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Rare Trades, Making things by hand in the digital age

14 FEBRUARY 2003

An intriguing exhibition featuring the tools, methods and philosophies of skilled trades people opens at Scienceworks on 18 February, 2003.

Rare Trades will showcase the stories of 24 trades people who have maintained the tools and traditions of often-forgotten trades.

The exhibition provides a fascinating insight into these trades, and features more than 200 objects, including hand-made eyeballs; a travelling tinker's wagon, fully outfitted for its journey through post-war Australia; a Porsche Spyder rebuilt by hand; a movie theatre showing nine trades people explaining their work; plus hundreds of their distinctive tools prickers, jiggers, flatters, beard blocks and ducknib tongs.

The 24 trades people featured are a bladesmith, tinsmith, cooper, wheelwright, blacksmith, stone mason, milliner, wigmaker, bookbinder, scrolling painter, horologist, ocularist, bespoke shoe maker, horse collar maker, weavers, craypot maker, haystack builder, sailmaker, pattern maker, coach builder, saw maker, bridge carpenter, drystone waller and stone tool maker.

In the current "Digital Age" of telephones and keyboards, we rarely use our hands at work to make things. We are distant from the processes that sustain us, and yet just a power failure reminds us of the fragility of our age.

"Rare Trades celebrates the ability to transform raw materials into beautiful and functional objects like tin-smithing and bookbinding; to more unexpected trades like haystack building and glass eye making," said Dawn Casey, Director, National Museum of Australia. This is the first major touring exhibition that has been curated and developed by the National Museum of Australia since it opened in Canberra in March 2001.

The exhibition focuses on the following themes: on the tools an exploration of humans as toolmakers and tool users; transformation the process of changing raw materials by hand and tools into useful objects; passing the knowledge the passing on of trade knowledge, secret and not so secret; the maker's mark the right to put your name to your work; and technology gives, technology takes explores how technological advances relate to these old trades and our feelings for them today.

"The human hand and its dexterity has played a critical role in the way humans have transformed the world," said Gaye Hamilton, Director, Scienceworks. "This is an important exhibition as it tells the stories of skills and trades that have sustained many of our communities and also profiles people who have maintained traditional trade skills in our ever-changing technological world," she said.

Rare Trades is curated by Sophie Jensen, National Museum of Australia, and Mark Thomson, author of the book Rare Trades and the best-selling book Blokes and Sheds.

Sophie Jensen and Mark Thomson are available for interview.

Rare Trades was developed by the National Museum of Australia.

Indemnification for this exhibition is provided by Arts Victoria, Department of Premier and Cabinet.

Rare Trades opens at Scienceworks Museum, Melbourne, on 18 February and will be on display until 11 May, 2003.

The exhibition will also tour nationally, including the National Museum of Australia, Canberra, from 6 June-12 October; the South Australian Maritime Museum, Adelaide, from 11 December-24 April 2004; and the Workshops Rail Museum, Ipswich, from 11 June 2004-10 October 2004.