Part two of Felicity Renowden’s piece on Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack. (Part One is here).
Dr (later Sir) James Darling said of Hirschfeld-Mack: ‘He inspired dozens of boys with his integrity, and enthusiasm. He was an almost perfect man . . . a beautiful character and an original teacher’.
A great many of his students took with them into life a love of the Fine Arts. Many were inspired by his lessons on design and art and became designers themselves, architects, art historians and artists.
Australia in the 1940s was a cultural backwater and at GGS there was a certain resistance to the fine arts, particularly abstract art! Hirschfeld-Mack persevered and promoted art in all its forms, challenging the Philistines!
He encouraged self-knowledge and introduced art appreciation including abstract art. He encouraged painting, bookbinding, wood-carving, pottery, theatre set productions and effects, printing, weaving, musical instrument-making, leatherwork, metalwork and other crafts.
Through a colour-coding of strings and keys of guitars and xylophones, he involved many boys who would otherwise not have been engaged musically. The Art School had become a welcoming hub of activity and self-exploration.
There was a purpose to much of the Art School’s practical activities such as making slippers, jackets for those suffering in Europe, pottery items for charity fundraisers, leather straps for skis at Timbertop, musical instruments to be used at community institutions for the disabled. The list is long.
Wrought iron works, gates and sculptures remain at the School as a permanent legacy of this remarkable man. In 2003 The Hirschfeld Mack Centre was opened and named in his honour.
In 1954 he organized in Melbourne an exhibition of the work of his pupils which astounded the art teachers of the day! He was an inspirational teacher who consistently promoted the Bauhaus principles of self-knowledge, economy of material and form, and reform of society through art.
His dedication to art and its importance to peaceful democracies was manifest in his willingness to share his practical skills and beliefs including the significance of Material Studies to Victorian art teachers and to apply his ideas, especially in music, therapeutically. His contribution to the teaching of art in Victoria from kindergartens to tertiary level was immeasurable.
He worked as a consultant to UNESCO in 1963.
Parallel and integral to his life as an art educator was his own artistic expression. His art works reflect his life- expressionistic, abstract, figurative and realistic, varied and fascinating, oils, watercolours, gouches, woodcuts, monoprints, sketches, pottery pieces, sculptures in wrought iron and wood. We are left in no doubt about his yearning for peace, his strong anti-war sentiments, his spiritual beliefs, his love of nature, and especially the Australian bush, his passion for music, his humour, knowledge of colour and dedication to education through art.
Public galleries in Eastern Australia hold over a thousand of his works, the largest collection by far, to be found at the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne. The University’s Grainger Museum houses a significant collection of his hand-crafted musical instruments, a little known part of his legacy.
If your contribution has been vital there will always be somebody to pick up where you left off, and that will be your claim to immortality.
Now is the time for Hirschfeld-Mack’s life to be recognized.
With thanks, Felicity Renowden (and Resi Schwarzbauer)