Inside the Collection

The Collings Christmas Card Collection

Christmas card featuring portrait photographs of the Collings family, designed by Dahl and Geoffrey Collings
Christmas card featuring portrait photographs of the Collings family, designed by Dahl and Geoffrey Collings

With the holiday season fast approaching we thought it was an opportune time to highlight one of the collections being catalogued by archives staff this year, 2007/30/1 the archives of Dahl and Geoffrey Collings, part of which has a strong Christmas/New Year theme.

Dahl and Geoffrey Collings were artists, graphic designers, photographers, and documentary film makers who for most of their long careers in the visual arts sector worked as a team. Dahl (Dulcie May) Collings née Willmott (1909-1988) was born on 26 December 1909 in the Adelaide, South Australia suburb of Mile End. Her family moved to Sydney when she was a young child after her father accepted a teaching position with Sydney Boys High School. She studied drawing, painting and sculpture at East Sydney Technical College for six years (twice winning the annual drawing scholarship) and painting for two years in the studio of James Samuel Watkins. Her first job was with the department store Anthony Hordern and Sons where she worked on the house magazine Hordernian Monthly. She also did freelance art work for the department stores Farmer and Company and David Jones and also designed covers for Home magazine which was published by Sydney Ure Smith and the Sydney Morning Herald.

Geoffrey Collings (1905-2000) was born in the Brisbane, Queensland, suburb of Hamilton on 10 November 1905. After primary school he studied art at Brisbane Technical College. He then worked as a trainee commercial artist in Brisbane including a period at George N. Orr’s agency, which was the first advertising agency in Brisbane. After the death of his mother in 1925 he left for the outback where he worked for a couple of years on properties in Queensland and the Northern Territory. In one document in the archives he described his work as ‘cattle, sheep, jackaroo, droving, drover’s cook, rouseabout, shearing, scrub cutting, well boring’. He returned to Brisbane in 1927 and freelanced as a commercial artist until 1930 when he left for London. There he worked as Assistant Studio Manager (Typography and Graphics) for the book distributors W. H Smith and Sons. He also attended night classes in painting and drawing at St Martins School of Art and in etching at the Central School of Art and Design.

During 1933 Dahl Willmott and Geoffrey Collings met in Sydney after Geoffrey Collings had returned from England to live in Australia. They were married on 15 December 1933.

In 1935 Dahl and Geoffrey Collings went to London where they worked until 1938; Geoffrey as Art Director within the London office of the American advertising agency Erwin Wasey and Company and Dahl as a freelance graphic designer. During 1936 she also worked with Professor Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, a leading designer from the Bauhaus School, on the interior design and presentation of the Simpson’s Department Store in Piccadilly. Dahl Collings always described Moholy-Nagy as the greatest influence on her career.

Market, Spain, Geoffrey and Dahl Collings, 1936
Market, Catalonia, Spain, Geoffrey and Dahl Collings, 1936

While in England the Collings’ took the opportunity to travel across the Channel to France and then further into Europe. They were both avid photographers and took a large number of photographs during their travels which we plan to catalogue during 2012. We have included a photo taken during a trip they made to the Catalonian region of Spain in 1936 just before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War showing one of the town markets. In the medieval town of Alquezar the Collings’ also made their first documentary film.

In 1937 Dahl and Geoffrey Collings’ first child, Donna, was born in London. This card was designed by Dahl and Geoffrey Collings for Christmas 1937 and incorporates black and white photographs of all three members of the family. 1937 was a year of international turmoil – the Spanish Civil War was raging, the Second Sino-Japanese War had begun, and there were great concerns about Germany’s intentions. The incorporation by the Collings of the dove of peace in their design reflects heightened community concerns about international developments.

In subsequent posts we will look at a selection of Christmas and New Year’s cards produced by friends and professional colleagues of Dahl and Geoffrey Collings and also detail more about their careers.

Paul Wilson, Project Archivist, with Anne-Marie Van de Ven, Curator

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