made into attractive frocks this year, as well as using them for interior decorating. The artist looks almost as colourful as his work, too, for he dresses, when at home, in brightly patterned chintz smocks… and this home is the most fascinating place, hidden away among the titree at Black Rock [sic]. Michael O’Connell made it for himself out of bricks he made himself, and filled it with furniture he made himself and hangings he made himself. The result is perfect.’ 2 By 1934 O’Connell had a well-travelled, urban clientele in both Melbourne and Sydney who could purchase his textiles by mail order, at department stores (Myer and Farmers) and in a growing number of specialist outlets such as the

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Primrose Pottery Shop established by Edith Macmillan in 1929 in Little Collins Street. In addition, by the early 1930s Fred Ward, who had exhibited with O’Connell in at least one print exhibition in the late 1920s, had turned his attention to furniture design and developed a simple, functional style of furniture expressed in Australian timbers. He established a shop in Collins Street, possibly in partnership with O‘Connell, to showcase their work. By the time Cynthia Reed took it over in 1934, O’Connell‘s linens were well established in the lexicon of Melbourne‘s young design professionals. The eclecticism and figurative vibrancy of the early hangings had been laid aside for abstract designs and smaller patterns considered more suitable for modern interior spaces, and they could be found in interiors by leading designers including Mollie Turner Shaw, Marcus Martin and Roy Grounds, and Sydney designer Marion Hall Best. O’Connell believed textile design was more suited to modernity than art, stating: ‘Textile decoration is the most important art apart from

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antiques, art deco, art nouveau, art, bronzes, ceramics, collectables, furniture, textiles, works of art