Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Grove, Edith Mary (Mollie) (1909–1996)

by John McPhee

This article was published online in 2022

Mollie Grove, (right) and Catherine Hardress, Australian News & Information Bureau, 1963

Mollie Grove, (right) and Catherine Hardress, Australian News & Information Bureau, 1963

National Archives of Australia, A1200:L44465

Edith Mary (Mollie) Grove (1909–1996), weaver and businesswoman, was born on 14 September 1909 at Hamilton, Victoria, fourth of six children and only daughter of Victorian-born John William Grove, Methodist minister, and his English-born wife Daisy Blanche, née Galloway. Her father’s vocation took the family to Tasmania and Western Australia before returning it to Victoria. Mollie was educated at St Mary’s Church of England Girls’ School in West Perth, and then Methodist Ladies’ College (MLC) at Kew, where her father was principal (1929–39). In the early 1930s she undertook an applied art course at Swinburne Technical College and met the art teacher Catherine Hardess. By 1933 Grove was teaching arts and crafts at MLC’s Elsternwick campus. She spent the next year in Perth where she held an exhibition of her leatherwork.

In 1935 Grove travelled to London. There she established a studio at Chelsea with Hardess, who had arrived the year before and was working as a theatre designer. Grove began studying at the Central School of Arts and Crafts until she discovered an affinity with the process of weaving. She then completed a three-month course run by Dorothy Wilkinson at the London School of Weaving. Later she trained with a master weaver and studied dyes with an analytical chemist. With Hardess, Grove travelled to Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Poland, Hungary, and Greece, taking an interest in the teaching of crafts, particularly weaving.

Returning to Melbourne in 1939, Grove and Hardess established a studio in the basement of 40 Queen Street. Soon after they registered the business eclarté Pty Ltd, the name being derived from the French clarté, prefixed by an ‘e’ (always lower case). In March 1940 the prime minister, (Sir) Robert Menzies, opened an exhibition of their woven fabrics at the Hotel Australia. At the same time Grove and Hardess took up a two-year appointment to establish an art faculty at MLC. Their interest was not in ‘teaching the children to be “artistic,”’ but to ‘train the child’s perception, to teach them to look and to see’ (Hunt 1973, 23).

As eclarté thrived, staff numbers grew to thirty-five weavers. Fashionable department stores, including Georges Ltd and Henry Buck Pty Ltd, sold clothing made from their fabric. Four seasonal ranges were produced each year, their colour palette often inspired by the Australian landscape. In December 1951 Menzies opened eclarté’s larger factory at Dandenong. The business was supported by the Australian Wool Bureau and the Institute of Industrial Management, both of which were eager to encourage the enterprise of the two women. Grove and Hardess cultivated an atmosphere where their employees were ‘a team, working not as labourers, or craftsmen, but as artists’ (Age 1952, 7). In the production of fabrics Grove was the technician, weaving the samples and supervising the looms. She was also responsible for bookkeeping, orders, contracts, and staff management.

Neither was a shrewd businesswoman, Grove observing that they were ‘artists, not traders’ (1985, 60). A recession in the textile industry closed the mill for several months in 1952. The business also found it difficult to compete with larger woollen mills. By 1957 they had sold the Dandenong premises and, assisted by a £4000 Victorian government guarantee, moved to an old mill at Heathcote. Before reopening they spent three months in Britain investigating modern weaving techniques and factory production. They were pleased to find that their work was as good as, if not better than, much of what they saw. Back in Victoria they confidently began to concentrate on furnishing fabrics. These were sought by architects and designers, including Roy Grounds, Robin Boyd, and Fred Ward. Large commissions followed, but a series of economic setbacks, coupled with an order that never materialised, forced eclarté to close in 1962 and the company was liquidated.

In 1963 Grove and Hardress (as she was now known) moved to the outer Melbourne suburb of Lower Plenty. Grove found work as a proof-reader specialising in financial reports and columns of figures, which suited her precise nature. Hardress died in 1970. Grove moved to an apartment at Balwyn while continuing to work for publishers. In the 1980s she donated examples of eclarté fabric and archival material to the collection being assembled for the National Gallery of Australia, where a length of fabric was exhibited in its opening displays of Australian art. In April 1985 she related the story of eclarté in the Canberra School of Art’s art forum series. She died on 23 February 1996 at Camberwell and was cremated.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Age. ‘Art in Craftsmanship is Their Ideal.’ 27 September 1952, 7
  • Argus. ‘It’s All Hand-Woven: The Queen Wears Clothes from Dandenong.’ 27 April 1954, 28
  • Edquist, Harriet. ‘eclarté and the Transformation of Studio Weaving in Victoria.RMIT Design Archives Journal 4, no. 2 (2014): 24–35
  • Frances Burke Textile Resource Centre. Studio-Weaving Australia: Robert Maltus & eclarté. Melbourne: The Centre, c. 2000
  • Grove, Mollie. ‘eclarté: History of an Australian Studio.Craft Australia, no. 3 (Spring 1985): 57–61
  • Hunt, Jo-Ann. ‘eclarté.’ Unpublished thesis, Melbourne Teachers’ College, 1973. Copy held in the National Gallery of Australia Research Library

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John McPhee, 'Grove, Edith Mary (Mollie) (1909–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/grove-edith-mary-mollie-31562/text39022, published online 2022, accessed online 3 December 2022.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2022