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Shorter, Lucie Emilie (Lulu) (1887–1989)

by Arianne Rourke

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Lucie Emilie Shorter (Lulu) (1887-1989), china-painter, was born on 29 or 31 July 1887 at Burwood, Sydney, second of seven children of English-born John Shorter and his New South Wales-born wife Emily Jane, née Butler.  Her father was the Australasian agent in Sydney for the British ceramics firm Doulton & Co. and her mother an artist.  Educated at Wesleyan (Burwood) Ladies’ College, in 1904-07 'Lulu' studied art at Granville Technical School, which provided her with a knowledge of drawing and design.  She achieved high marks throughout her course and in 1907 received a prize for her work.  One of her 1906-07 pen-and-ink designs for a plate border featuring flannel flowers was published in the international magazine Keramic Decoration.

In 1908 Lulu travelled with her father, spending six months in England.  She showed her designs, based on Australian motifs, to the manager of the Doulton factory at Burslem, who selected them for a series of tableware in both earthenware and bone china.  These patterns, known as the 'Lulu Series', consisted of a border of naturalistic entwined swirling flannel flowers that were transfer printed and hand tinted.  Complete dinner services were produced in these designs in a variety of coloured patterns, including grey, green and flow blue.  Other flowers used in the designs produced by Doulton included the Glossodia orchid, native rose and native fuschia.

One of Shorter’s best-known transfer-printed and painted designs was a stylised waratah, which appeared in 1912 on Doulton tea services and toilet sets; this pattern was also available in a flambé red glaze.  It was company policy not to pay freelance designers but they presented her with a large, valuable Edward Raby vase.  Her designs for Doulton were seen as exceptional and the botanist and museum curator Richard T. Baker, writing in the Technical Gazette of New South Wales (May 1912), recognised their significance:  'It must be regarded as a compliment to our local Technical Institution that such a firm . . . should have accepted design work from an Australian student'.

Shorter was closely involved as a director in the family business, John Shorter Pty Ltd, a manufacturers’ importing agency established in 1923.  In 1935 she travelled with her father to Japan, China, the Philippines and the Netherlands East Indies.  Her father died in 1942 and Lucie gave up drawing and painting to care for her invalid mother.  Described as the matriarch of the family, she looked after the family home Harborne at Parramatta (built in 1858), purchased by her father in 1905.  This house, willed to her and her sister Elaine after their mother’s death in 1943, was sold in 1953.  The two sisters then moved to Newport.  Aged 102 and never married, she died on 12 August 1989 at Mona Vale and was cremated.  Her work is held by the Powerhouse Museum, which also has her father’s large Doulton ceramics collection, and the National Gallery of Australia, whose collection includes her designs in pen-and-ink.

Select Bibliography

  • J. McPhee, Australian Decorative Arts in the Australian National Gallery (1982)
  • J. Kerr (ed), Heritage (1995)
  • Technical Gazette of New South Wales, vol 2, part 2, 1912, p 9
  • Newsletter (Australiana Society), no 2, April 1983, p 14
  • Australian Antique Trader, October-November 1985, p 66
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 July 1988, p 7.

Citation details

Arianne Rourke, 'Shorter, Lucie Emilie (Lulu) (1887–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/shorter-lucie-emilie-lulu-15489/text26704, published in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 3 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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