ANU School of Art & Design alumnus and friend, the late Robert Foster was inducted into the Design Institute Australia (DIA) Hall of Fame at the Powerhouse Museum, on Thursday 23 May, along with eight other eminent designers.
The DIA Hall of Fame is an enduring record of the pioneers, ambassadors and contributors to the Australian design industry. It showcases Australia’s design visionaries, leaders and unsung heroes and celebrates their significant contribution to Australia’s economic development and cultural identity.
The award was accepted by Foster’s wife and business partner, Gretel Harrison and their daughters, Ineska and Mischa. As a close friend and colleague of Foster's, Dr. Rohan Nicol Head of the Jewellery & Object Workshop at the ANU School of Art & Design also attended the induction ceremony.
Foster completed a Bachelor Visual Arts in Jewellery & Object (formerly Gold and Silversmithing) Honours at the ANU School of Art & Design in 1985 and a Graduate Diploma in Art (Visual) in 1986. He continued to have a significant connection to the School, and over the years, Foster worked as a technician, frequently guest lectured, and generously contributed to teaching within the Jewellery and Object Department. He also employed and provided internships, mentoring and work experience to more than 25 ANU students and six University graduates have designed products for the F!NK range. In 2015, he was awarded ANU Alumnus of the Year for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Speaking on the occasion of this award, Professor Denise Ferris (Head of ANU School of Art & Design) said of Robert:
"His ability to commercialise design solutions marked him as a unique innovator and serves as a shining exemplar of how those trained in the humanities, arts and social sciences have gone on to make important contributions to Australia’s culture of innovation."
Foster was a major figure in the ACT and national design industry and his admission into the DIA Hall of Fame recognises his contribution to the field. In 1993 establish F!nk with the aim of creating a design and manufacturing business that would support and generate opportunities for Australian designer-makers. Joined by Gretel Harrison in 1995, together they built F!NK + Co. into the business it is today – a much loved and respected Australian design company with an international reputation for producing world-class tableware, hollowware, jewellery and lighting.
F!NK is the promise of modern design excellence, uniting the utmost respect for the design ethic with that refined craftsmanship. This craftsmanship combines traditional artisanal practices alongside innovative contemporary manufacturing techniques joined with the wit and rigour of designer-founder Foster.
Best known for designing tableware, lighting, furniture and other objects, Foster also had a number of major sculpture commissions including Ossolites in the foyer of the ActewAGL building in Canberra. Each piece he made is imbued with a distinctive personality and movement; objects ‘that might, Nutcracker-suite style, come to life as the owner sleeps.’
Foster’s iconic F!NK Jug epitomises his design ethos and technical prowess and is a landmark achievement in Australian design. When commissioned to create the jug by Canberra restaurant The Republic, Foster took aluminium tubing, an everyday yet sustainable material, and fashioned it into a sleek, economically-viable product. The original tooling involved old pieces of steel from his father’s tractor and wood from a fence post. The F!nk Jug now features in collections both nationally and internationally including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and major Australian institutions including the National Gallery of Australia.
Following his death in 2016, two grants were set up in Foster’s name to ensure his dedication to helping others continues. The Robert Foster Jewellery & Object Scholarship Award aims to financial support of $10,000 to an eligible student undertaking Honours or Post Graduate Coursework Masters in the Jewellery & Object discipline at the ANU School of Art & Design. For more information on the award, please see here.
For more information about the Design Institute of Australia’s Hall of Fame and a full list of recipients, please see their website.