Slawa Duldig

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Slawa Duldig née Horowitz (1901 - 1975)[1] was an inventor, artist, interior designer and teacher. In 1928, as Slawa Horowitz, she created a design for a compact folding umbrella,[2] which was patented in 1929.[2] Slawa was the wife of the Austrian-Australian sculptor Karl (Karol) Duldig,[3] and mother of Eva de Jong-Duldig, champion Australian tennis player[4] and founder of the present-day Duldig Studio, an artists’ house museum in Melbourne, Australia.[1]

Early years[edit]

Slawa Horowitz Duldig was born on 28 November 1901 in Horocko, Poland, to Nathan and Antonia (‘Toni’) Horowitz.[2] At the time of Slawa’s birth, Nathan Horowitz was the director of a flour mill in the nearby city of Lwow. Her maternal grandparents, the Meisels, were local landowners and operated a mixed farm.[2]

In 1911, concerned by increasing political unrest, the Horowitz family relocated from Poland to Vienna, Austria. Slawa attended a convent school and showed early promise as a pianist.[2] The three Horowitz children were to follow creative pursuits, with Slawa becoming an artist and designer, her sister Aurelie (‘Rella’) an actress, and brother Marek, a lawyer who also wrote poetry and composed music.[2]


On leaving school, Slawa received training in the fine arts at the Viennese School for Women and Girls.[2]

From 1922-1925, Slawa studied with the Viennese sculptor, Anton Hanak, an affiliate of the late nineteenth-century Vienna Secession artistic movement and friend of the founder, Gustav Klimt.[1] In 1929, she graduated from the Akademie der Bildenen Künste Wien (Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna), as the student of Professor Hans Bitterlich, a prominent sculptor.[5] In 1926, her clay sculpture ‘Mother and Child’ had been commended by the Kurjer Lwow (Lwow Courier newspaper) in an exhibition of the work of Professor Bitterlich’s students at the Vienna Künstlerhaus.[2]

Invention of the folding umbrella[edit]

In 1928, following a wet-weather visit to the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna, Slawa conceived the idea for a manageable, handbag-sized folding umbrella.[2]

She reflected on the event in later life, “’It happened [that] one May morning, a cold and rainy day, I armed myself with a big umbrella and muttered to myself, ‘Why on earth must I carry this utterly clumsy thing? Can’t they invent a small folding umbrella which could be easily carried in a bag?’”[2]

Slawa sought to remedy the problem of cumbersome umbrellas with much ingenuity and the support of her parents, sister Rella and close friend Karl Duldig. She drafted designs and obtained umbrella spokes from an industrial source on the pretext that she was designing a lampshade. She engaged a watchmaker to assist with the manufacturing process, bought some black silk fabric, made a pattern, and attached the silk to a shaft and spokes. Karl Duldig suggested that the handle be widened to enable the spokes to fit inside.[2] From this, the prototype of a modern folding umbrella emerged.

With money loaned by her father to engage Viennese patent attorney Ing. Josef Hess, Slawa filed a patent application for the umbrella design. Patent applications were sent to the United Kingdom, Austria, Germany, Italy, France, Poland and the United States.[2] A patent, Specification 318,577, was issued on 19 September 1929.[6]

In the words of Helen Kiddell, ‘The umbrella that Slawa patented had a telescopic handle, allowing it to be made more compact. The metal ribs which formed the skeleton under the black silk covering, were innovatively designed to fold up.'[1]

The umbrella was commercially branded ‘Flirt.’ It was manufactured by the firm of Brüder Wüster in Austria, and Kortenbrach und Rauh in Germany. Ten-thousand ‘Flirt’ umbrellas sold in the first year of production, with Slawa receiving annual royalties until 1938.[7] ‘Flirt’ featured at the 1931 Vienna Spring Fair; ‘”…the sculptress Slawa Horowitz has invented a magic umbrella that can be folded so small it can fit in a handbag…”’ enthused a reporter of the Neuigkeits Welt Blatt (New World Paper).[2]


