Hall of Fame / Bruce Weatherhead (1939-2011) and Alex Stitt (1937-2016)

Weatherhead and Stitt 1964-1973

Weatherhead & Stitt was the place to be in the sixties. Everyone wanted to work there. Many ventured, few were chosen.

In those days to have a copy of the Pushpin Graphic in your library was as good as a first folio of The Bard. Thanks to Milton Glaser et al in New York, drawing had come back to design big time after the icy cool of the Swiss School. Weatherhead & Stitt were the local masters of it. Also, disconcertingly, of typography, colour, gusto and sheer good humour! The work that poured out of their studio during this period had a wit, and an edge that hadn't been seen before. They took chances, huge chances, and always pulled them off.

They were the darlings of the advertising agencies, and they worked constantly for the major players of the time. Clemenger, Hayes, Briggs and James(the same Haughton James who worked with the Collings), and Walker Robertson Maguire.

They had circled around each other at art school, and in early career. They were both at RMIT (Melbourne Tech) at more or less the same time, but different years. Like moths, they were drawn to John Wilson's newly established animation company at Channel Nine. One of the first animation studios in Australia, it employed twenty to thirty people including the young Bruce Petty and Gus McLaren.

Weatherhead was eighteen and it was his first job, Stitt was twenty and had worked in advertising at Castle Jackson on the recommendation of Richard Beck. He had in fact made three or four commercials before he joined Wilson.

Through an introduction from Phillip Adams, Weatherhead met Ted Zeigler, an American performer on Channel Seven, and was whisked away to Chicago for two years, to produce and perform in a TV kids show, [OE]Ted's Time.' As [OE]Uncle Bruce' he did a kind of Rolf Harris with pastels, and characters called things like [not equal]Plato Platypus were involved, but I'm not sure I want to go there.

Back home after running out of visa, he started working with Arthur Leydin in the celebrated Dimension Group. In the first year he won awards, including Gold at the ACIAA.

Alex, meanwhile, hadn't been mucking about. He had built up a huge and award-laden reputation as an outstanding talent in both graphics and film. They were both independently mates of film people like Fred Schepsi and Phillip Adams, and they were the two best drawers in town.

With so many synergies something had to happen, and it did. In 1964 they started Weatherhead & Stitt. It took off like a rocket. They ran a tight ship and Didn't have a cast of thousands. Themselves, animator Frank Hellard and finished artist David Dalgarno was about it. One of the few to squeeze in was Ned Culic, now one of Australia's finest illustrators, but then a snotty kid who managed to impress Alex and Bruce enough to let him do work experience. He never went back. He finished his course from there.

Ned says[not equal] "It was an incredible atmosphere. You just knew you were at the best, most creative place in Australia. I had to keep pinching myself. It was the most awarded design group ever."

In 1965 their friend Fred Schepsi who had been working at the old, faltering Cinesound Studios presented them with the opportunity to buy into it with him, which they did and renamed it 'The Film House.' Alex and Bruce eventually sold their interest back to Schepsi to fund the grandest venture of them all, 'The Jigsaw Factory.'

Located in Bridge Road, Richmond, near the river, the [not equal]Factory was at once a retail outlet, an entertainment centre for kids, and the Weatherhead & Stitt studio. The concept grew out of working with Bill and Lorna Hannan, two educationalists who convinced Cheshires to publish a revolutionary package of English teaching materials that finished up looking more like a big box of toys and games.

Fired with the idea of doing more and more of these amazing objects, they decided to go full pelt into it. People still talk about the Jigsaw Factory with disbelief. Alex and Bruce took nearly two years working with the Hannans and other contributors to design the hundred or so products sold there.

Morris Lurie, Melbourne's portly version of Woody Allen, was living in London at the time, but had the odd trip home every now and then, and always checked out Alex and Bruce. He found the visits exhilarating, the mood in the studio always at a pitch of excitement he did not find in London, and the products of the Jigsaw Factory, amazing. He described a cardboard pop-up, punch-out gizmo that you stuck on your turntable, peered through a little slot, and saw Eadweard Muybridge's walking figure performing in front of you. It was called the Zoetrope. Strewth!

Australia had never seen such bravado in graphic design. The Jigsaw Factory had a daily strip and a monthly page full of puzzles and jokes in The Age newspaper. The Factory itself had playpits, tunnels and an upstairs theatre where occasionally Bruce Woodley sang, and the Pram Factory performed. It was too good to last.

By 1973 the noble experiment was a bit shaky, and by 1974, despite their best efforts, it was clearly finished, and so was the partnership. Alexander Stitt and Bruce Weatherhead are independent senior designers today, with none of their genius impaired, but for that brief rollicking moment together, when they were Weatherhead & Stitt, they were kings.

Max Robinson
Copyright 2002

 

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