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A10060 Animal figures (3), model cows, and information sheet, beeswax/papier-mache/cow hair/canna lily seeds/paper, handmade, made by Wilhelmina Jurd, New England area, New South Wales, Australia, 1870-1912. Click to enlarge.

Miniature wax cows

Made in Australia, Oceania, 1870-1912.

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 wer...

Summary

Object No.

A10060

Object Statement

Animal figures (3), model cows, and information sheet, beeswax/papier-mache/cow hair/canna lily seeds/paper, handmade, made by Wilhelmina Jurd, New England area, New South Wales, Australia, 1870-1912

Physical Description

Three life-like miniature cow figures, modelled out of papier mache with a coat of beeswax applied. The smooth coat effect of each cow's fur was achieved by painstakingly inserting a few calf hairs at a time. The tiny hooves, udders and mouths are beeswax and the horns are shaped from the horns of sheep. The cows are depicted in three different positions: one cow is grazing, another is sitting down resting, while the third is standing and looks alert. The cows are accompanied by a hand-written, illustrated chart which describes the making of the cows.

Production

Notes

The intricate and finely-crafted models were made by Wilhelmina Jurd (nee Gore) who grew up on several properties on the New England tablelands in NSW in the second half of the nineteenth century. It appears the process by which the models were made was devised by Wilhelmina and her sisters, Mary Jane and Martha, as young girls. It involved constructing the basic form of the model from river clay, then treating it with pipe clay to make a maquette or base. Over this, small pieces of damp newspaper (papier mache) were applied to build up the required shape. When dry, the model was cut open and the clay core removed and more papier mache applied.

A layer of softened wax was applied over the papier mache. It was obtained from wild hives in trees and the honey was squeezed out and enjoyed by the family as a delicacy. The remaining beeswax was melted over a home-made candle which comprised an old tin filled with river sand into which the cone of a Banksia or Bottle Brush was inserted. This would then burn for hours.

The finely textured coats of the model cows were made from the cut hair of two to six-week-old calves. These were about three quarters of an inch long and had to be specially sorted into colours and stored in layers on a sheet of brown paper. From there tiny cuts of hair were taken, six strands at a time, and inserted into the wax model with a glob of wax softened in the flame of the cone candle. The process continued in layers working up from the hooves to the top of the model and finishing with the belly.

Canna Lily seeds or shoe buttons, if available, were used for the eyes, the tail was a longer length of hair rolled from the top and tied in a strip of brown paper for curling then pulled down gently until the correct length and amount of curl was achieved. The horns were carved from sheep horns, after the sheep had been slaughtered on the property. The horns were pared down to size with a pocket knife and finished off with Wilhelmina's eye tooth, which eventually had to be gold capped. The ears were made separately, from beeswax and hair, and attached last with the tail and horns.

The accompanying illustrated chart was prepared by the maker's grand daughter, Mrs Lorraine Tilsed.

Made

Australia, Oceania 1870-1912

History

Notes

The three model cows were made by Wilhelmina Gore who was born on 4 January 1861 at Stroud, NSW, the daughter of Irish immigrants, Richard Gore and Sarah Nelson. Wilhelmina was the 6th of nine children born between 1852 and 1870, including Theresa Frances Gore b. 1852, Sarah Ellen Gore b. 1854, Richard Nelson Gore b. 1856, Mary Jane Gore 1858-1944, Martha Ann Gore 1859-1940, William Henry Gore b. 1864, Ralph Gore b.1866 and Eleanor Gore b.1870.

The family lived at a number of stations near Uralla where their father worked, including 'Box Water', 'Eversleigh' and 'Torryburn'. Of the family, only the three middle Gore sisters, Mary Jane, Martha and Wilhelmina made the wax models. In a newspaper interview in the early 1940s Wilhelmina recalled they began making the models at a young age, with apparently a full-size cow which they fashioned in black clay so that it appeared to be stranded in a mud bog. It apparently seemed so realistic that passersby tried to rescue it.

The girls went on to model miniature horses, sheep and dogs but preferred cows because their colours were prettier. When they were in their late teens the girls exhibited four wax cows in the Ladies Court of the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879 held in the Garden Palace. Their exhibit was judged Highly Commended and the exhibition report noted "the modelling shows a great deal of natural talent, worthy of encouragement". "The Sydney Morning Herald" referred to them as the "untaught daughters of a shepherd".

Wilhelmina married John Jurd on 19 August 1886 at St Peter's Anglican Cathedral, Armidale, and even described her occupation on her marriage certificate as a "modeller in wax" The Jurds lived at Bundarra, Tenterfield and later in Sydney. After her marriage, Wilhelmina continued making the model animals which included cows, horses and greyhound dogs, for family members and friends but apparently never for any monetary reward.

By the 1940s Wilhelmina was living in the Sydney suburb of Coogee and made a donkey and cows for an Ashfield church crèche. Even in her 70s she was still enjoying this unusual craft as well as the more conventional embroidery, crocheting patchwork quilts and knitting socks for soldiers. Some of her models were exhibited during the Second World at the David Jones department store in Sydney to raise money for the Red Cross. Her models also featured in a Cinesound Movietone newsreel shot by Ken Hall, a copy of which unfortunately does not appear to have survived. Wilhelmina died in Sydney in September 1953. These three cows passed to her granddaughter, Mrs Lorraine Tilsed, who donated them to the Museum in 1984.

Other examples of the Gore sisters' craft survive. A bullock team of eight yoked bullocks hauling a wagon is at the National Trust-owned property, Saumarez homestead, near Armidale while eleven wax animals are in the collection of Museum Victoria. These were made by Mary Jane Gore who from 1881 was the wife of James Johnston of Armidale who ran a dairy. Three kangaroos, also made by Mary Jane, survive in a private collection. Unfortunately the collection of models made by Martha Gore, who married a farmer, Gustav Drabsch, in 1878, was lost in a bushfire which destroyed their homestead at Guyra, NSW. Other examples are said to survive with the families and friends of the Gore sisters' descendants.

Source

Credit Line

Gift of Mrs Lorraine Tilsed (granddaugher), 1984

Acquisition Date

29 March 1984

Cite this Object

Harvard

Miniature wax cows 2019, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 20 May 2019, <https://ma.as/168444>

Wikipedia

{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/168444 |title=Miniature wax cows |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=20 May 2019 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}
This object is currently on display in Design Nation at the Powerhouse Museum.

Incomplete

This object record is currently incomplete. Other information may exist in a non-digital form. The Museum continues to update and add new research to collection records.

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