Preparing for Class; My journey into the Marvelous Mid-Century

Cruise Lectures Mid-century Modern


I have been fortunate to have been able to create and give lectures on antiques on cruise ships.

It all started on my first cruise with my mother Helene, about 2 years ago. On this cruise I saw a gentleman give an enrichment lecture on WWII Australians in the pacific and I thought “why couldn’t I give lectures on antiques?” And so I spoke to the entertainment director on the ship and enquired about the process. He recommended that I should go through an agent and gave me details to follow up. As it was, while we were chatting he was scouting me out, and he asked if I would like to do a lecture on that cruise. Without hesitation and without thinking I said “Yes!” not really knowing what I would give it on. And so my journey began!

Now, one topic that I am very familiar with is Downsizing. So I started to put together a lecture on that, hand written on scrap paper. I called it “Downsizing; The win-falls and pit-falls” It was full of great advice and it’s still one of my favorite lectures to deliver. The lecture was advertised in the ship’s daily newsletter and I was given a large lecture theatre in which to lecture, it was daunting but exciting! Close to two hundred people turned up, I had no power point presentation just my hand written advice about the downsizing process which covered about 35 mins. That left me with an hour to cover. 

We moved into a Q&A Roadshow session where people could ask me about items they had at home for personalized advice on their downsizing journey. That made the hour go so fast and I really enjoyed the stories everyone had to share. I made some new friends and later that afternoon shared a bottle of bubbly with them and my Mum to celebrate my success.

I felt confident about the next step, applying for a professional lecturer spot on an upcoming cruise, so I went ahead. Since then I have done two cruises as an onboard Enrichment lecturer and I am now preparing for (and looking forward to) my third.

With each new cruise I have created a new lecture and this time is no exception; my newest lecture is called…

Marvelous Mid-Century Class 101

 - For Hipsters, Gen X and Y, and the Baby Boomers -

My goodness, did I throw myself into a marvelously deep hole of intrigue and fascinating facts. 

For each of my lectures I do a lot of research especially for my “class 101 lectures”. It amazes me that if I go back through things and find out the stories and facts of items, even ones I think I know about, I end up learning more than I could ever have imagined. Fact checking is a regular event in every dealer’s agenda, and I think it can be the most fascinating. 

And so to Modern Mid-Century. Well, it is a lot of things, to a lot of people. For me, it is about furniture and decorative arts. Items and décor that were created in the late 40s though to the early 60s. A new beginning to home décor and furnishings after the austerity and horrors of the war years.

[Eero Saarinen black 'Tulip' pedestal dining suite, comprising six dining chairs model 151 designed in 1955. Image curtesy of Antiques Reporter]

I am researching the foundations of this style, the designers who were instrumental in developing it, how it was created and then trying to convey this information into “what to look for when buying and collecting”, the tagline of my newest lecture.

And you know, and as per the famous maxim: The more you think you know the more one realizes that there is so much more to know! 

At Syber’s C20th and Antiques shop in Alphington, Victoria, my brother Philip and I have been dealing in many wonderful Mid-Century items from designer Australian furniture to classic Danish pottery, and of course the odd “atomic” piece. With every piece that we handle we do our due diligence to confirm its authenticity. We find this process extremely rewarding and in preparation for this lecture I must admit that I am inundated with a plethora of facts, figures, quotes and images of items and I fear there is just too much to squeeze into a 55 minute lecture.

So it is a process of producing the most notable information that will produce a valuable lecture to my audience. For example I did not know that there are more than 20 people who were designers and/or manufactures of mid-century furniture in Australia. However, I will only be able to discuss about four or five of the more well-known makers/designers. 

But, I must give you a fascinating and notable quote from a pivotal book, the term “Mid-Century Modern” possibly became entrenched into our vocabulary because of a book by this title by Cara Greenberg.

[Mid-Century Modern, Furniture of the 1950’s, Published 1984, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London]

And so I would like to share with you a notable quote here from Greenberg’s book that you don’t even have to go on a cruise to hear;

“But despite world events, 1940 did not turn out to be a bad year for achievement in furniture design. That year, The Museum of Modern Art in New York announced its Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition, an event meant to rout out new design talent that might be lurking in the hinterlands. The contest was a brilliant success. Out of the woodwork came Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen, two young architects associated with Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy. They took top honors in both contest categories – seating and storage – and it is safe to say that furniture was never the same again.”

Now, I must get into preparing for this lecture. There is so much to be done, I will have approximately a 60 slide presentation and 55 mins of lecture notes. I really hope it will present as interesting a lecture as it has been to research. And I will share some of it here once it is finalized, complete with photos. 

And remember…

Don’t just be a treasure hunter, be an adventurer!

~ Elizabeth Syber

With kind editing by Emma Marie Hepburn


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