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Handmade UniverseHandmade Universe

Inside the exhibition

Handmade Universe celebrates the rewards of making and the limitless scope it offers for invention and enquiry.

Ranging across disciplines – from craft to coding and from astronomy to botany – the works in this exhibition show how quiet and intimate self-led discovery can be a powerful way to connect with the universal themes of place, culture and identity.

Opening hours

10am to 6pm, daily

Location

Victoria Gallery (entry via North Rotunda), State Library Victoria

Bookings

Free exhibition, no bookings required

Read our book

Discover more about the works of artists, designers and makers in the exhibition through our official publication, made possible by the generous support of the Gordon Darling Foundation.

Meet the artists

Contemporary art and design takes center stage in Handmade Universe with the work of ten artists, designers and makers displayed at the Library for the first time.

Donna Kendrigan

Donna Kendrigan is an animator working with traditional stop-motion techniques. She creates immersive installations that fuse experimental animations and soundscapes, often collaborating with musicians and sound artists.

Atong Atem

Atong Atem is known for her striking photographic portraits. While photography is her primary medium, she works across many art forms such as writing, fashion and film.

Sans façon

Sans façon is a collaborative arts practice between Charles Blanc and Tristan Surtees. The artists primarily make work for public spaces, from ephemeral performances and temporary installations to large scale permanent artworks.

Lucy Simpson

Yuwaalaraay woman Lucy Simpson is the founder of the creative studio Gaawaa Miyay | River Daughter and works across many disciplines including graphics, textiles, and object and spatial design.

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Collection highlights

A selection of rare and remarkable items from State Library Victoria and other collections bring together craft, technology, art and science in often unexpected ways.

Stitch
Mary Redman's embroidered map of England and Wales

This embroidered map, or ‘sampler’, was made by Mary Redman in the 1780s. Maps became a popular motif in 18th century samplers, superseding pictorial designs and religious motifs.

Geography was the first science to be taught to girls who attended school in the 18th century. It was considered a suitable subject through which women could express their academic knowledge and their needlework skills.

The earliest samplers depicting maps were drawn onto the fabric by the pupil or teacher, and they became so popular that ready-to-stich printed versions were developed. In this example, a faint outline can be seen under the missing embroidery thread, but it is difficult to determine whether it is drawn by hand or printed.

Image: Mary Redman, embroidered map of England and Wales , c. 1780–89, silk thread on silk with cotton backing, State Library Victoria

Stitch
Margaret Ann Field’s crochet lace border sample

Counting stitches and charting stars went hand in hand for Margaret Ann Field, a lace-maker and keen star observer who migrated from Scotland to rural Victoria. The pieces on display (on loan from the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences) feature a pinwheel motif inspired by the brightest star in the Southern Hemisphere, known in Western astronomy as Sirius. Only a few examples of Field's lacework survive, but her needlework was rediscovered by feminist artists in the 1970s when domestic handcrafts became an important medium for expressing views on women’s rights. 

Field published a book of her lace patterns and an instructional booklet for reading the stars, both of which are on display and in the State Library Victoria collection (see link below).

Image: Margaret Ann Field, Crochet lace border sample 1900–10, Silk, Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney, Gift of Mrs Lee Byrne, 1988

Sun
Joan Blaeu’s New and most accurate tables of the whole earth

This intricate world map was the first of its kind to reflect the finding that the sun is in fact the centre of the universe. It is the handiwork of enterprising Dutch mapmaker Joan Blaeu, who ran the largest European printing press of the 17th century and enlisted a team of artisans to craft memorable images of the world.

Colourful pictures of Roman deities show the planets in motion: At the centre is Apollo, the sun god, with Diana, the goddess of the moon, below, watching over the two hemispheres, which represent Earth. In the lower border, are allegories of spring, summer, autumn and winter, symbolising the solar cycles of days and seasons and Earth’s annual orbit around the sun.

Image: Joan Blaeu, Nova et accuratissima totius terrarum orbis tabula, (New and most accurate tables of the whole earth), Amsterdam, Joan Blaeu, 1664, State Library Victoria

Earth
Ralph Malcolm Warner's blunt-tongued greenwood

The blunt-tongued greenhood orchid is one of sixteen Australian wildflowers that feature in a set of illustrations by war artist turned commercial illustrator, Ralph Malcolm Warner.

Warner’s hand-painted illustrations are the original artworks for educational swap cards that were commissioned by Shell and distributed at service stations in the early 1960s. Forming part of the advertising campaign, Discover Australia with Shell, they doubled as promotional tools, designed to get patrons out on the road and appreciating nature while using the company’s services.

This painting is one of the collection objects accompanying the artwork Season of the Orchid, by Melbourne animator Donna Kendrigan.

Image: Ralph Malcolm Warner, Blunt-tongued greenwood, 1959, Discover Australia with Shell project cards, wildflower series, State Library Victoria

Star
John Flamsteed’s Atlas coelestis

John Flamsteed spent his life studying the stars. He grew up during the telescope revolution of the 17th century and taught himself astronomy. At the age of 19, he wrote his first astronomy paper. Ten years later, he became the first astronomer at the newly built Royal Observatory at Greenwich, in England.

During his time at the observatory, Flamsteed catalogued 3000 stars, which formed the basis of his celestial atlas, Atlas coelestis. It enjoyed immediate success when it was published in 1729, due to its impressive size and unprecedented accuracy. Flamsteed’s wife, Margaret, stewarded the work into print after his death, setting a new standard for astronomical study. .

Image: John Flamsteed, Atlas coelestis, London, 1729, State Library Victoria

Moon
Kath Walters' poster ‘Technical skills are out of this world!’

Designed by Kath Walter, this poster puts women at the forefront of space travel to promote technical courses and apprenticeships for girls. 

It was printed by a Melbourne collective fittingly named Another Planet, which supported the grassroots production of irreverent and issues-based graphics. The slogan it uses also appeared 20 years earlier on a space-inspired advertisement for vacuum cleaners, which were marketed as taking women ‘out of this world’ - while remaining firmly in the domestic sphere.

Image: Kath Walters, ‘Technical skills are out of this world! Girls apprenticeship and technical scheme’ 1985, Screenprint on paper, Another Planet Posters, Melbourne, State Library Victoria

Stitch
Mary Redman's embroidered map of England and Wales

This embroidered map, or ‘sampler’, was made by Mary Redman in the 1780s. Maps became a popular motif in 18th century samplers, superseding pictorial designs and religious motifs.

Geography was the first science to be taught to girls who attended school in the 18th century. It was considered a suitable subject through which women could express their academic knowledge and their needlework skills.

The earliest samplers depicting maps were drawn onto the fabric by the pupil or teacher, and they became so popular that ready-to-stich printed versions were developed. In this example, a faint outline can be seen under the missing embroidery thread, but it is difficult to determine whether it is drawn by hand or printed.

Image: Mary Redman, embroidered map of England and Wales , c. 1780–89, silk thread on silk with cotton backing, State Library Victoria

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Upcoming events

Join us at the Library to delve deeper into Handmade Universe through tours and workshops.

Handmade Universe guided tour
1:30pm–2:00pm
Handmade Universe: Festive Craft Workshops
6:30pm–9:00pm