Slawa married Karl Duldig in 1931.[1] Theirs was an artistic union, forged in Anton Hanak’s sculpture class. Their daughter Eva was born on 11 February 1938.[2] Slawa and Karl Duldig resided in an apartment at 2 Enzingergasse, Door 14, Vienna, which they decorated in the style of the Wiener Werkstätte (Viennese Workshops). They commissioned furniture from the firm of Sigmund Jaray, where Slawa collaborated with the head designer, an architect, to create several significant and unique furniture pieces. Slawa’s design innovations included ‘…red leather strapping in a lattice design for the living room chairs’ and a double bed with head and foot featuring, ‘…small rectangular blocks of mahogany and rosewood…intended by her to replicate lace.’[2]

War years[edit]

In 1938, following the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany, a series of significant human rights violations occurred in Vienna. These included attacks on Jewish homes and businesses, deportations of Jews to Dachau concentration camp, the burning of all Viennese synagogues and prayer houses, and the arrests of 6,547 people.[8] As Jewish people concerned by the potential increasing risk of harm, Slawa, Karl and Eva Duldig departed Vienna for Switzerland. Karl was the first of the family to arrive in Switzerland. Initially, Slawa and Eva remained in Vienna, where Slawa packed the contents of their apartment,[1] which were entrusted to the care of her sister Rella.[2] Slawa had received notification from ‘…the Nazi Gaulieter (District Superintendent)’ that she must evacuate their apartment. The Nazi official offered to purchase the contents of the apartment, and was outwitted by Slawa who advised that the contents had already been sold. Slawa and her friend Melitta Despitz then conspired for Melitta to become the purchaser of the apartment’s contents, in the presence of the official.[2] Their ruse was successful, whereby Slawa managed to retain her family’s belongings and entrust their care to Rella.

Slawa and Eva travelled to Switzerland on temporary visas instigated by Karl and organised by Swiss immigration official Ernest Speck. In Switzerland, Slawa sold the rights of the ‘Flirt’ umbrella to Brüder Wüster[2] for 1,000 Reichsmarks.[1]

In May 1939, the Duldig family arrived in Singapore as refugees.[1] Karl and Slawa set up an art school[2] and Slawa also found employment in art restoration.[9] With Britain declaring war on Germany, their status as foreign nationals became increasingly problematic. In July 1940 they were expelled from Singapore as enemy aliens. Transported with German and Italian internees on the HMT Queen Mary, they arrived in Sydney, Australia, on 25 September 1940. They were detained in Internment Camp 3, Tatura, northern Victoria.[9]

Karl was released from the Camp on 7 April 1942 to join the 8th Employment Company (8th. A.E.C.). Slawa and Eva remained at the Camp until 14 May 1942.[9] With their reclassification from ‘”enemy aliens’” to ‘”refugee aliens”’ on 7 December 1943,[2] Slawa and Karl Duldig settled in Melbourne for the remainder of their lives.

Many members of Slawa’s family had remained in wartime Europe. On 11 October 1944, Slawa sought news of her sister Rella through the Red Cross.[2] On 28 November 1944, she received notification that Rella and Rella’s husband Marcel Laisné were residing safely in Paris. There, Rella and Marcel had ensured the safe-keeping of the contents of Slawa and Karl’s Viennese apartment during the War.[2] A selection of the Duldig’s belongings, including the Sigmund Jaray signature pieces, was shipped to Australia in 1946. They constitute part of the collection at the Duldig Studio.[10]

Slawa and Rella were re-united in Paris on 20 June 1968. Their brother Marek, father Nathan, and extended family including the Herzogs, Sobels, Wasners and Spiegels, had ‘…disappeared without any trace’ in wartime Europe.[2]

Teaching career[edit]

In 1945, Slawa attained registration as a teacher of Art and German and was employed by Korowa Church of England Girls Grammar School.[7] In 1947, she was appointed Senior Art and Craft teacher at St Catherine’s Girls School, where she remained for sixteen years.[11] At St Catherine’s School, Slawa was acknowledged for the depth and breadth of her teaching approach, which featured first-hand knowledge of European Old Master art, craft and furniture design, and innovative approaches enabling students ‘free expression’ and experimental approaches.[7] Slawa was one of the first teachers in Victoria to offer Art as a Matriculation subject.[7]

