Eulogy by Grace Cochrane AM

Full version of shorter eulogy given at Requiem Mass Tuesday 30 April, at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 193 Avoca Street Randwick, Sydney.

I’m speaking on behalf of the hundreds of people associated with the contemporary crafts world, who have known Jane from her first involvement it in 1970, over 50 years ago.

We all offer our sympathy, and also very warm memories, to her wide but close family, and are happy to join this celebration of her inspiring life and influence.

Many of these people are here today, and I know others are participating on-line from across Australia and beyond. I have been receiving messages from everywhere. We all have the greatest respect for her role in the crafts movement, and also our much-valued personal and long-lasting associations with her.

I know these people, like myself, have strong memories of Jane’s engaging, professional and collaborative management skills, and also the many impressive, influential outcomes associated with her work. There is no way I can provide specific comments and stories from so many people, but I will give a background to what she did, to give you some idea of where she fitted in and what she has meant to all of us.

What was going on at the time she became involved? The post-war contemporary studio crafts movement had been growing strongly from the 1950s into the 1970s, with individual local, state and national specialist organisations being formed for those working in ceramics, textiles, jewellery and metalwork, furniture and woodwork and glass. They are still going strong.

But craftspeople also became interested in multi-crafts organisations, influenced by the formation of the British and American Crafts Councils, and in 1964 the first World Crafts Council Assembly in New York. Australians wanted a similar structure, and a national crafts network started in Australia with the establishment of the Craft Association of Australia (NSW Branch), in 1964. (Now Australian Design Centre, (ADC) and celebrating its 60th year). By the early 1970s Craft Associations were formed in all states, known as state Crafts Councils from 1978 and with some name changes later.

At the same time, they also recognised a need to come together as a national group. All correspondence in those days was by phone and paper mail and they wanted to exchange experiences face to face. So they decided to form a national body,which became known as the Crafts Council of Australia. And interestingly, this took place at the same time as the government funding body, the Australian Council for the Arts, was being reformed to operate with specialist arts boards – and this was to include a Crafts Board in 1973. No doubt influenced by the strong national movement! This was to provide funding for both the national Crafts Council and the state associations – and state funding bodies also evolved. The beginning of what we remember as The Heady Years!

An inaugural meeting of the Crafts Council of Australia (CCA) was held in July 1971 and it was incorporated in 1973. For a national crafts committee to operate successfully with delegates drawn from most states, it needed a competent director to establish communication across the country, to connect with the Crafts Board funding body and manage all the evolving projects.

Somehow, in 1970 Jane became hooked in, and was appointed Executive Director from 1972 to her retirement in 1992. She came to the crafts from a background familiar with the arts, and employment in welfare management, organising conferences on hospital planning and two years doing ‘mad jobs’ in Italy. She said in 2009: ‘It has always been to do with just falling into things serendipitously. Those involved in setting up the Crafts Council were so sure of what they wanted and I saw it as my opportunity to interpret their goals.’ (1)

And she added in a draft for a 2009 essay ‘…in the first weeks of my employment the clear goals were spelled out. Higher profile for Australian craftspeople; tertiary training opportunities; visibility through exhibitions, publications, a specific voice in development of arts policies and practices; access to public funds and equity within the visual arts; livelihood options including teaching, studio practice, curatorial, writing, in combination or individually… In hindsight there was at that time a right mix of people, political times, international opportunity, which galvanised Australian focus and effort.’ (2)

The Crafts Council of Australia’s programs reflected the experience and aspirations of its state representatives and growing professional staff in Sydney. With nationally-drawn Council presidents and delegates, who met together when possible, Jane found premises at 27 King Street Sydney, with ‘one room, one secondhand typewriter, and after a while, one assistant’ – and the staff increased as the scope and programs evolved. After some time it moved to different locations in George Street in the Rocks, each time developing its scope, role and relationships.

It was all a huge effort and responsibility. Overall, the aims were maintaining working contact with key craftspeople and programs in state Crafts Councils, specialist organisations, museums and galleries and educational institutions, in Australia and overseas, and initiating events and resources of benefit to all.

Even before the Crafts Board was established, and after an initial small grant in 1972, the then Australian Council for the Arts allocated a further $20,000 to the CCA to plan its involvement in a conference in Toronto, producing an exhibition, a publication and a film to mark the tenth anniversary of the WCC in 1974.

To give you some idea of the range of many projects and programs, sometimes in joint arrangements with the Crafts Board, here is a very abbreviated summary:

1971: Upgrading of the 1969 newsletter Craft News, to the magazine Craft Australia with several significant editors

1971: A biographical register of craftspeople.

1971: Administering a research project run by Mary White for supporting Aboriginal crafts

1972: After joining the WCC in 1971, setting up an Asian Secretariat within the Crafts Council of Australia. Continued producing the Asian Bulletin, first published in India in 1971.

