Koalas (Native bears) selling Australia - posters
Acquiring posters into the collection
11 August 2010
The Australian Collection Development section acquires posters for the Library's Poster Collection. There are currently around 12,000 posters in the collection. Posters present information in a visual form - artworks, photographs, collages -and are selected because they are on some aspect of Australia, eg, ANZAC Day, national parks, travel posters featuring Australia. They are not generally bought for their artistic merit - we are looking for a graphic representation of information or opinion. Only a representative sample of all the available posters is acquired based on the Library's Collection Development Policy for posters. How are posters selected for the Poster Collection? When we receive sale catalogues from antiquarian dealers we make a selection based on the known strengths and weaknesses of the Poster Collection. We check our existing holdings to see if we already have an exact or similar copy of the poster. It is then assessed on its significance and rarity and whether there is another similar copy in Australia. After a robust discussion of the many factors a decision is made whether to purchase the poster or not. Koalas are a good example to show the type of factors taken into consideration. Koalas are one of Australia's iconic marsupials and have an uncanny resemblance to the teddy bear. They are loved by Australians and the world alike. They are unique and appear on Australian coins, artworks, literature and advertising. Koalas immediately conjure up Australia and are a popular subject on travel posters to Australia. Australian and overseas artists depict this cuddly animal differently and getting different perspectives provide a glimpse of how others around the world view Australia. However there is a problem - koalas sit in trees, eat and sleep - and apparently don't do much more. The artistic challenge for the travel poster artist is to make this image interesting and different, and to sell Australia to the tourists. The Library is interested in collecting depictions of the range of ways that koalas have been represented in posters. Koalas can be painted anatomically correctly or incorrectly; in a representational or abstract way; with or without a cub on Mum's back or front; as one koala or in a group; with or without an interesting background; in trees or on the ground; in the wild or in a zoo; in the arms of a person; anthropomorphised; in frontal, side or back profiles; from an unusual perspective; or a different mixture of these elements. The list goes on. If there are obvious or subtle differences which make a poster significant, then it is selected for possible acquisition. A recent sales catalogue offered a poster by artist James Northfield which shows a female with a cub clinging to her back sitting in a tree. It is an accurate representation of a koala showing the artist's confident interpretation including the koalas' strength, cuteness and cuddliness. It shows an Australian's view of our fascinating Phascolarctos cinereus. The Library has quite a number of travel posters depicting koalas as artwork. No surprise there. However it does not have a poster exclusively featuring koalas by James Northfield. Northfield is regarded as one of Australia's most important commercial artists who worked in Australia between the 1920's and 1960's. The Library has his personal papers in the Manuscripts collection and to have a comprehensive collection of his posters would complement and build on this archive and support research into this important artist. One of the Northfield posters held by the Library is Fauna Australia which includes many Aussie animals and two koalas (Mum & bub). To acquire the Northfield poster which is being offered for sale would not only complement the personal papers, the Fauna Australia poster, and increase the number of Northfield posters held by the Library to 39, but it would also provide a record of how Northfield depicted koalas and used them in a commercial context. The poster's condition is an important factor and buying one in poor condition would require conservation work with its additional costs. Price is another important factor with the Library having to balance value for money with the poster's significance. All these factors build up a picture of the poster's signficance. A decision was made to purchase the work. It has been catalogued and added to the Poster Collection.