Thursday, October 23, 2014


I don't normally write a whole post about other people here on my Blog. But, when someone makes a real difference to life, art and culture, I am compelled to share their story, even if it is only one part of their all-life story.

I write this as a fellow-artist.

Recently I returned to a place where I had spent 18 years of my life. This place is a small rural town on the border of Queensland and New South Wales, Australia. The town is called Goondiwindi. I had not returned for nearly 15 years and the reason for my visit was to attend a friend's funeral. My friend was Jenepher Wilson. When I met her in 1982, I was a very young bride and Jenepher would have been about the age I am now. She took me under her wing!

Jenepher Wilson

Jenepher was keen to meet me, because I am an artist and she was too. After finishing school in Brisbane, Jenepher won a scholarship to art college at the East Sydney Technical College, which later became the National Art School. She was taught by some of Australia's well known artists and many of her classmates forged very successful careers. She was a talented artist and as you will see, also an extremely talented person.

Jenepher met her husband, Talbot, at a ball in Brisbane and apparently it was love at first sight. They became very successful farmers moving from near Dalby, to between Moree and Goondiwindi and in the late 70s/early 80s they built a beautiful home on the outskirts of Goondiwindi. In 1985 my then-husband and I became the Wilson's neighbours, but it was not as simple as jumping over the fence. We each had large acreage with paddocks of prickly plants, long grass potentially harbouring deadly snakes, and a couple of electrified stock fences to get through.

L to R: Genevieve Wilson, Jenepher Wilson, Norman Fox and Lachlan Wilson [his back anyway] on Norman's and my partially constructed verandah.
Looking towards the Wilson property. Yes, prickly plants, long grass, but thank goodness for the creek. But, it did sometimes dry up!

Jenepher loved beauty and she and Talbot worked as a team to collect paintings, decorative arts and sculpture, to adorn their home. Their collection was a serious one and why would it not be, Jenepher had a very good 'eye'. They also developed a magnificent garden which was a dream to wander through. The garden was also a work of art and was a backdrop for sculptures, some created by Talbot and other family members.

Jenepher loved talking about art and was generous in her expansive knowledge and enthusiasm. She was very active in attempting to stimulate and support cultural activities in Goondiwindi. There are really too many of these to mention, but they ranged from providing a teaching studio [aka old woolshed] for Flying Arts tri/quarterly visits, to opening her garden for various open garden activities, including those organised by Open Gardens Australia. She invigorated the Goondiwindi branch of the Queensland Arts Council, supported the local art show and award, pushed forward with a major collaborative community art project Moods Of The Macintyre [see photos below] for the local community/cultural centre. She established a sculpture school, started Greening Goondiwindi and more. When the collaborative art project Moods Of The McIntyre was launched, a lavish event was held. Betty Churcher, then Director of the National Gallery of Australia and an old art school classmate of Jenepher's, unveiled the major wall hanging, designed by local artist Jocelyn Cameron and made by local craftspeople.

A Flying Arts class 1990 in Jenepher and Talbot's old wool shed. Jenepher is standing at the table on the left chatting to tutor Shelagh Morgan

One of the most significant disappointments for Jenepher was that Goondiwindi never, in her lifetime, had an art gallery of  regional gallery standard that could accommodate not only local exhibitions, but touring ones too. An art gallery was one of the things Jenepher tirelessly advocated for over many years. On my trip to attend her funeral I learnt that an art gallery is currently being constructed in the Regional Council Cultural and Theatre Development due to be completed 2015, 33 years after she conscripted me to assist her with her agitations. Back in 1982, I was keen to help as I was a recent graduate of Art History from the University of Queensland and fresh from my employment as a curatorial assistant at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. For me an art gallery, that could show local and touring exhibitions, was a no-brainer. Like Jenepher I thought it would be a valuable addition to the cultural tapestry of the town. A gallery would provide exposure, even just a little, to the kind of visual arts city people take for granted and have easy access to.

We and others tried to gain support for a Goondiwindi Art Gallery, and at various times, there seemed to be a chance, but to no avail. In the late 1980s plans for a cultural centre, with tiered theatre and a room that could be converted to a gallery, with moving walls, gallery standard lighting, hanging facilities etc, was to be built. [I know this because I attended meetings with the architects] However, whilst a building was built, it was nothing like the original concept; no tiered theatre and no gallery. There's an intriguing story here...for another time!

 Moods of the McIntyre The upper panel represents the far bank, the centre panel is the river flow and the lower section is the reflections in the water. The wall hanging was designed by local artist Jocelyn Cameron. The creation of the piece included 12 crafts using hand dyed coloured materials. It involved 250 people and took two years to complete.
DETAIL photo below. Photography: Danielle Lancaster

Jenepher always had wonderful ideas. Talking with her was like taking a trip on a shooting star. She thought in pictures, like movie pictures. More often than not, she had multiple ones running in her head, and it was sometimes difficult to keep up with her. But, rest assured, her visions were always to enhance life in Goondiwindi for everyone, not just herself and family. For example, Greening Goondiwindi was a project where trees were planted around the streets. When I visited to attend Jenepher's funeral, I could not help but think of her contribution to the oasis-like appearance of the town. Her sense of community came naturally and selflessly.

Jenepher was also a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. Over the last 15 years, when Jenepher [and sometimes Talbot] and I caught up in Brisbane, I'd hear about exciting events in the family, as well as life in Goondiwindi. When we met in the city we'd invariably visit galleries, institutional and commercial. She was always interested in my art, often ringing me to find out how my plans were going. When I lived in Goondiwindi we occasionally painted together. We also attended china painting classes. This was a hoot, which we both thoroughly enjoyed. While the others in the class became very accomplished traditional china painters, Jenepher and I splashed paint around, creating colourful very non-traditional pieces. Our teacher would look over our shoulders and say something like, 'Oh you two, I'll just let you do your thing.'

What I have written is just a snippet of Jenepher's life and talent. To explain it all would be impossible, because Jenepher's intellect and creativity, the colourful moving pictures and visions in her head, were far too vibrant and important to ever be contained in explanation.

All I can say is that Goondiwindi was given a very special gift when Jenepher Wilson arrived in town.

Jenepher Wilson at an exhibition of Goondiwindi artists held in Brisbane mid 1980s.

Vale, Jenepher...


1 comment:

Audubon Ron said...

A very nice tribute.