A new exhibition at Cairns Museum celebrates a locally owned Cairns company that took the often dismissed business of tourism souvenirs to new creative heights.
From the mid 1970s, Reef Productions produced beautiful and artistic souvenirs for the burgeoning tourism industry in the region, drawing on the skill of successful local artists to create designs unique to Far North Queensland.
From a base on Cairns Northern Beaches, the business hand printed and manufactured souvenir tea towels, napkins, serviettes and placemats, as well as shirts, bags and even original prints on paper.
The beautiful and ingenious works the artists produced featured the tropical environment and charm of Far North Queensland communities.
Reef Productions was owned from 1986 to 1999 by Andy and Joan Csorba. During the time, Reef Productions licenced designs from established Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists, who made work specifically for the silk screen format.
The resulting souvenirs showcased Cairns’ reef and rainforest attractions to Australia and the world, through creative and stunning pieces.
The exhibition consists of works donated to the Cairns Historical Society by the former owners, and has been curated by Dr Jo Wills of Queensland Museum and Nerelle Nicol, a cultural consultant and artist.
Dr Wills said The Reef Productions collection offered a wonderful snapshot of how artists’ projected Cairns into the tourist imagination and how that changed over time.
“Cairns was really growing during the 80s and 90s and tourism was creating new opportunities for entrepreneurial people – including printers and artists,” she said.
Ms Nicol said the exhibition was a chance to acknowledge and honour the artists of Reef Productions.
“The Indigenous artists who chose to work with Andy and Joan are part of the story of the modern Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art movement in Far North Queensland.
“These artists were working across a range of mediums and usually managed their fine art practice alongside the commercial works they produced for outlets like Reef Productions.”
The exhibition includes works by Thancoupie Fletcher, Roslyn Serico (Kemp), Jenuarrie, Connie Rovina (Barker), Ludij Peden, Heather Walker and Joan Boissevain.
The exhibition is titled Reef Productions: migrants, makers and merchandise.
Fleur Anderson, executive officer of Cairns Historical Society, said the exhibition, Percy Trezise – The Man Who Loved Cape York Peninsula, was a tribute to an unconventional visionary who was once a household name in the north.
“Percy Trezise was a force and an amazingly talented man and we expect a lot of interest from the community in this exhibition,” Ms Anderson said.
“He was a charismatic figure who raised awareness on the national stage and beyond of Queensland’s significant Indigenous cultural heritage in the rock art of Cape York.”
Suzanne Gibson, curator at Cairns Museum, said the exhibition was about a man and a place coming together at a particular time in Far North Queensland history.
“In 2018 the museum received a donation of a children’s book and painting by Percy Trezise but few could remember why they knew his name,” Ms Gibson said.
“A little research and there it was- for 30 years, Percy Trezise’s name was synonymous with Cape York Peninsula.
That donation triggered this exhibition, a considered reflection, 50 years on, of Percy Trezise in his time and place, Cape York.”
Ms Gibson said it was who recognised the importance of the rock art and its connection to the living culture of Cape York’s Aboriginal people.
Cairns Museum manager Suzanne Gibson said the museum was excited to bring the story and works of Reef Productions to the Cairns community of today.
“It seems hard to believe but back in the days before offshore manufacturing really took off there were significant souvenir brands manufacturing under houses in the Northern Beaches.”
She said all the Reef Productions products were original silk screen print designs and “even the earlier, place-based souvenirs celebrating the sugar industry or Cape Tribulation were beautifully designed and hand printed in Cairns”.
The exhibition at Cairns Museum opens tomorrow May 29, and will run through to August 28.
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Friday, May 28