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Grieve, Rachel (1885–1977)

by John McPhee

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

This is a shared entry with:

Rachel Grieve (1885-1977), weaver, David Grieve (1886-1951), jeweller and metalworker, and Edith Grieve (1892-1972), illustrator, were born on 18 February 1885 and 4 July 1886 at South Yarra, Melbourne, and on 12 November 1892 at Surrey Hills, three of seven children of Henry David Grieve, a commercial traveller from Scotland, and his Canadian-born wife Rachel, née Tweed. David studied mathematics at the Working Men's College, Melbourne. Declared medically unfit to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force, he travelled to England to work in the armaments industry on the staff of Vickers Ltd at Barrow-in-Furness. After World War I had ended, he visited his maternal relations in Ontario, Canada, where he was joined by Rachel and Edith. In May 1920 the three Grieves moved to Detroit, United States of America; David designed machines and tools associated with the fast-growing automotive industry.

Edith had studied under Bernard Hall at the National Gallery of Victoria's art school, Melbourne. At Detroit she worked as an illustrator for American companies and for an advertising agency. Rachel had been employed as an infant-teacher in Melbourne and later as a photographic retoucher before abandoning her career to take over the running of the family home. In the U.S.A. she studied psychology, but lost interest when she saw an exhibition of Scandinavian weaving at the international exposition, held at Chicago in 1933-34. Her interest in weaving awakened, she studied broomstick weaving with Nellie Sargent Johnson at Wayne University, Detroit.

Designing and building most of his own equipment, David Grieve developed skills as a cabinet-maker, metalworker and lapidary. From the 1920s he made some of the furniture and metalwork (such as flatware and silver objects) used in the family's house. He also produced jewellery and metalwork for sale in a Detroit shop. His enthusiasm was heightened by his weekly visits in the 1930s to the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Founded in 1932 with the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen as its president, the academy had craft studios and master craftsmen for cabinet-making, silver and iron work, bookbinding and weaving. Pupils came to Cranbrook to work with members of the largely European-born faculty which included Charles Eames, Florence Knoll and Eero Saarinen.

When David's health was affected by the cold climate, the Grieves returned to Melbourne in November 1937 and settled at Camberwell. During World War II David worked as a tool designer for Charles Ruwolt Pty Ltd at Richmond. Following the war, he established his studio in the garden of the family home, and designed and made small machines for industry. He continued his hobby, occasionally exhibiting with the Arts and Crafts Society of Victoria. At this time most of his work was made for personal use, for his sisters, or as gifts for family friends. The jewellery frequently incorporated semi-precious stones and, like the metalwork, adhered to the principles and style of the Arts and Crafts movement. Edith worked as a freelance illustrator; Rachel pursued a career as a weaver and instructor in weaving.

With Jessie Vasey, Rachel helped to establish the War Widows' Craft Guild in 1945. She taught weaving at the guild and—under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme—to men of the Royal Australian Air Force in hospital at Ascot Vale. For much of her life she exhibited, demonstrated, judged, broadcast and wrote numerous articles about weaving. She was active in the spinners' and weavers' and the embroiderers' guilds, and in the Arts and Crafts Society of Victoria. Highly regarded for its precision and finesse, her weaving was frequently used for official and state gifts to visiting dignitaries. As a promoter of her art, she advised: 'Are you ripe for a nervous breakdown? Don't call a Doctor, buy a spinning wheel!' The family was close-knit. David designed and constructed looms for his sister, and worked with her for the war widows; Edith designed her sister's weavings and her brother's metalwork.

David Grieve died of pulmonary oedema on 5 June 1951 at Camberwell; Edith died there on 30 March 1972; Rachel died on 2 July 1977 at Surrey Hills. They were buried in Box Hill cemetery, the sisters with Presbyterian forms. The work of all three is represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. David and Rachel are also represented in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Home Beautiful, Jan 1948
  • Commonwealth Oil Refineries Ltd, Accelerator, Oct 1950
  • Herald (Melbourne), 11 Aug 1970, 4 July 1977
  • Grieve papers (National Gallery of Australia Archives).

Citation details

John McPhee, 'Grieve, Rachel (1885–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/grieve-rachel-10368/text18365, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 14 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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