Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Life By Design

I've made it a rule to always pick up a biography or memoir of a local from every place I visit. I love reading about the places I've just seen and feel more a part of that person's life after walking the streets they walked and seeing the same vistas, no matter how changed, they saw. In the National Gallery of Victoria gift shop, I bought "A Life by Design. The Art and Lives of Florence Broadhurst" by Siobhan O'Brien and read the entire book on the flight home to NY.

Known in Australia not only for her famous wallpaper designs which were available for purchase at home and abroad by the wealthy elite of the 1960s but also for her grisly and still unsolved murder in 1977, Florence Broadhurst was one of the most eccentric women I've ever read about. Sporting bright red hair and black kohl lined eyes until her death, I found myself both admiring and abhorring Florence for the lies she told and sheer determination to get what she wanted.

Born in Queensland in 1899, Florence was a singer, performer, entrepreneur, painter, and wallpaper designer who lived abroad in Shanghai and England before returning to Australia to live in Sydney, where she denied her Australian heritage telling people instead that she was British. Throughout her life was constantly reinventing herself, going from profession to profession and creating a personal history to fit her needs. Most impressive was her wild abandon to follow her heart and to do everything in her power to mold herself into the woman she wanted to be, even if that contradicted who she was last year. Most tragic was the nature of her death, a gruesome murder in her Paddington neighborhood of Sydney, where evidence showed the 78 year old woman defended herself against who many believe was a person she knew.

I developed a small obsession with Florence during my last week in Sydney. I wanted desperately to buy a souvenir that sported one of her wallpaper designs, for they are everywhere- on rugs, linens, bags. But alas, I had exceeded my budget in Melbourne! I did, however, make a pilgrimage to Royalston St. in Paddington where Florence's final studio resided. I'm not sure which building housed the studio, but it excited me to know I was on the street where Florence created her masterpieces, and lived out her final dreams as an artist.

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