We have a clock at our place, in the laundry of all places, that states “home is where your story begins”.
All of us have a story, a life story and it begins at home – the place where we grew up. What happened in our home environment, our relationship with significant others, such as mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, uncle, aunt or school teacher and what opportunities we had forms who we become. It is the nurture (environment) or nature (biological) debate about what it is that shapes our personality, temperament, talents, our likes and dislikes. We may move from home to home, from town to city, from country to country, but whenever we are home our story continues….
Earlier this week we were in Murwillumbah visiting friends and we visited the Tweed Regional Gallery (TRG) which is home to The Margaret Olley Art Centre (MOAC). I had read about Margaret Olley AC, the celebrated still life artist and how her home was recreated in a purpose-built centre and on permanent display at the TRG. The MOAC Project took over two years to catalogue, photograph, archive and pack around 21,000 objects from Margaret’s house before travelling 800 kilometres from Paddington to Murwillumbah.
Margaret’s home was her studio, her studio her life. Her story continued and ended in her home (Duxford Street, Paddington, Sydney). She had owned the home for almost half a century and this is where she took her last breath at age 88 years on 26 July, 2011. Margaret expressed a wish to have her studio and parts of her home in the area where she spent her childhood. The result was the $4 million MOAC and an artist-in-residence studio on site at TRG.
For some of her life, home for Margaret was in Tygalgah, near Murwillumbah. To attend school in Murwillumbah Margaret and her siblings crossed the Tweed River in a rowboat to meet the bus that would take them to school. When in secondary school at Somerville House, Brisbane, her art teacher Caroline Barker recognised her talent and encouraged Margaret’s parents to send her to art school. She studied at Brisbane Central Technical College and then at East Sydney Technical College.
Margaret led a colourful life, similar to her artworks and at home she surrounded herself with still life such as flowers, fruit, figurines and artefacts that were then transferred to the canvas. She lived and breathed her art, travelled the world and formed friendships with other celebrated artists such as William Dobell, Russel Drysdale, Donald Friend, Sidney Nolan, David Strachan, Jean Bellette and Justin O’Brien. While Margaret never married she had a long-term relationship with Sam Hughes, art dealer and theatre director up until his death in 1982. Margaret inherited his estate and after this she became a passionate philanthropist including donating more than $7 million in art to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. However, life was not always easy for Margaret she became an alcoholic and after seeking help from Alcohol Anonymous in 1959 she never drank again. Like many others she was not immune to depression and after the death of friends in 2001 she contemplated suicide. Fortunately, with the help of the Black Dog Institute she developed a new momentum for life.
A colourful life, a colourful woman, a celebrated artist an inspiration to me. Enjoy the following pictures I took when I was at the Margaret Olley Art Centre in Murwillumbah this past week.
In April 2011 just months before her death, Ben Quilty won the Archibald Prize with his drawing of Margaret Olley. Watch the video below to hear a little more of Margaret’s story.
Read more about Margaret Olley’s life story and achievements here.