Living Treasures: Masters of Australian Craft

Living Treasures is a series of solo exhibitions honouring eminent Australian craftspeople, celebrating their mastery of skill, their achievements and the unique place they occupy in the national design culture. 

Australian Design Centre is joined by a panel of sector experts from across Australia to select artists for the Living Treasures series. In recent years that panel has included Lisa Cahill (CEO and Artistic Director ADC), Brian Parkes (CEO JamFactory), and Dr Kevin Murray (Garland Magazine).

Living Treasures: Masters of Australian Craft is an initiative of the Australian Design Centre. The series aims to celebrate the achievements of Australia’s most iconic crafts practitioners, through a touring exhibition and a major monograph publication.  

Living Treasures celebrates the work and practice of exceptional individuals who have demonstrated more than three decades of excellence in their chosen discipline.

The series was conceived in 2004 when ADC reached out to the sector nationally to put together three authoritative panels that would come together to review nominations and select the next Living Treasure.

The Living Treasures exhibitions focuses on current work – they are not historic surveys. This concept aims to ensure that the work and ideas presented are current reflections of the practitioner’s process and output. Each exhibition is accompanied by a beautiful monograph, which not only celebrates the work but also delves into each artist’s background in more detail, contextualising their status as a leading practitioner of their craft. 

Helen Britton has been selected as the tenth artist in this exhibition series Living Treasures: Masters of Australian Craft.

Helen Britton, an exceptional Australian artist of international reputation, has accepted this award and will work closely with Australian Design Centre in coming months towards her exhibition.

Helen is the 10th Living Treasure: Master of Australian Craft, and will be the 5th woman honoured in this series.

About Helen Britton

In a polarised world. we seek solace in the interstices, those elusive spaces between where possibility flourishes, where poetry is found. This is the territory of the artist, fuelled with an inquiring mind, intent on the deployment of accumulated knowledge. In this liminal zone, Helen Britton discovers the extraordinary in the everyday and re-focuses our understanding of what it means to be human. Ted Snell, 2016

Helen Britton is a multidisciplinary Australian artist based in Munich, Germany. Her practice includes jewellery, sculpture, drawings, stencils and installations, and is informed by popular culture and folk art, threatened traditions, environmental destruction and human anxiety.

Helen completed a Master of Fine Arts by research at Curtin University, Western Australia in 1999, which included guest studies at the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich, the Sandberg Institute, Amsterdam, and San Diego State University, California. In 1999 she returned to Munich to complete postgraduate study at the Academy of Fine Arts. In 2002 she established her Studio in Munich with David Bielander and Yutaca Minegishi. In March of 2011 Helen Drutt-English launched a new catalogue of Helen Britton’s work in Munich. In 2013 at the invitation of The Neue Sammlung, Munich, an overview of 20 years of Helen’s work was shown as a solo exhibition in the Neues Museum, Nürnberg, Germany. In 2017 Helen was invited to create the exhibition “Interstices” at The Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, UWA, Western Australia – a complete overview of her practice in conjunction with the Festival of Perth, including her large scale drawing works, Ghost Train installation and a selection of small sculptures and objects. In 2019 Helen Britton was made adjunct Professor of RMIT University in Melbourne. In 2020 Helen was invited by the Bavarian Chamber of Crafts to curate Schmuck for the International handwerksmesse in Munich. In 2021 Elena Alvarez-Lutz released her documentary film Hunter from Elsewhere, A Journey with Helen Britton at Dok.Fest Munich. A comprehensive exhibition catalogue of The Dark Garden was published by Prearo Editore and Galleria Antonella Villanova, released in 2022. In 2023 Helen was made the 'icon' of New York Jewelry Week.

Violence, love, riches, sentimentality, humour, wisdom; a friendly companion, a lucky charm, an amulet. Hope. Themes of popular culture, the essence of a pop song in solid form. While the figures themselves draw their shapes from the cheapest trinket, the sentiment that they convey reaches into the deepest abyss. I see in these works all the effort, humour, joy and failure of our existence. They are rough signifiers, visually reduced and emotionally condensed. They are also private icons, some accompanying me from my earliest memories, others invested with my own associations, sifted out of the chaos of possibility through fitting in to my hunting patters. We all live in hope and want luck, more than ever at this point in history. Helen Britton

About the project - The Story So Far

Between 2017 and 2019 Helen traveled three times to Australia to document the house of her great Aunt and Godmother Kath Carr on the Clarence river (Ngunitiji, Yagel Country). Kath taught Helen how to make collages with pressed Australian flowers that she had collected, or with metal fillings from the lathe in the shed, to paint on porcelain which was her greatest hobby, and to make jewellery. Her house was full of wonders, shells, gemstones, driftwood, dried seaweed and fish. When she died her house was locked and left completely intact. Helen's detailed photographic investigation was a journey back to the beginnings of her creative practice.

This project, titled The Story So Far, takes as its starting point this photographic essay creating a network of connections between that time and this. The work will also comment on the rich and complex world of country women, of a time of creative frugality that formed Helen's early experience of Australia, of lost possibility, and of a colonial past and present, still so deeply problematic. New work, painting, installation, jewellery, drawings and objects will feature in the exhibition alongside photographs of Kath's house.

Australian Design Centre’s Artistic Director Lisa Cahill will provide curatorial and production input and exhibition designer Maria Mosquera will create create a seamless fusion of works, books, space and ambience in the exhibition itself.

A major monograph with the publishing house Arnoldsche and the awarded German Book designer Alexandra Rutischka will accompany the exhibition.

Special screenings of a feature documentary made about Helen and her practice will also take place across Australia alongside the exhibition. The trailer for the film is below.

About the tour

A grant from the Federal Government’s Visions of Australia program has supported the research and development for Australian Design Centre to work with Helen Britton to develop the exhibition to be presented in Sydney in 2025 with a multi-state national tour to follow.

Tour venues include: Tamworth Regional Gallery (NSW); Ipswich Art Gallery (QLD); Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery (VIC); SECCA Bega (NSW); Grafton Regional Gallery (NSW); Griffith Regional Gallery (NSW); JamFactory (SA); DEsign Tasmania (TAS); Busselton Cultural Precinct (WA).

Anticipation is high for the new works Helen will conceive for Living Treasures touring exhibition. I am assured that the depth of thought and level of creative excellence she infuses in her works will result in a profound and enriching experience for audiences across Australia. Simone LeAmon, The Hugh D T Williamson Curator of Contemporary Art, Design and Architecture, National Gallery of Victoria

Image Gallery

These images are indicative of recent work by Helen exhibited internationally.