Regional art museums, if you’ll pardon the pun, are in the midst of a renaissance. OHO’s recent visit to Gippsland Art Gallery was an eye-opener, and Shepparton’s Art Museum (SAM) is no less a delight.
There’s a core thread of indigenous art, both traditional and contemporary. But there’s also a significant collection of work by women collected over decades, which now forms one of the most significant collections of its kind in Australia. Along with a strong focus on ceramics (including the Sidney Myer Fund Australian Ceramic Award and the national Indigenous Ceramic Art Award), SAM is a compelling reason for art lovers to make a road trip to Shepparton.
The musuem is (for now) housed in the multi-purpose space in Shepparton that includes the performing arts centre and an adjacent cafe. Soon, the new development will enable it to show much more of the collection as well as temporary shows by contemporary artists.
Arlo Mountford’s video installations echoed the kind of show you’d expect from much larger institutions like MONA. Upcoming shows promise just as much. Perennial favourites from the collection like Sam Jenkins “Woman and Child” is a must-see piece of art. In fact, director Rebecca Coates says that locals show loving concern when the piece is moved – such a part of the community she has become.
The concept of a guided short-walk examining the history of certain works of art and well-known artists is familiar to anyone who has travelled to Europe. Finding one in regional Victoria should come as no surprise, given the iconic works of art from the likes of Nicholas Chevalier, Eugene von Guerard, and others.
So, it turns out Beechworth has served as something of a base for frontier artists. And the Beechworth Artscape Walk is led by Jamie Kronborg, who is passionate about the area and its art history. You get the sense that he knows much more than he has time to share in the course of a guided walk!
He calls this tour ‘A short walk with a story’, and says, “Walking around Beechworth you can hear the echoes of history in the streetscapes and imagine what life was like here in the 1800s.” It’s true, and with a few visual aids of iconic and easily recognisable 19th Century paintings, Jamie transports tour participants back to the emergence of a new European culture in Australia – one heavily influenced by the land and life on it.
A Bohemian icon for decades, Monstalvat sits in the bushland just outside of Eltham, about half an hour from Melbourne. It’s been an artist colony since it was founded by Justus Jörgensen in 1934 and is an eclectic collection of buildings rambling across an expansive garden property.
The large halls house galleries, which host exhibitions and functions with a bohemian edge. The smaller buildings house studios for resident artists – painters, jewellers, potters, textile designers, glass artists, sculptors and writers. Some of these artists have work for sale in the larger retail space, some offer classes where you can come to learn their techniques.
Montsalvat is rich in the art history of Australia and a wander through the sprawling gardens is the perfect way to slow down from whatever fast-paced life you’re taking a break from. When you’re exploring the grounds and the great halls, and see the pool, the small artist studios and dwellings, it’s easy to imagine being part of the bohemian movement that was inspired by the vibrancy of the surrounds.
The cafe on site is a nice place to stop and recharge, but don’t let your exploration stop there. Take in the various exhibits and spend some time with like-minded people. Who knows, you might find inspiration from the surrounds like Justus Jörgensen.