Folding umbrella's 'flirtatious' history never forgotten by family of Karl and Slawa Duldig

February 10 is World Umbrella Day, folding umbrella an occasion not typically marked by raucous celebrations but one always remembered in Melbourne's east.

In East Malvern is the former home and studios of Karl and Slawa Duldig, which is now a museum of their impressive artwork including bronzes by Karl, a renowned modernist sculptor.

It also holds an early prototype of an Austrian-invented folding, collapsible umbrella.Slawa Duldig invented and patented the umbrella design in 1928 when she was still Slawa Horowitz.Both Polish-born, she and Karl met while studying sculpture in Vienna.

The two would frequently draw together on Sundays in the surrounds of the Kunsthistorisches Museum.Their daughter Eva, who founded the Duldig museum, said it was on one of the drawing excursions that Slawa came up with the idea for the folding umbrella.A prototype was built with parts from watchmakers, and she made sure not to buy too many parts from any one place.
Slawa obtained a patent for her invention in 1928 and successfully licensed the design to manufacturers in Austria and Germany.Patents for folding, telescopic umbrellas date back to at least 1896 but Slawa's improvements were elegant.

She simplified the folding mechanism, allowing the whole umbrella to be smaller and more practical."It was still seen as quite a luxury item; it was beautifully finished and made out of nice materials."

The Flirt was featured at the 1931 Inventor's Fair in Vienna, with the press describing it as "the magic umbrella of the sculptress".Slawa married Karl that same year and her business helped to fund their new life together."She was able to furnish the whole house with this beautiful customised art furniture made by a very well-known firm in Vienna," Eva said.

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