Sturt Gallery & Studios / 80 Years in the Making
‘I hope to open a new school – I do not know what it will turn into… It might become a colony of artists and craftsmen, potters and printers…or, of course it may just go phut!’
(Winifred West, 1941)
Well, it certainly didn’t go ‘phut!’
When Winifred West retired as headmistress of Frensham, the school she founded in 1913, she focused her passion for education on the opening of Sturt Gallery & Studios, now Australia’s oldest design centre, and an internationally treasured model of the post-war studio crafts movement in Australia.
Sturt opened in 1941 originally to provide spinning, weaving and carpentry tuition to students from Mittagong Public School, and for adults seeking useful creative skills. 1951 saw the arrival of a German master weaver, and Sturt became well known for its invitation to international craftspeople to visit, work and exhibit. Sturt Pottery was established in 1954, one of the pioneering potteries in Australia.
As founding potter Ivan McMeekin pointed out later, the emerging post-war crafts movement was to do with a shift to professionalism, and Sturt’s workshops developed along these lines in the 1950s and 1960s.
Elisabeth Nagle taught weaving at Sturt for 50 years and she explains, ‘Sturt grew out of two things – it was heavily influenced by Morris in England and by a whole philosophy of education tied up with that – hand and mind’.
William Morris and Winifred West were all about making inspired by and in tune with nature.
William Morris (1834 – 1896) argued that ‘without dignified, creative human occupation people became disconnected from life.’ Morris was a behemoth in 19th Century design in England, and probably the most recognisable personality from the Arts and Crafts movement, which came to signify the disdain towards mindless, mass-scale manufacture, and the disconnect between design and construction. Sound familiar?
Sturt’s Director, Kristie Phelan expands: ‘In an increasingly anxious and disconnected world, Sturt is the perfect antidote to flickering screens and Sturt Gallery & Studio’s unique model of educating in an inspired studio setting has never been more vital,’ Phelan continues, ‘Demand to learn fine furniture making, ceramics, jewellery and weaving is at an all-time high and appreciation and sales of hand-made furniture and Australian contemporary craft, textiles, and sculptural basketry is having a huge resurgence.’
Since those first woodworkers and weavers, Sturt has flourished into a dynamic cultural destination. What Heide is to Victorians, Sturt is here to us in New South Wales. Not only offering engaging exhibitions, residencies, courses and workshops across a wide range of contemporary craft practices, Sturt runs the Cert IV in Fine Design & Technology at the renowned School for Wood, arguably the finest woodworking school in the Southern Hemisphere.
To date, hundreds of the world’s master makers have come to Sturt Gallery & Studio to share their skills, along with pioneering Australian artisans who went on to contribute a lifetime of wisdom in their chosen craft. Many of them gifted pieces which have now become the permanent collection at Sturt.
October 3rd is a significant date in Sturt’s calendar, and to celebrate this anniversary year a new exhibition ‘Sturt – 80 Years in the Making’ will open. Drawing on the treasures and archival imagery of the Sturt permanent collection, this important exhibition tells the stories of some of the world’s greatest makers who made the pilgrimage to the Highlands to live, work and generously share their practice and knowledge with others.
The exhibition launches online this Sunday but will open physically as soon as lockdown lifts. In the meantime you can jump online for a virtual tour sturt.nsw.edu.au or follow them on Instagram @sturt_craft_centre to find out more.
Artsfile is proud to support Sturt Gallery & Studios by presenting an exhibition of photographs of this inspiring institution since its foundation 80 years ago, to today. Just click here or navigate to the Artsfile Exhibitions tab above.
The exhibition will run until November the 14th.
All enquiries: Kristie Phelan, Head of Sturt on 02 48602080 or Slavica Zivkovic, Gallery Manager on 02 4860 2083.
Cnr Range Rd and Waverley Pde, Mittagong 2575.
Open seven days 10am – 5pm.
Sturt at 80
Les Blakebrough tends the Kiln in 1962