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art forum CONVERSATION: John McPhee

Presented by ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences

Craftsman, industrial designer, entrepreneur and advocate, Fred Ward is a key figure in the history of Australian decorative arts. His design work in Melbourne in the 1930s and 1940s encompassed domestic and commercial interiors, modular furniture for the Myer Emporium, even the carriages of The Spirit of Progress for the Victorian Railways.

In 1952 Ward won the competition for the design of the furniture and furnishings of University House and he was subsequently appointed head of the Australian National University’s design unit; his work can be seen across the ANU campus, as well as in Roy Grounds’ Academy of Science building. In outlining the career of this most significant of mid-century designers, Mr McPhee will bring to bear not only his profound knowledge of modernist furniture making in Australia, but also his own long and close association with Canberra.

John McPhee worked in Australian art museums and was the inaugural Curator of Australian Decorative Arts and later Senior Curator of Australian Art at the National Gallery of Australia, and Deputy Director of the National Gallery of Victoria. Since 1997 he has worked as an independent art historian and curator. He has curated numerous exhibition and is the author of books on John Glover, Joseph Lycett, and Australian decorative and popular arts.


Ward (1900-1990) (Four easy chairs and a coffee table for Myer emporium) 1931-49. Pencil. Fred Ward Archive collection, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney