Exhibition Insight... Kinder, Küche, Kirche: Revisiting the Traditions of Barossan Women’s Folk Crafts
Women’s domestic craft practices often reveal the wealth of skill, creativity and ingenuity that is produced in the private sphere of the home for the benefit of their family, friends and community. In the German Lutheran communities of the Barossa, traditional folk crafts have long been practiced by women as a means to maintain their distinctive cultural identity, express religious values, commemorate familial events and solidify community bonds.
Words by Caitlin Eyre
Kinder, Küche, Kirche features artwork by contemporary female artists and craft practitioners in response to the historical folk crafts and cultural traditions of the German migrant women who settled in the Barossa. Popularised throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the German slogan Kinder, Küche, Kirche (“children, kitchen, church”) was used to outline the idealised traditional role of women as good Lutheran mothers, housewives and moral guardians within their family and the community. While much of the craftwork that women performed was routine and often utilitarian in nature, such as darning and mending, their skill and creativity was still revered in the decoration of domestic objects to make the family home comfortable and cheerful.[i] Commemorative craftwork undertaken to preserve and celebrate key events in family life, such as births, christenings, marriages, anniversaries and deaths also served an important function in enriching the bonds of affection in both the family and community as a whole.
The German migrants who settled in the Barossa were largely farmers and craftsmen who originated from the rural, religiously conservative southeast border region of Prussia. The folk art traditions and material culture they brought with them reflected their Silesian heritage and Lutheran beliefs. While the overarching aesthetic of the German migrants’ material culture was essentially austere and simple, these objects nonetheless displayed great harmony, consideration and skill in their design, decoration and execution. The physical and cultural isolation of the close-knit German settlements largely acted to preserve the traditional aesthetics and techniques of their culture well into the twentieth century. As historian Noris Ioannou noted, “it was in the Barossa, more so than anywhere else in Australia, that traditional Germanic decorative arts flourished”.[ii]
Women’s skills in the textile arts were particularly directed towards making clothing and domestic items for their families. Such items ranged from making and repairing everyday objects to creating more decorative and complex celebratory items, particularly for special events. The embroidered smokers’ cap and braces kindly loaned by Marjorie Wendt display the great skill of German women in decorating clothing with intricate embellishments. Made in Hahndorf, in 1894, by a young woman as a gift for her future husband, these items were fashioned from velvet, embroidered with brightly coloured pearl cotton and decorated with beads. The costume provided by Rita Koehler offers an example of a traditional Schleswig Hostein Tracht, one of several regional costumes of Flensburg in the northern province of Germany.
Whitework was a particularly common form of embroidery in the Barossa and consisted of white thread embroidered on white cloth. The technique appears to have been particularly favoured among German Lutheran communities for the association of the colour white to purity, cleanliness and austerity, making it a popular embroidery technique for both domestic and ecclesiastical textiles.[i] Whitework was used to subtly yet intricately embellish bedding and both everyday and special occasion clothing. Contemporary artist Deborah Prior utilises whitework in Domestic White Work, 2019, a series of wall hangings that offer a post-colonial exploration of race relations in Australian history as well as hinting at the ‘civilising’ practices of German Lutheran missionaries in relation to Indigenous Australians.
White lace also featured prominently throughout the German home in the form of decorative doilies, framed pictures, dress collars, bedding and decorative cloths. Contemporary textile and glass artist Ursula Halpin translates the delicate patterns and intricate handiwork of lacemaking into glass to express the fragile resilience of women through times of trauma and hardship. While the four glass doilies, Snoite Go Cnámh, Ag Eachtraíocht, Faoi Dhlaoi and Gréasán Achrannach, 2019, feature Irish lace patterns that reflect Halpin’s Irish heritage, the artworks also serve as a symbolic tribute to the matriarchal lineage of women’s craft knowledge worldwide.
Women’s crafts also played an important role in the ecclesiastical life of the community, through both the crafting of textiles to adorn sacred spaces and the making of domestic objects that reinforced religious messages in everyday life.
Contemporary German-born lacemaker Brigitte Jeanson has produced a number of traditional German decorations that feature lace including a Christmas candleholder and a heart-shaped window ornament. These items offer a glimpse of the kinds of decorative objects that are being crafted by German women today. In addition to the generous loaning of historical lace from Germany, fellow German-born lace maker Brigitta Keane (with assistance from jeweller Dianne Hedger) has created a lace and multimedia sculpture that celebrates the tradition of winemaking in the Barossa. In contrast to traditional, largely two dimensional white lace, The Harvest 2019 features a brightly coloured lace vine leaf and a bunch of spherical lace grapes resting in an open hand, the pieces propped up with wire in a sculptural display.
Women’s crafts also played an important role in the ecclesiastical life of the community, through both the crafting of textiles to adorn sacred spaces and the making of domestic objects that reinforced religious messages in everyday life. Framed embroidered marriage and anniversary certificates were a particularly prominent textile to display in the German Lutheran home and were a reminder of the centrality of family life in the community, marriage as the catalyst for children (and thus the continuation of the faith) and the sacramental sanctity of marriage within the church. Embroidery kits commemorating Green, Silver, Golden and Diamond wedding anniversaries were imported from Germany to continue the community’s tradition. Contemporary textile artist Makeda Duong reinterprets these embroidered wedding records in Relationship Status, 2019, by exploring the way social media allows users display their success in relationships to their community online. Framed by a spray of silver foliage, the gold and silver embroidered text offers the contemporary blessing: ‘May you traverse Tinder with Joy; May you block and delete with impunity; May you find true connection; Swipe right’.
