The history of the Royal Queensland Art Society “Fellows” began in the late 1960’s when grading of membership was discussed by council, however it was put on the continual backburner for a couple of decades. The society did have Honorary Life Members as well as Honorary or Privileged Members, the later often awarded to folk who supported the RQAS for long periods of time, however many of these folk were excluded from voting rights at AGM’s and meetings. Life membership was first awarded in 1907, with renowned sculptor Harold Parker the first. Others to be awarded this honour included: Daphne Mayo, L.J. Harvey, Dr James V. Duhig, Melville Haysom, Caroline Barker, Harold & Agnes Richardson, Nan Paterson[i]and Karen Kane, the longest serving secretary with the RQAS. When the society held its centenary exhibition in 1987, it looked again at its history and reignited the discussion for the status of members, including Fellows. In April/May, 1988 a sub-committee comprising: Betty Manzie, Ada Ludlow, Dianna Martin, Mary Norrie, Beth Woo and Sheelah Mee, along with Glenn R. Cooke from the Queensland Art Gallery once again considered Fellows as an important addition of the RQAS
The inaugural proposed list consisted of Irene Amos, Nevil Matthews, John Rigby and William Robinson to form a foundation fellowship,[ii]with additional names later being added: Dr Lloyd Rees, Margaret Olley, Don Hamilton, Patricia Prentice, Ann Thompson and Madonna Staunton.[iii]All these artists were connected to the RQAS as former members, with only Irene Amos and Don Hamilton currently active with the society. The only artist with basically no real connection to the RQAS was William Robinson. The rules discussed were that the recipients have made obvious commitment to the arts outside the society as in exhibition, awards, education, publication and the general promotion of the visual arts. All the artists mentioned here fulfilled these qualities, however the important requirement of [must be a member], disqualified most of the names put forward. Betty Manzie stated: “Let’s face it – if these artists think we are so far down the road, they will not want to help us raise our standards, in which case we forget the whole thing.”[iv]Glenn R. Cooke believed that this direction of appointing Fellows was necessary for the future development of the society.[v]
In August, 1991 the RQAS was incorporated into the new Friendly Societies Act, with former president, G. Maclean Offner rewriting the society constitution, and in so doing opened the doors for the introduction of “Fellows”. On the 19 July, 1992,[vi]the inaugural RQAS “Fellows” were awarded to Margaret Olley, Dr Irene Amos and Dr George D. Williamson. Margaret Olley was well known in art circles in Queensland and nationally, however her involvement with the RQAS was as a student in the early 1940’s, although little involvement had occurred since. She was unable to attend the presentation due to other commitments.[vii]Dr Irene Amos had been a member of the RQAS since 1961 and had achieved many things in her career. She was the first woman to receive a Doctorate in Creative arts at the University of Wollongong in 1990 and in 1991 was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for her services to the arts in Queensland. Dr George D. Williamson had only been a member since 1987[viii]but has been a supporter of the RQAS for many years in selecting a number of annual exhibitions during the 1960’s and 1970’s, as well as presenting lectures and talks to society members on art related topics. He promoted the arts through the Queensland Education Department and he received an Honorary Doctorate in Cultural Education from the World University in Arizona, USA in 1988[ix]. He was attached mainly to the Gold Coast branch and served as their president a number of times. On receiving this honour, Williamson said: “I shall endeavour to be a worthy fellow in the high standards and traditions of the society”.[x]
Ada Ludlow was the first woman to be elected president of the RQAS and had an extensive exhibition history outside the RQAS. She was also the society gallery director and in 1995 she was the fourth to be appointed a Fellow. The following year Mary Norrie was appointed, and she felt honoured to be invited to join such a famous group.[xi]Seven years would go by until others would be nominated as Fellows, and in 2003 four more would join this prestigious group. At the AGM in October watercolourists Don Hamilton and Charles Ludlow, along with Audrey Gibbs and Penelope Gilbert-Ng were presented their awards by Dr Irene Amos, assisted by president, John Pyke and Brisbane chairman Arthur B. Palmer. At the time Penny was the youngest RQAS artist to receive this award. Also up for consideration around this time was Phyllis Schneider, she had been a member since 1964, and from 1986 she served as the society librarian until her passing in February 2004. She was posthumously made a Fellow that year. In 2005 Esther Austin, Dr Grahame Readshaw and Gold Coast member, Peter Abraham became appointed Fellows. Esther had served as president and had over 14 Solo exhibitions to her credit exhibiting at Logan and Port Moresby including a Retrospective of her work at the Logan Art Gallery in 2004.[xii]In 2018 she was awarded an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for her services to the visual arts. Dr Readshaw had been a member since 1971 and he had extensively written on painting techniques and had a number of articles published in Australian Artist, as well as two books. Sadly he passed away in April 2015.
