It is Friday night, folks, and we thought we would share some extraordinary archival footage detailing the complex relationship between WOOL and PETROL. These films are both from the 1950s and were found in the amazing Prelinger Archives. They are each very interesting when viewed from a certain critical perspective. The first film is called SHEEP and was sponsored by – wait for it – TEXACO OIL COMPANY. The film does contain some interesting factoids about US sheep and some amazing footage of different breeds, landscapes and shearers and it is worth watching for this. However the large TEXACO sponsored message that cheap gasoline is the saviour of high altitude sheep farmers rings rather hollow while elsewhere the film casually describes how wool is no longer as profitable for the sheep farmer as meat: with wool struggling to compete in the market place with cheap synthetic man-made fibres, one can’t help wondering whether the cheap gasoline for driving farm machinery wasn’t something of a mixed blessing.
The second film, The Wonderful World of Wash’n’Wear is sponsored by the Whirlpool Corporation and is a eulogy to the superior, easy-to-care-for qualities of synthetic fibres when it comes to cleaning and drying.
These films offer a snapshot of an important moment in the history of wool. The whole presentation of sheep farming in SHEEP emphasises large vehicles and fat lambs, drawing on the symbolic framework of cattle ranching and the beef industry to re-frame sheep as MEAT animals and not as WOOL animals. Meanwhile the Wonderful World of Wash’n’Wear laments the difficulty of caring for wool in daily life and the huge convenience offered to the modern housewife by new appliances and synthetic, un-shrinkable fibres. These ideas were devastating to wool, but many of the assertions made in these two films that hail from the 1950s are happily being re-appraised in the practices of some of our amazing comrades in WOOL WORLD. For example, Sally Antill and Michael Baxter are exploring possibilities for once again producing dual-purpose animals which yield good for WOOL and MEAT, proving that it really doesn’t have to be about one or the other, while new fashion practices which relish the tasks of caring for, and repairing our beloved woolen clothes challenge the 1950s idealisation of cheap and easy to care for clothing.
The Wonderful World of Wash’n’Wear also goes some way towards explaining why garments which are not made of WOOL are still mis-described as it when the slick-haired presenter says: “Textile manufacturers, clothing makers, fabric designers all asked: what can we find that’s an improvement over wool? Or blends with it? What looks, feels, drapes, fashions better than wool? And for that matter, cotton, linen and silk… [we set out to] find something with all the good things of natural fibres and none of the drawbacks”. WOOL was always the original inspiration for the newer synthetic textiles which followed it and yet in the words for the script of oil-sponsored SHEEP “no adequate substitute for wool has ever been found.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. We hope you enjoy these unique films which speak as they do from a distinctive place in history: they are part of the story of WOOL!