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Gert Sellheim

German / Australian, 1901 - 1970

Estonian born Gert Sellheim studied architecture in Berlin, Munich and Gratz before travelling to London in the 1920s. He migrated to Australia with his friend Rembert Von Samson Himmelstejrna arriving in Fremantle, Western Australia in January 1926. After a year of labouring work in rural WA he gained employment as a site architect at the University of Western Australia. In 1930 Sellheim moved to Melbourne where he set up his own architectural practice and began designing and exhibiting posters.

In the mid 1930s Sellheim collaborated with Oswald Leopold Ziegler, an Australia publisher who specialised in semi-official publications of a commemorative nature. This working relationship was to last until Sellheim's death in 1970.

Sellheim's designs were unusual for the times. With bold use of photomontage, drawings and the juxtaposition of hand-lettering and commercial type text they were at the cutting edge of graphic design.

In 1939 he was commissioned to decorate the Government tourist Bureau in Melbourne, producing a large scale mural using flat colour and photomontage. This work was awarded the 1939 Sulman Prize.

From 1939 Sellheim's work became closely linked to government departments and companies associated with tourism. He produced general posters for Australian Railways and Victorian Railways as well as posters for specific tourist destinations, within Australia.

'The Sea Side calls' poster like other posters produced for the Australian National Travel Association employs archetypes of Australian beach culture with catch phrases like 'Sunshine and Surf' and 'Surf Club' in strong diagonal compositions counter poised with bold use of flat colour accentuating sea blue and the ochre of bronzed suntans.

In 1947 Sellheim moved to Sydney where he established Gert Sellheim Design in Barrack Street followed by moves to George Street and Lane Cove. His final studio was at Oswald Ziegler's office on York Street, Sydney.

In the 1942s Sellheim was a correspondence teacher for poster design at the Art Training Institute, Melbourne. In 1948 the Post Master General's Department issued his design for a two shilling stamp as a result of a public design competition he won in 1946. In 1948 he also won first prize for his design of an Aboriginal two shilling stamp.

From the 1940s Sellheim created posters for Qantas Empire Airways, including the distinctive flying kangaroo logo. Sellheim was also noted for his interest in Aboriginal art and he incorporated Aboriginal-derived motifs frequently in his work.

During WWII Sellheim was classified by Australian authorities as an enemy alien and was sent to an internment camp in Victoria in 1943. After intervention from his family he was released to do military work. Ironically he was sent to work on the conversion of metric to imperial measurements of armaments.

Sellheim's beach inspired travel posters are important examples of how beach culture archetypes have been adopted by Australian Government departments and agencies to market Australia as a tourist and migrant destination.