Peter Abraham was a gifted draughtsman and in his first Solo show at the Moreton Galleries in April, 1948, the Queensland Art Gallery purchased one of his works[xiii]not bad for someone only 21 years old. He won some prestigious prizes during his career including the Crouch Prize in 1962. The Fellows held their first exhibition as a group at the RQAS in July/August, 2004. The exhibition was opened by renowned Queensland artist John Rigby, 63 works were displayed by the 10 Fellows exhibiting, with Phyllis Schneider represented by works from her estate, and Ethel Williamson providing work from her late husband. In April/May, 2006 the second exhibition of the RQAS Fellows was held and opened by artist Dale Marsh, with Esther Austin, Peter Abraham and Dr Grahame Readshaw exhibiting for the first time. Margaret Olley’s etching Turkish Pots & Lemmonwas loaned to the exhibition by Phillip Bacon Galleries, with Mary Norrie and George Williamson represented with works from private collections and the RQAS collection.
The list of names grew and five more were inducted as Fellows in 2006. Margaret Raymond, Glen Gillard, Win Robbins, Brian Williams and Peter Hubbard had their awards presented to them by Dr Irene Amos. Margaret Raymond had a long association with the RQAS and had also served as librarian for many years, and was an associate of the Royal South Australian Society of Arts, as well as illustrating a number of books. Glen Gillard is the painter’s painter, at home in oils and watercolours, and excelling in still life, landscape and portraiture, He was a finalist in the 1990 Doug Moran Portrait Prize, and has had a successful career in painting murals, his first commission was at Bowen in 1989. Win Robbins had the distinction as the longest living serving member of the RQAS, having joined in 1943[xiv]. She was attached to the Gold Coast branch, serving as secretary and president as well as president of the Brisbane branch. She was a fine portrait painter and was a finalist in the 1958 Archibald Prize. She passed away in 2011. Brian Williams had been a member since the late 1950’s, and had always promoted the society in any way he could. He was a gentle articulate man and a painter of quality. He was the last society artist, whose work Cleaning Fish was acquired by the Queensland Art Gallery from an RQAS annual exhibition in 1960.
Peter Hubbard’s involvement with the RQAS began in the early 1960’s and although his art career had a considerable gap, he returned to painting in the late 1980’s and reacquainted himself with the RQAS. He also served as society gallery director for a number of years. Others nominated around this time included Donald P. Vernon and Sue Victorsen, but both declined the nomination. On 9August, 2008, John Massy opened the 3rdFellows exhibition comprising 66 works from 18 Fellows. Some delightful works were on display including Dr Grahame Readshaw’s monochromatic watercolour, Wynnum, Banksiasby Peter Abraham, Impish Self Portrait by Peter Hubbard, showing his quirky side and the delightful Goat Boyby Brian Williams. The entire exhibition oozed with charm.[xv]Six years would transpire before another four would be appointed, with society president, Dr Kay Kane, and RQAS stalwarts, Max Butler, Irene McKean and Sue Victorsen. Their awards were presented at the 2012 AGM by RQAS Inc. president, John Pyke.
