The Story of Eric Thake's Greeting Cards and Ursula Hoff

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In 1941, Eric Thake – unable to afford Christmas cards in the midst of the war – decided to make his own, sending a limited run of linocut prints to his friends and family. The first, ‘The Itchy Owl’, was in classic Thake-fashion: bold, distinctive and lightly satirical, something to make people smile in tough times. By 1948 the cards had taken on a life of their own; artists even began sending him their own in hopes he might send one back.
Thake’s friends were a veritable who’s who of Australian art with these particular cards sent to Ursula Hoff – the revered curator, writer and former Deputy Director of the National Gallery of Victoria. Many are inscribed with warm epithets to Hoff, who was not only a close friend but a champion of printmaking. Resistant to thoughtless conservatism, Hoff saw in printmaking depth, intelligence and the democratisation of art.


'In the Melbourne Gallery, "Epstein, Enstein? I can never remember!"'


With bracingly good provenance, these linocuts tell many stories. Sent for over thirty years, they capture the evolution of Australia in one its most distinct voices, blessed with “an uncommon view of common things.” They also speak to a friendship between an artist and scholar, a bond preserved year after year, always with a warm wink. 


'Christmas Greetings from Thake's flat'


Between Two Worlds

Born in Auburn, Victoria in 1904, Thake began his career as an apprentice to a process engraving company, working as a commercial artist between 1925 and 1926. He attended night classes at the National Gallery School and studied part time with George Bell. In 1943, Thake enlisted in the air force where he worked as a draughtsman until his appointment as an official war artist in 1944.   

Thake straddled commercial and fine art, completing commissions for postage stamps and museum murals, medical illustrations and advertisements. Core to modernism’s novelty was how it challenged the division between design and fine art. In Thake’s practice, the two are symbiotic – his economy of line underscoring punchy and thought-provoking ideas.


'Nuns on the Road to Geelong' 


Humorously, inside this work Thake writes
"...or Oil Sheiks to Bahrein?
Ursula, the choice is yours"


'Sunshine and Rain, Lygon Street'


Telling the Australian Story  

Among his most famous works is ‘There’s an Opera House in Every Home’. It was created in 1972, the year before the Opera House’s completion – and what a journey it had been. One of the architects had fled the project, and the budget had ballooned by almost a thousand-percent. What was already an uncomfortably ostentatious venture for Australians, was getting out of hand. 
Thake picks up on this with a twinkle in his eye. He envisions the Opera House as a stack of dishes, crowned with a blowfly. The structure is simultaneously jived and democratised, made familiar and absurd. The inspiration for the Opera House was apparently an orange peel; perhaps then, seeing grandeur in household debris is not so opposed to the Australian spirit.


'There's An Opera House in Every Home'


Dear Ursula Hoff  

It has been said that Ursula Hoff, more than any other individual, shaped the character and scholarly reputation of the NGV. She was an immigrant of Jewish-German heritage, compelled to leave Europe during the Second World War. 
When she arrived in Melbourne, Hoff brought with her a sharp acumen for art. She became the first official curator at the NGV, heading up the Prints and Drawing department – in turn, becoming the first woman and the first tertiary qualified art historian to work within a state gallery in Australia. Over her career, she was a lecturer at Melbourne University, assistant director of the NGV and the London Advisor to the Felton Bequest.



'The Habitat of the Dodo'


She was also a close friend of Thake’s. The two maintained a correspondence over thirty years with a collection of his linocut greeting cards adorning her North Carlton home’s entryway, many of which held inside-jokes between the two. Like Thake, Hoff was a champion of modern art and printmaking. She saw in prints, the opportunity for aesthetic excellence, intelligence and innovation – traits that shone under Thake’s hand.


A collection of Eric Thake's card recently framed for a collector with Museum Board and Art Glass, ready to adorn a hallway. 



'A message from our sponsor'


Looking High and Low

Across the lifespan of Thake’s cards we witness moments from his intermittent travels into outback Australia, critiques of the art world, particularly the National Gallery of Victoria, and portraits of animals, captured with warmth and wit. Concealed beneath their simplicity, was always a canny observation, a feeling distilled. 
Thake continued creating his cards until 1975 when his eyesight began failing. He sent a few after that, his style shifting to something slighter yet nonetheless delightful. In 1980, he sent his final work – ‘Airlines Resume’ – inscribed with “I fear the cards have come to the end of the line, as have I.” Thake passed the following year, an inimitable legacy in his wake.


 'Airlines Resume'
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