the society of arts & crafts of nsw . our history


our history

In 1906, six craftspeople gathered to form the Society of Arts and Crafts of NSW. In these hundred years, our Society has grown and evolved with many changes of venue and the waxing and waning of fortune. Trade was so brisk during the First World War that we maintained a full time 'depot' and its sales helped with the purchase of an ambulance.

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During the Second World War members worked for the Red Cross teaching rehabilitative craft to injured soldiers.

With increasing mass production, the 50's and 60's saw a decline in traditional arts and crafts and by the early 70's we were homeless.

And yet, through those years, we had begun to receive public acclaim, with The National Gallery, the Art Gallery of NSW and the Powerhouse Museum purchasing the work of members. Broadcasts, travelling exhibitions and training schemes continued to foster the Society's original aim: 'to encourage and assist the development of the use of Australian materials and motif in work and design'. In 1974 we moved into The Rocks, to one small upstairs gallery.

Today, we do not have to fine our members sixpence for failure to exhibit work. In fact, they continually demonstrate a keenness to adapt new technologies and materials to the traditions of 'hand-made' craft. And through their participation and commitment, the ideals of those six founding members have endured and grown.

We believe we are the oldest surviving craft organisation in Australia and in 2004 we began a series of exhibitions titled 'From a Little Acorn', 'A Great Gum Grows' and 'Branching Out', culminating in 2006 when we celebrated our hundredth birthday at Manly Regional Art Gallery and Museum with 'Social Riches'.  Exhibits were provided by the Powerhouse Museum and the National Gallery, together with items from our own collection of past members work, combined with the contemporary craft of our current membership.

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The Society of Arts & Crafts of NSW , 1906 -1991


On the 9th August 1906, The Society of Arts and Crafts officially formed. On the 13th August, the first meeting was held. The work exhibited included china painting, repousse brass and leather, a design for a mantel drape, books and sketches. When the fourth meeting was held in November, the level of enthusiasm was so great, that the sixpenny fine was abolished, and by the fifth meeting, the subscription was increased to ten shillings and sixpence. A visitor's evening was arranged for the following March, and a centrally located studio was offered. So, the foundations of The Society were laid


Eighty guests attended the March visitor's meeting and were much interested in the display of art needlework, bookbinding, china painting, designs, leather and metal repousse, photography and woodcarving. A Loan Collection, consisting of embroidery from various countries, some beautiful miniatures and other exhibits, was also shown. Membership was rapidly increasing. Many members travelled to and exhibited at the Australian Exhibition of Women's Work in Melbourne and upon return, an address was made to the monthly meeting, describing the exhibition and the exhibits on display. This led to the adoption of regular lectures as a feature of the Society's activities.


The first Annual Meeting was held, just eighteen months after the Society's inauguration. Associate Members were accepted. Exhibitions had proved so successful, that it was decided a permanent room was needed, where work could be displayed and orders taken. Premises were found, and in April a four day exhibition was opened. Workshops were erected for members to demonstrate their crafts. The Society's first showcase was purchased, and the first window display was created for a Christmas exhibit.


The permenant headquarters had been named 'the depot', but an increase in rent led to its temporary closure. However, by November another exhibition had been arranged, a poster plate for advertising was cut by one member, and during the exhibition, stallholders made copies. Members were also given cards for distribution and invitations were sent out. The Arts and Crafts Society of Victoria sent a representative collection and for the first time an account of a Society exhibition appeared in the daily papers.


The window space, formerly loaned, was taken on a lease, and furnished with a display which included a poster made by one member. This led to an exhibition of posters and 'window cards'. The Society's third Annual Exhibition was held, where examples of work were purchased by the National Art Gallery and the Technological Museum. A library was opened.


Finances now warranted the employment of a paid secretary, in addition to an Honorary Secretary, yet another move occurred. All-day exhibitions, from 11.30 to 6pm were arranged each month, and in November, times were extended to two days to accommodate the English Christmas mail. Lecture evenings were well attended.

our history, next 1912 - 1941