In June 1954, Slawa was one of thirteen women to attend the UNESCO seminar, ‘The Role of the Visual Arts in Education’ at Melbourne University Women’s College.[2] Slawa participated in an associated working group on ‘Art in Secondary Schools,’ which forwarded the recommendation that Art should be accorded equal status in the schools with all other subjects.[2]

In Melbourne, in approximately 1945, Karl and Slawa Duldig started a hand-made pottery business.[1] Karl produced the ceramics and he and Slawa were involved in their decoration. Their metropolitan Melbourne retail outlets included The Primrose Pottery Shop (which stocked works by prominent Australian artists such as Arthur Boyd),[1] Light and Shade (in the Royal Arcade), and Chez Nous (in Howey Place).[5]

Duldig Studio[edit]

Slawa died on 16 August 1975.[3] In accordance with her wishes, the family home and studio at 92 Burke Road, East Malvern was preserved as the Duldig Studio museum and sculpture garden by Eva de-Jong Duldig.[2] The Studio hosts an exhibition of Slawa's work in Modernist Art and Design, including her artistic productivity, immigration experience, and the invention of the ‘Flirt’ umbrella.[10]


In 1977, the McClelland Gallery (now the McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park) in Langwarrin, Australia, featured the exhibition Slawa Duldig – Artist Teacher Inventor.[7] The exhibition included examples of Slawa’s drawings for the patent of the ‘Flirt’ umbrella, and her drawings, paintings and sculptures spanning a period from c.1915-1974.[7]

In 1978, St Catherine’s School inaugurated the senior student Slawa Duldig Art Prize.[11]

Umbrellas of the ‘Flirt’ design continued in production during the twentieth century. Prototypes of the ‘Flirt’ umbrella, as created by Slawa, are held in the collections of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (Sydney, Australia)[12] and the Duldig Studio.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Helen., Kiddell, (2011). The Duldig Studio : a history. Glen Iris, Vic.: Duldig Gallery. p. 5. ISBN 9780646537115. OCLC 748581760. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z de Jong-Duldig, Eva (2017). Driftwood : escape and survival through art. North Melbourne: Arcadia. p. 58. ISBN 1925588041. OCLC 982607762. 
  3. ^ a b Peers, Juliet, "Duldig, Karl (Karol) (1902–1986)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, retrieved 2018-07-18 
  4. ^ "Eva De Jong-Duldig - Escape and survival through art". SBS Your Language. Retrieved 2018-07-18. 
  5. ^ a b Bond, Helen; de Jong-Duldig, Eva (1988). The Duldig Ceramics: A Retrospective. An exhibition of ceramics by Karl Duldig and his first wife Slawa. Caulfield: City of Caulfield Arts Complex. p. 5. ISBN 0 7316 2373 8. 
  6. ^ "Slawa Duldig Née Horowitz". Austrian Information. Retrieved 2018-07-19. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f de Jong-Duldig, Eva (1977). Slawa Duldig Artist Teacher Inventor. Australia: The McClelland Gallery. p. 11. 
  8. ^ Jewish Vienna Heritage and Mission. Vienna: Jewish Museum Vienna and Jewish Welfare Service. 2015. p. 28. 
  9. ^ a b c Mockridge, Melinda (2014). Art behind the wire : the untold story of refugee families interned in Australia during the Second World War. Damschke, Stefan,, Duldig Gallery Inc. (Glen Iris, Vic.). Glen Iris, Vic: The Duldig. p. 3. ISBN 9780646921174. OCLC 885194487. 
  10. ^ a b c "Duldig Studio". Duldig Studio. Retrieved 2018-07-18. 
  11. ^ a b Clarke, Jane (1992). Mrs Duldig's Girls. A collection of artworks by students of St Catherine's School, 17 Heyington Place, Toorak. Toorak: St Catherine's Old Girls Association. p. 5. ISBN 0646 10545 0. 
  12. ^ "Prototype umbrella". Retrieved 2018-07-18.