Friday, April 11, 2008

The Various Lives of Florence Broadhurst

Florence Broadhurst: Her Secret & Extraordinary Lives by Helen O'Neill (Chronicle Books, 2006) 230 pages

Thanks to my partner R for bringing this book to my attention regarding the bizarre and highly entertaining life of Florence Broadhurst (1899 - 1977), an Australian born designer of wallpaper (who knew such things were "designed"? I plead my ignorance).

The writing in the book is, admittedly, awful riddled with cliches and uninspired writing ("evil Nazis"? "nightmarish horror"?). But the book is absolutely beautiful - resplendent with samples of some of the hundreds of really lovely wallpaper samples she produced and photographs from Broadhurst's exotic past.

But who was this mysterious, strange woman who assumed many guises during the course of her long life? She started as Bobby Broadhurst, a vaudeville vamp, touring the Orient in the 1920s; became a Parisian couturier by the name of Madame Pellier in the 1930s; moved to England and married an Englishman and then back to Australia in the 1940s to paint landscapes.

She stayed in Australia and, by chance, assumed the business operations of a young man who owed her back rent. He was involved in the design of wallpapers. She then began another career and became internationally famous for it employing a team of young designers who some say created all of her work which she took credit for.

She continued well into her 70s until she was murdered in her studio by an unknown assailant. There was some conjecture that she was murdered by John Wayne Glover, the "Granny killer", a serial killer who preyed on elderly women although it was never proven. He died in prison on another offense.

It's a very different sort of biography but worth a look at her designs.

No comments: