These intricate model cows made of beeswax and calf hair are an example of a curious form of folk art devised by three sisters in the New England area of NSW in the second half of the nineteenth century. The Gore sisters grew up on several farms and used local materials including river clay, beeswax from wild hives, the hair cut from young calves and the horns of sheep to fashion charming models of animals, primarily cows and calves, but also bullocks, sheep, dogs, horses and kangaroos which were all familiar to them on the land.
A maquette from clay was initially produced then covered in papier mache made from wetted newspaper which was then covered in bees wax. Tiny strands of calf hair were then implanted into the softened wax in a series of layers. Four finely crafted cows were exhibited with success at international exhibitions including Sydney in 1879, Melbourne in 1888, London in 1886, Glasgow in 1888 and Chicago in 1893.
It is not known what inspired the Gore sisters to produce the models. The insertion of calf hair into the wax is similar to the way the hair of expensive dolls was made at the time, while waxwork models of flowers, fruit and sweets was a parlour craft activity for English ladies in the late nineteenth century. Perhaps the girls saw an article about this in a women's magazine. However, any reading matter on the farm was very scarce as they only received one newspaper delivered every three months. It was considered a privilege to be given a sheet of newsprint for the models.
These three cows were made by Wilhelmina Jurd (nee Gore) who began making the models at a young age and continued all her life. Dr Linda Young describes them as a "remarkable and apparently unique Australian craft". The subjects chosen to model were inspired from stock on the farm and fashioned from the raw materials at hand. They required keen observational skills and much patience. The model cows are an example of a charming, unusual and finely-executed craft which evolved independently from the creative application of three young girls on a relatively remote Australian outback station in the late nineteenth century for which they won international acclaim.
Pearson, M.M., 'A Quaint Hobby : Modelling Miniature Cattle' in "The Sydney Morning Herald" undated newspaper clipping c. 1941-2.
Young, Linda, "Mary Jane Gore" http://daao.org.au/main/read/2848
Young, Linda, "The Sydney International Exhibition 1879, University of Sydney MA thesis.
Young, Linda, 'Bush Waxwork: The Gore Cows' in "The Australiana Society Newsletter", No.1 January 1984, pp.14-16.
Information supplied by Mrs Lorraine Tilsed, 1984.
Assistant Curator, Science & Industry