In September, 2013 the 4thFellows exhibition was held under the title The Fellows’ Choice, and for the first time only living fellows had their work on display. The exhibition was officially opened by the state member for Bardon, Saxon Rice MP. This was also the first Fellows exhibition in the society’s new premises at Petrie Terrace. In reviewing the exhibition, Greg de Silva stated: “I venture to suggest getting together an exhibition of Fellows’ work, including work from Fellows now deceased, would produce an exhibition of even more diverse and outstanding work, while further revealing the strength in depth of members of the Royal Queensland Art society.”[xvi]On the 29 September, 2013, Greg de Silva, Beverly Tainton and Francis Rowland-Wregg also joined the ranks of the RQAS Fellows. Once again RQAS Inc. president, John Pyke did the honours in presenting the awards. Greg de Silva said “They don’t come along every day, and to be acknowledged by your peers is humbling and a very nice thing, Bev, Frances and I will continue with our art careers and we are now ambassadors for the Royal Queensland Art Society so we will keep working for the betterment of the arts.”[xvii]
The 5thFellows exhibition was held in May/June, 2015 and was opened by arts patron, John Massy to a capacity crowd. He remarked that just because you have made it as a Fellow, doesn’t mean your job is done, you have an obligation to keep producing work of a high standard and to continue promoting the RQAS and the visual arts. The exhibition comprised of 66 works, again with only living fellow’s, with the exception of Dr Grahame Readshaw, who had only passed away just before the exhibition opened. Audrey Gibbs won the “People’s Choice” award, as voted by the viewing public. Sadly she passed away not long after this exhibition at the age of 94. A trend was setting in and Chas Ludlow soon followed at 92 years. At the AGM that year, four more were inducted as Fellows including: Joan Cooper, Ruby Eaves, Dr Christine Kirkegard and Graham W. Smith. All were in attendance to accept their awards, except Ruby Eaves, now living in Toowoomba, was unable to attend, committee member and fellow watercolourist, Anne Roberts accepted on her behalf.
In 2016 another three were made Fellows, they were Moreen Neil, Joanne Heath and Gold Coast member, Heather Blackstock. Moreen Neil served the society for many years, and after Phyllis Schneider retired as society librarian, Moreen filled this gap for a considerable number of years. Joanne Heath’s artistic output covered sculpture, print making, painting and photography she is an all- rounder. Heather Blackstock served as Vice-President of the Gold Coast branch for a time, and this was not her only stab at nominating as a Fellow with the society. She was nominated by Win Robbins more than once[xviii]and although she presented an excellent CV, her nomination was unsuccessful at that time.[xix]It was good that she was continually nominated by her branch for her contributions to the visual arts and the RQAS, it finally paid off.
Sadly another RQAS Fellow succumbed to age, and at 96 years, Margaret Raymond passed away in May 2018, still drawing and sketching only a few weeks before she died.[xx]If a national treasure was attached to the RQAS, then Margaret Raymond could proudly wear that title, having been a loyal and active member for more than 60 years.[xxi]With the 6thFellows exhibition due to open in January, 2019, curator Peter Hubbard has assembled all Fellows with the society since inception to be on display, including those now deceased. For most of these no longer with us will be represented from the RQAS collection, with Peter Abraham, Win Robbins and George Williamson represented through private collections. The most exciting thing for Peter was the loan of a significant Margaret Olley painting for the exhibition from the Ipswich City Art Gallery collection. This exhibition will be an inspiring look at the work of these talented artists, all have contributed to the wider visual art scene, but also significantly to the RQAS.
What’s been written is but a glimpse of the history of the RQAS “Fellows” and the contributions they made for a better cultural life in Queensland.
Greg de Silva, FRQAS © Greg de Silva: May 2015; January, 2019
Keith Bradbury & Glenn R. Cooke, Thorns & Petals: 100 Years of Royal Queensland Art Society, RQAS Brisbane, 1988; RQAS Minutes 9 May, 1989
Fellowship Sub-Committee Meeting, 24 May, 1988
Sub-Committee report, 13 April, 1988
G. Maclean Offner Letter to Irene Amos, 27 July, 1988
RQAS Newsletter, July/August, 1992
Margaret Olley Letter to RQAS
Application for Membership, 24 December, 1987
Greg de Silva, Knowledge and Skills: The Art of George D. Williamson (1927-2000), RQAS, 2002
George Williamson Letter to RQAS, 28 April, 1992
Mary Norrie letter to RQAS, 4 November, 1996
Karen Kane & Greg de Silva, Royal Queensland Art Society Inc. 3rdFellows Exhibition, 9 August-5 September, 2008
Art Sale, Telegraph, 20 April, 1948
Bradbury & Cooke, op. cit
RQAS Newsletter, September/October, 2008
Greg de Silva, “Good Artistic Choices”, RQAS Newsletter, October, 2013
Douglas Estwick, “Talented threesome receive fellowships”, South-West News, 29 January, 2014
RQAS Minutes, 12 May, 1992
RQAS Letter to Heather Blackstock, 21 April, 1992
Phone Conversation with Rob Raymond, 28 May, 2018
Greg de Silva, “Arts stalwart a national treasure”, Courier-Mail, 18 June, 2018