The story of Studio Nundah - Macarthur Avenue

In 1950 my father and mother emigrated to Sydney from Holland where they had been in partnership in a pottery business in Amsterdam.

I expect it would have been in 1951 or 52, after I was born, that the old man got a job with East Sydney Tech. and was posted to Canberra to teach ceramics at the new Canberra technical college which at first was over in the old Kingston buildings, where the bus shelters are. In this capacity he helped establish the first art school here in Canberra.

For the first couple of years he commuted from Sydney to Canberra on an old BSA motorbike but then he was allocated the Macarthur Avenue house and that became our home in about 1954 or 55.

The pottery studio at the back of the Macarthur Avenue house was built by my father with the aid of Jack Ketley, the head of the Electrical Trades, and a number of other people involved in the trade areas of the Tech. The arrangement was that he would make them a dinner service in exchange for their help.

My father and mother separated in 1962, and as we were struggling on the meagre sum awarded her by the Court for maintenance, she started running pottery classes in the studio several mornings and evenings a week. In the same year she opened what is believed to be the first commercial art gallery in Canberra - Studio Nundah.

The gallery ran in the front three rooms of the house, so we all ended up living in the other two remaining bedrooms and the kitchen until 1965 when my mother went into a very brief partnership which facilitated a loan for the extension to the gallery.

The extension was designed by Theo Bischoff and the architectural drawings were done by Neil Renfrey. It included lots of blank wall space for the hanging of paintings. Other features were an innovative system of pelmeting, charcoal black ceilings with spot-lights, hessian-coloured walls and polished wooden floors - it was all very spiffy. There was a large patio built in slate and the garden was redesigned somewhat to accommodate sculpture.

With the regularity of openings - the show would be on for 2 weeks, then it would be pull down, pack up, receive the new goods and set up, so you might have an opening about every three or four weeks - there was a lot of coming and going at Macarthur Avenue during my teenage years. For openings, particularly winter openings, we'd serve Gluwein and there'd be a coterie of individuals, supporters of the gallery, who would stay back and party on. There was a lot of camaraderie and support because Canberra was still so small.

My Father got an MBE for his contribution to the arts but I also think it would have been nice if my mother had got something like that. She had a policy of exhibiting younger artists, people like Geoff Makin, who had recently graduated from East Sydney Tech., and I notice here in one of the visitors' books that there was a show of contemporary prints by Arthur Wicks who's now a well-established artist. To maintain the viability of the gallery in relation to this policy my mother put on exhibitions of landscapes which sold very well.

As a consequence of all her activities - the gallery, kids' classes in the school holidays, raising a family by herself, my mother's own work didn't get much of a look-in. She did do some of it but, like any artist might tell you, unless you have unfettered time, it's very hard. She ended up being a good listener for a number of individuals. She was a very accommodating person and she worked her butt off with little or no financial reward.

I think it was about 1972 that the gallery closed down. My mother stayed on at Macarthur Avenue until she died in 1985. I'm curious to see now that since Fine Line have sold it, there's a consulting psychologist there. It seems somehow appropriate given the role my mother played there for so many people. She always used to say if the walls could speak ...

Michael LeGrand, Macarthur Avenue, 1954-1991 (oral history interview 1996)

 

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