Sunday, July 19, 2015

Do visit NERAM's The Art of Wool Exhibition while you can

Some days things just don't go right.

I was writing the second in my series on fissures and divides in Australian politics. I started about six, but found it slow going because of the topic plus the need to check links.

About ten, I went out to buy some coffee and a little stuff for dinner. Walking back from the shop up a side way  I had a fall. My right foot caught is some plastic wrapping used in packing sticking out from behind a barricade and I went down quite heavily.

A nice Chinese family helped me up. I wasn't hurt beyond abrasions and a sore leg, but I was shaken up. Both the coffee and the curry paste bottles were broken, so I came home in a down mood.I then found I couldn't concentrate. I ended up putting the post aside and read a book. Still restless and unwilling to think of serious things, feeling in need of a cheer up, I decided to visit the New England Regional Art Museum site. There is something soothing about art when you are feeling down.

Both the top illustration and this one are from the current The Art of Wool Exhibition.

I love wool. I grew up when Australia was still seen as riding on the sheep's back. More importantly, I grew up in a wool growing area.

I was a townie, not a country person, but I had family and friends who were on the land, so I had a fair bit of contact with sheep from an early age.

I quickly formed the view, one that I have never changed, that sheep were remarkably silly animals. Lambs were silly too, but very endearing. While sheep were silly, I wasn't frightened of them. This compares with an early experience with a goose with young who was just about as big as I was then. That was scary, frightening to the point that I can still remember it clearly now.

With sheep with their rolls of wool, they could be pushed, you could run your fingers through the greasy wool.

As kids, we used to run up to the shearing shed to play. There were the shearing machines, the races, the wood floors stained with grease. The wool presses for making the bails. Sometimes, if we were lucky, we were there during shearing.

This 1933 Robert Johnson painting, part of the NERAM permanent collection, is included in The Age of Wool Exhibition.

Later, I wore wool by preference when I could. I loved the thick woolen jumpers, the wool suits were nice on the skin. With research, wool became more versatile, some of the textiles lighter.My new suit has a little cashmire, but is a lovely, smooth, comfortable clothing.

This last illustration shows another exhibit in The Art of Wool Exhibition.

To this day, I don't quite understand what happened to wool. Wool promotion and the woolmark seemed to be doing such a good job in promoting wool in the face of price and other competitive pressures.

I am well aware of the economic forces and of policy responses such as the reserve price scheme.  However, that is not a sufficient explanation.

Rightly or wrongly, I blame the decline in part on that dreaded policy instability that seems to affect government, the desire to apply new models and principles to things that are actually working quite well.

I must leave this post here. My leg is still sore, but working my way through the reproductions while writing this post has restored my sense of equilibrium.

The exhibition finishes on 2 August. Get there if you can.    


Winton Bates said...

Sorry to hear about your fall.
It is good that the wool market seems to have picked up in recent months.
I was puzzled by your reference to policy instability in the wool industry. I presume your comment related to wool promotion and was not meant to imply that the government should have persisted with the reserve price scheme.
I can remember reading something by Bob Richardson about the problems of promoting wool, which I thought might be worth sharing.You will remember Bob from UNE. Unfortunately, I didn't find the article I was looking for, but I found Bob's obituary. A sad loss:
It is getting late so I will leave it there. Sorry my comment is not more coherent.

Anonymous said...

Yes, agree with Winton's hope that your fall is quickly forgotten.

Your mention of the reserve price scheme brought back memories of the political kerfuffle over that point in time where the government had generated an enormous stockpile of the stuff, with little hope of offloading it. Whatever happened to that? A change of fashion tastes, I guess. Remarkable how the fortunes of one of our primary industries rests so heavily on decisions of taste made so far away from the point of production.

And this muse lead me in turn to a brilliant piece of dialogue from the film The Devil Wears Prada - which I've just looked up to demonstrate:

You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select, I don't know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back.

But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise. It's not lapis. It's actually cerulean. And you're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent, wasn't it, who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here.

And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin.

However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs, and it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff.

Best bit of freeform economic commentary I've heard/read in a long time!


Jim Belshaw said...

Thank's kvd and Winton for wishes re the fall. I'm fine, just still a bit sore. A reminder of human fragility.

Bob was a sad loss, Winton. Thank's for relinking me to the obituary. My comment did indeed relate to promotion. It was also a comment written from a consumer rather than policy perspective. Wool seemed to have a clear branding strategy that was linked to research and gave it a clear market position as a prestige and increasingly useful fibre. Then in the space of less than a decade, wool as a brand effectively vanished.

Love that film, kvd. The wool stockpile did eventually vanish, with Bob playing a significant role in that. I'm sure that shifts in fashion (and price) were important, but I also think that the shifts in wool promotion contributed to the decline.

Unknown said...

It may be so re the promotion Jim, but my vision of the scheme (positive) was quickly changed when I was told about the thousands of tonnes of good grade wool, paid for (eventually) by the farmer and the taxpayer, which had sat so long without a buyer that it had set like concrete and both it, and soon of the wool stores it was in, had to be destroyed. This was from one of the folks who were charged with disposing of the wool any way they could.

Uneconomic purchases will never make sense. They are subsidisation disguised as marketing.

In the meantime, our crap wool was being sold to China at market prices and sold back to us as carpet.

2 tanners said...

Above comment from 2 tanners. Also, don't forget the decades for which our currency was manipulated, again to assist farmers. Floating the dollar may have been the death knell for this kind of state buying, at least by Australia.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi 2t. The reserve price scheme was an absolute stuff-up. You could mount an economic case, but that depended on very sensible management that proved impossible.