Eirene Mort

Eirene Mort (1879-1977), graphic designer, was born on 17 November 1879 at Woollahra, Sydney, third child of Kate Macintosh (born Isaacs) and Canon Henry Wallace Mort. She attended St Catherine's Clergy Daughters' School, Waverley and studied painting with Dattilo Rubbo. In 1897 she travelled alone to London, where she studied at Grosvenor Life School, the Royal School of Art Needlework and the Royal College of Art, South Kensington, gaining its art teacher's certificate.

Returning to Sydney in 1906 Eirene set up a studio with her lifelong friend Nora Weston. Though influenced by pre-Raphaelite philosophy, they were determined to promote Australian subject matter in design. They gave lessons in craft, drawing and design, Nora specialising in cabinet-making, wood carving, metalwork and book-binding, and Eirene in design, illustration, linocut, leatherwork, embroidery and interior decoration. Eirene designed the craft objects they produced in their studio, which was one of Sydney's earliest centres for professional design and applied art.

Eirene was a founder of the Society of Arts and Crafts of New South Wales (1906), vice-president until 1936 and designer of its waratah logo. She helped organise and publicise the Exhibition of Women's Work in 1907, at which she exhibited in every branch of applied art. Her interest in personalised bookplates led to a decision to learn etching. In 1909 she returned to England for further study, taking mediaeval art at the University of London and illustration and illumination at the London County Council Central School. On her return she added etching and illustration to the studio activities. She wrote and illustrated articles for the Sydney Mail and Art and Architecture, designed covers for the Bookfellow and Lone Hand, and illustrated Florence Sulman's A Popular Guide to the Wild Flowers of New South Wales (1913-14).

Eirene and Nora installed a large etching press in a new studio in Wentworth Rd, Vaucluse, after the war. Eirene was principal of the Women Painters' Art School, conducted at her studio, and she also taught at several private girls' schools. She was a foundation member of the Australian Painter-Etchers' Society (1921), serving many years as the only woman on its council. She was active also in the Australian Ex Libris Society and the Australian Bookplate Club. Her 71 bookplates reveal a knowledge of heraldry, skills in etching, woodcuts and pen-drawing, a love of Australian subjects, and a sense of humour. She exhibited her etchings, wrote and illustrated books for children, including The Story of Architecture (1942) commissioned by the Department of Education, while continuing to encourage younger women artists.

In 1927 Eirene and Nora moved to 'Greenhayes', a farm outside Mittagong where they continued their art and craft, Eirene teaching also at Frensham School. She compiled several volumes of family history (she was a cousin of T. S. Mort, a pioneer in refrigerated shipping); she illustrated her brother Selwyn's Coins of the Hapsburg Emperors 1619-1919 and, following Nora Weston's death in 1964, organised a memorial exhibition of her work. Eirene Mort moved to Bowral, where she died on 1 December 1977.

Margaret Henry