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Zimmermann’s secret Canberra garden

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You do not usually associate the National Library of Australia with breathtaking moments where fashion and art collide.

But if you dash into the library foyer between now and next Thursday, March 11, you will find an extraordinarily beautiful exhibit in which Australian fashion designer Nicky Zimmermann pays homage to 19th Century Australian artist Ellis Rowan.

Exclusive to the NLA, the exhibit features a collection of exquisite Zimmermann designs from the label’s Spring 21 collection, Wild Botanica, displayed alongside the Ellis Rowan artworks which inspired each particular design.

In many ways Zimmermann has brought the artwork to life, creating 3-D butterflies and flowers, intricately stitched to beautiful printed silks and organza.

“I’ve always been drawn to botanical art—for a few seasons I’ve wanted to work with it but struggled with the scientific aesthetic and what we could do with it. I came across a book called The Flower Hunter which had works from a trailblazing Australian artist and explorer from the turn of the last century, Ellis Rowan,” said Nicky.

“It really resonated with me—it was emotive art and very Australian—I recognised the plants and birds and I loved the way she painted with such a feminine hand. I thought her artwork would be amazing to apply to clothing. We were fortunate to bring ten of her artworks to life in the prints with the support of The National Library in Australia and others.”

The National Library of Australia holds the largest archive of Ellis Rowan’s artwork and has exhibited much of her work in the past, in addition to publishing books on Rowan’s life.

You can also see more of the artist’s work in the Birds of Paradise: Ellis Rowan in New Guinea exhibition currently on in the Treasures Gallery until 28 March.

The Ellis Rowan Collection comprises more than 900 works painted over half a century from the 1860s. Her paintings primarily depict Australian wildflowers, as well as birds of paradise from Papua New Guinea. View the National Library’s Ellis Rowan digital collection via the National Library’s catalogue.

In late 2020, Zimmermann kindly donated funds to the National Library so that Ellis Rowan’s personal letters and journal, as well as more of the work of fashion photographer Athol Shmith, could be digitised.

You can read an interview in which Nicky speaks directly of the creative process here.

Visitors to the National Library can see the Zimmermann + Ellis Rowan display daily from 8.30 am to 5 pm until 11 March.

The Library foyer will be open on the Canberra Day public holiday on Monday 8 March.

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