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John Rodriquez Textile Collection

Greeting Card - John Rodriquez, Aboriginal Design, 1950s

Image: Greeting Card - John Rodriquez, Aboriginal Design, 1950s

Source: Museum Victoria

John Rodriquez (1928-2000) studied art and design at RMIT in the late 1940s and became well known for his textile designs in the early 1950s. From 1950 to 1980 John was one of a handful of Australian textile designers who developed a new contemporary style with innovative use of colour. John's designs in the early 1950s were mostly of Aboriginal or geometric style. Later he turned to more abstract designs in the Scandinavian style. Later still he made bold use of colour. John introduced unique Australian styles which have been imitated often since. He always stressed the importance of innovation. Many homes in Australia and overseas still have his art works in the linen cupboard.

John's grandmother, with whom he lived, encouraged his drawing and painting ability while at school. John's artistic talent blossomed at Upwey High School during World War II. He won a scholarship to RMIT where he studied design and painting under George Bell. After the War the absence of imports allowed local talent to flourish. John mixed dyes in the household blender and screenprinted his own designs on handkerchiefs, greeting cards and place mats on his kitchen table. He sold his work at Georges of Melbourne and The Primrose Pottery Shop in Little Collins Street.

After two years he moved to a rented garage, then six years later, in 1957, he moved to a small factory, where he printed furnishing fabrics and was contracted to supply a Victorian hospitals with curtains. John had a strong eye for colour and style, and refused to compromise good design for commercialism. He was soon selling his work through many retail outlets, including David Jones and Marion Best in NSW, as well as most interior decorating shops in Victoria. One design, featuring a corroboree, sold hundreds of yards. Some dress fabrics were produced on an exclusive basis for dress manufacturers, such as Georges' special summer range. The design for the 1956 Olympics was made into skirts and sold "like hot cakes", according to John.
In 1972 Rodriquez Pty Ltd expanded to two factories and John decided to stop printing furnishing fabric to concentrate on producing tea towels and other gift items of a higher standard of design and colour. The designs were printed on pure linen and cotton, featuring Australian flora and fauna as well as modern designs in Scandinavian style. Over the following two years John travelled to Europe twice to establish markets in Rome, West Berlin and Amsterdam for tea towels and pot holders. In 1975 his son Rimian joined the business.

By 1983 Rodriquez Pty Ltd was producing a large range of pure linen tea towels featuring Australian designs, with flowering gum, bottle brush, jumping kangaroo and koala designs the best sellers. The company also printed commissioned designs for The National Trust, churches, specialist shops, schools, and other organisations. Table and kitchen gift items included pot holders, oven mits, aprons and place mats. The collections of the National Gallery in Canberra and the Powerhouse Museum include several lengths of John's furnishing fabric, which were also popular for women's clothing.

John's work was featured in an exhibition 'The Australian Dream' at the Powerhouse Museum in the 1990s, and has been displayed at Canberra's National Gallery as background to a setting of Grant Featherstone's furniture.

The John Rodriquez Textile Collection at Museum Victoria includes several smaller samples of fabric designs from the post-war period; 1950s Christmas card featuring Indigenous motifs; 1970s wall hangings; domestic items such as tea towels and mixmaster and wine cask covers; Scandinavian style potholders; and Australian flora and fauna designs. All items were screen printed by hand.

John retired in 1988, handing the Rodriquez company to his son Rimian, who has automated the screen printing process. He still uses a few of his father's most popular designs. 

References: 
Donor, Rodriquez Textile Collection.
John Rodriquez' own summary of his professional life.
John Rodriquez obituary published in The Age, October 2000.

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