Friday, July 16, 2010

The Block Arcade: Spectacular Ceilings

The Collins Street entrance to the Block Arcade is flanked by two shops featuring spectacular ceilings. When I began this blog, I knew I had to post on these ceilings as they are often missed by busy Melburnians! The first ceiling can be found in the shop now occupied by the women's fashion store, Chelsea. A glimpse of the ceiling can be seen from the outside (photo below). 

In 1907, the Singer Sewing Company commissioned the scenic artist, Phillip Goatcher, to paint this beautiful ceiling mural. The American company had moved into the premises in 1902 and wished to have a stand-out ceiling which would attract customers and represent new technologies of the time. 

As such, references to mathematics, chemistry and medicine are incorporated into the ceiling painting. Goatcher depicts these modern pursuits in classical and idyllic terms, which to me seems reminiscent of the murals of Mervyn Napier Wallace. Not only does the painting seek to establish the Singer Sewing Company as being on a par with significant technologies, it also suggests that technology is harmonious with classical ideals. The pastoral-like scenes takes on added significance as the country played such a major role in Australia's economy and sense of identity, especially back at this time. 

On the day I went to take these images, several customers in the Chelsea store looked up to see what I was photographing. One woman told me that despite shopping in the store for years, she had never noticed the spectacular ceiling! If you are ever walking past the Chelsea shop, be sure to take a glance at the ceiling through the window as you pass. It is a beautiful sight which is too often and too easily missed!

The second interesting ceiling can be found in the Wittner shoe shop, on the left of the Collins Street entrance, and adjacent to Chelsea. A glimpse of this ceiling can also easily be seen by looking through the window as you pass. 

This beautifully elaborate pressed metal ceiling was installed by Kodak over one hundred years ago. Kodak opened its first Melbourne shop at this premises at a time when cameras were first becoming accessible. In the early days, the Kodak slogan was "You press the button, and we’ll do the rest!" 

In both Wittner and Chelsea, painstaking effort has been undertaken so as not to interfere with the historical ceilings. The lighting of both stores is unattached from the ceiling (e.g Wittner uses hanging beams for lighting). I noticed that this gives the shops a slightly make-shift feel which makes them appear less professional than they might hope. The more recent elements appear incongruous with the ceilings, proving that a merging of old and new is more difficult than successful endeavours in this field would reveal! However, I think it is fabulous that the integrity of the ceilings has been maintained in both cases. The next time you are in the Block Arcade, please take a quick look through the window and let me know what you think!

Buckrich, Judith, Collins: The Story of Australia's Premier Street (2005)
Cannon, Michael, The Land Boomers (1966) 

Photos: My own, 2010


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Anonymous said...

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