Leatherwork was a commonplace craft in the Barossa, with leatherworkers making use of cowhides as well as the newly available kangaroo skins within their workshops. While men often dominated the commercial leather market, German women would obtain scraps of leather from local saddlers and harness makers to make both utilitarian and decorative items for the home. Decorative picture frames featuring ornate flowers and foliage created entirely from leather are exquisite historical artefacts from the German communities of the Barossa. In a contemporary reworking of such botanical displays, Rose-Anne Russell has crafted a series of framed and domed native Australian flowers from leather that represent the flora of her homeland and pay homage to the new and unfamiliar land the German settlers came to call home.
The crafting of fake flowers was a particularly prominent female craft pursuit throughout the nineteenth century, with many makers taking great delight in producing highly realistic flowers that intrigued the viewer with their everlasting beauty. While most arrangements typically featured recognisable European flower varieties such as roses, dahlias, sunflowers, convolvulus and daisies from the migrants’ ancestral homeland, fanciful blooms were also incorporated at the creative whim of the maker. Through her domed ceramic floral displays, Errinerung 48 Roses, 2019, Kylie Waters explores the traditional tributes found in cemeteries throughout the Barossa, where artificial handmade flowers fashioned from silk, glass beads and other materials were encased in a glass dome as an everlasting memorial to the deceased.
German Lutheran women were expected to be frugal and resourceful in their housekeeping and were therefore quite creative in finding uses for odd items. Foilwork appears to have been a little known variation of the popular nineteenth century craft of ‘tinselwork’ or ‘tinsel painting’, a primarily female pastime that was often taught in girls’ schools and featured in women’s craft magazines. In the Barossa, the technique of foilwork was used to create framed illuminated texts that proclaimed religious catechisms or common German mottoes, much like their embroidered counterparts. In this form of foilwork, text was copied onto the reverse side of a sheet of glass using a glycerine-based cream sprayed with a dark pigment. When dry the glycerine was wiped off, leaving behind the stencilled transparent text. Crumpled foil from discarded sweet or cigarette wrappers was then pasted onto the reverse side of the glass to illuminate the text on the dark background. Contemporary Barossa-based craftswoman Joy Day has created a series framed foilwork pictures depicting floral motifs, letters of the alphabet and a religious text. In the creation of these artworks, Day has used traditional foilwork methods gleaned during her lifetime in the Barossa, underscoring the unique craft knowledge that continues to permeate the region today.
Framed by a spray of silver foliage, the gold and silver embroidered text offers the contemporary blessing: ‘May you traverse Tinder with Joy; May you block and delete with impunity; May you find true connection; Swipe right’
The resourcefulness and ingenuity of the German housewife in transforming recycled and foraged materials is also echoed in the range of homewares crafted by Tanunda-based ceramicist Ilona Glastonbury. Her practice is centred on making sustainable handmade objects with materials sourced from within a one hundred mile radius of her home, much as the isolated rural German housewife would have endeavoured to achieve. While the It was always about zero waste… 2019 range was made from commercially dug South Australian stoneware clay, Glastonbury has recently gained the local First Nations custodians’ permission to dig her own clay in the Barossa.
While women’s crafts were often performed as a solitary pursuit, it is essential to underscore the important role that community played and continues to play in the development of craft projects. The skills and knowledge that women required in order to make craft objects were passed down through the generations and formed an important cornerstone of women’s time together and their contribution to the family home and the broader community. The Barossa branch of the Embroiderers’ Guild of South Australia continues this matriarchal lineage of craft knowledge through the sharing of techniques and the creation of collaborative craft objects. Created as a tribute to the way the seasons shape and transform the Barossa, the embroidered picture. Seasons in the Barossa, 2011 is a collaborative project, designed by Una Grimshaw, and produced by the sixteen members of the Guild. The picture depicts key motifs from the farmed landscape of the Barossa and acts as a sampler of the various embroidery styles mastered by the group’s individual members.
The German Lutheran women who migrated to Australia and settled in the Barossa have left a rich tradition of decorative folk crafts through both their own efforts in making and the handing down of knowledge and skill through the generations. By displaying and elevating the domestic craft practices of these women, this exhibition both preserves the precious matriarchal knowledge of the past and celebrates the living traditions of today’s contemporary female artists and craft practitioners.
Kinder, Küche, Kirche: Revisiting the Traditions of Barossan Women’s Folk Crafts is exhibiting at JamFactory Seppeltsfield until 15 September 2019.
Joy Day, Makeda Duong, Ilona Glastonbury, Ursula Halpin, Brigitte Jeanson, Brigitta Keane, Rita Koehler, Deborah Prior, Rose-Anne Russell and Kylie Waters.
Ioannou, Noris. Barossa Journeys: Into A Valley of Tradition, 1997, Adelaide: Paringa Press.
Ioannou, Noris. The Barossa Folk: Germanic Furniture and Craft Traditions in Australia, 1995, Sydney: Craftsman House.
Whitenight, John. Under Glass: A Victorian Obsession, 2013, Atglen: Schiffer Publishers.
 Traditional folk crafts undertaken by German women in the Barossa in the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth century were largely textile crafts such as embroidery (particularly whitework and redwork), Berlin woolwork, knitting, sewing, quilting crochet and needlework. However, women also undertook a number of more unusual crafts, such as pokerwork, chip carving, leatherwork, foilwork and the making of pictures and flowers crafted from wax, hair, feathers, pinecones, leaves and seashells.
 Noris Ioannou, Barossa Journeys: Into A Valley of Tradition, 1997, Adelaide: Paringa Press, p.166
 Noris Ioannou, The Barossa Folk: Germanic Furniture and Craft Traditions in Australia, 1995, Sydney: Craftsman House, p.280