1974: A slide library was started in 1974, to document work throughout the country, and to help selection for exhibitions, publication and for commissions. The first slide kit recorded the national exhibition of work sent to Toronto in 1974.

1973: The Crafts Board set up an Exhibitions and International Visitors Office at the Crafts Council; then a Joint Exhibitions Committee with the CCA was formed in 1978. They co-ordinated national projects, including touring exhibitions and itineraries for international visitors through the International Visitor Program, followed by the National Visiting Tutor Program.

1970s: Managed exhibitions for the foyer of the Australian Council; moving to a gallery in 1977–78 to the Crafts Council offices in King Street and later George Street.

1975: Involvement in Research Projects, including the 1975 Crafts Enquiry, and the 1977 Crafts as a Livelihood research project.

1976: Established a Resource Centre, that absorbed existing projects, further developing a biographical register of craftspeople, collection of resource materials, production of films and audio-visual material such as slide-kits; provision of visitor Information and publications including calendars, guides and indexes to makers, galleries, shops. From 1980 the centre was called Crafts Resource Productions.

1976: Joint Film Committee formed with the Crafts Board: CB funds and subsidies from other interested bodies to produce a large number of films into the early eighties.

1978: Joint Education committee of the Crafts Board and Crafts Council of Australia was formed in 1978; a report produced.

1981: CCA initiated Craft Expo ’81, mounted as the first national crafts trade fair, first held at the MLC Tower in Sydney; repeated for 7 years; from 1985, being carried out by commissioned organisers.

1981: National Study of Crafts Resources carried out; leading to the 1983 computer-based national crafts information network through the Crafts Councils, later called Craftline, operational in 1987.

1988: Hosted the World Crafts Council Conference, in Sydney in 1988; theme The Crafts: Theory and Practice in the Late 20th Century; in the newly opened Powerhouse Museum.

International events: Jane was directly involved in the management of Australian representation in international events such as in Faenza (ceramics), Lausanne and Lodz (textiles) and Pforzheim (jewellery), as well as CINAFE (Chicago International New Art Forms Exposition) in the USA. And she hosted many international people here, with her local colleagues.

At the same time Jane contributed her experience to other organisations. She was a member, and in some cases a founder, of many related boards such as the Arts Law Centre, the National Association for the Visual Arts, the National Arts Industry Training Council and the Australian Academy of Design, as well as the Sturt craft centre and the Australian Costume and Textile Society.

After her retirement, from 1992 the Council continued with new directors until 2011.

From 1992 to 1996 Jane continued to work to develop a higher profile for the visual arts and crafts through a consultancy with the now amalgamated Visual Arts/Craft Board.

And between 1994 and 2005, she set up and managed crafts tour itineraries for large groups of collectors from the American Craft Museum in New York; the Renwick Museum in Washington; the Oakland Museum in California; and the Mint Museum in North Carolina, giving exposure to local studios, galleries and private collections. She was also a valuable volunteer at the Powerhouse Museum, working with curators and volunteer colleagues on projects related to her interests and experience.

Not surprisingly, in 1988, Jane was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for services to the crafts, and received the 1992 Emeritus Medal from the Visual Arts/Craft Board; made an Honorary Member of the World Crafts Council; and is now an Honouree of the Australian Design Centre – the first crafts association.

Loyal, energetic and passionate for the causes she believes in, why did she stay with this particular field for so long? As she wrote in her 2009 draft essay: ‘At the time in 1970 when I was interviewed for the job of Executive Director of The Crafts Council of Australia I was conscious only of the excitement and enthusiasm of those who interviewed me. They could see that at last there might be a chance to make steps towards achieving goals relating to the lives of fellow crafts practitioners in Australia. Everyone has a unique personal story. When the timing is right and many individual stories intersect and connect, then the magic happens....’ (2)

Jane, you have maintained and contributed to that enthusiasm and its outcomes through your own extraordinary efforts, and through the broad experiences shared with so many people you have worked closely with, and who have extended that influence through their own professional efforts. Moreover, every time those of us who have been part of the story along the way, flounder as we try to recall details, it has been you who remembered every person, every issue associated with each event, every connection that was made and practically every conversation. And you have supported us all.

Dear Jane, with warmest love and greatest respect, you are still with us!


Grace Cochrane, The Crafts Movement in Australia: a History, UNSW Press, 1992, (pp113-119; 256-280)

1: Grace Cochrane, Crafts mastermind: Jane Burns, Object magazine 59, 2009, p 18

2: Jane Burns, Magic Mixture Makes Regenerated Craft Revival in Australia; later The Craft and Design Masters, Object 59, 2009, ADC