Rethinking Jimmy Possum is an exhibition that runs at Design Tasmania in Launceston from September 5 to November 16, 2014.

Exhibitors include – Ben Booth, Brad Latham, Brad Moss, John Smith, Kevin Perkins, Linda Fredheim, Patrick Senior, Phillip Blacklow, Rodney Dransfield, Simon Ancher, Stuart Williams, Toby Muir Wilson, Wayne Hudson, Matthew Prince, Matt Pearson, Alan Livermore, Dancing Bear Studio, Ross Straker, Gay Hawkes, Simon Raffan, Dave Humphries, Laura McCusker.

Below, Lisa Ancher, Program Coordinator, Design Tasmania discusses the exhibition brief.

Who was Jimmy Possum?

The enigmatic bush carpenter known as Jimmy Possum is said to have lived in the Deloraine area during the 1890s until approximately 1910. It has been suggested that he lived in a bush dwelling either made of or joined to a hollow log or tree at the Scott Property in Deloraine, ‘Entally’ Hadspen, Chudleigh or Mole Creek.

It is here that he produced the chairs of simple stick construction from local timbers with the simplest of equipment – an axe, adze, drawknife, spokeshave, penknife and tryplane. Once complete, the chairs were often painted green or grey and sold for two shillings and sixpence. It is believed that somewhere between two to three hundred Jimmy Possum chairs exist; which is a large output if there was only one person involved in the making. This leads to the question, was Jimmy Possum an old man with a long white beard or does the term represent a local style of this period rather than the work of one individual? It is likely that there were several bush carpenters in the Deloraine area making furniture in this simple but sturdy distinctive design.

The manufacture of the Jimmy Possum chair relied on material that was plentiful in supply such as blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) or hardwood. The slab seat being its structural heart, it was roughly trimmed with an axe or adze and a drawknife or crude plane used for any further shaping to the top of the seat. The underside remained roughly sewn in most cases, and an auger or a brace with a suitable bit may have been used to bore the holes for the spindles and leg inserts. There are some examples where it appears that a burning iron was used for this purpose.

The four tapering legs, which protrude through the seat to support the arm rests are the most significant feature of the Jimmy Possum chair. This design draws the legs right up through the seat to anchor in the arms, eliminating any need for bracing below seat level and with the weight of the sitter the seat settles firmly on the legs due to the taper and splay of the legs. The equally tapered upper legs are the same height to ensure that the seat is not lop-sided. The forelegs and arms were often secured with wooden pegs or wedges for additional strength. Also secured with wooden pegs were the two outside back spindles, which protrude through the arm rests. The central back spindle was pegged in a similar fashion. Jimmy Possum may have skillfully and painstakingly used his penknife to round off the five back spindles and the chair’s arms and legs.

Approximately 120 years after Jimmy Possum created his first bush chair from local timbers, we find a select group of contemporary Tasmanian furniture designers being set the challenge of designing and making a new furniture item using found or on-hand materials. The artists in Rethinking Jimmy Possum have the means to shape, bend, steam and smooth their furniture for this exhibition and the skill to design a refined item from their found materials. The real challenge is going to be the step back to basics and pushing the boundaries of resourcefulness. Each piece in this exhibition much like Jimmy’s chairs will have a story and also be distinctively Tasmanian.

Design Tasmania is located:
Corner Tamar & Brisbane Streets
Launceston, Tasmania 7250
Tel: (03) 6331 5506


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