National Library of Australia/State Library of Victoria, 2015
With the opening of our new exhibition, Australian Sketchbook: colonial life and the art of S.T.Gill, I was reminded with what exuberance the artist captured the world of colonial Australia in all of its raucous complexity, from the gold diggings of Bendigo to the streets of Melbourne. He is perhaps best known for his iconic visions of everyday life on the diggings, and a quick search of our catalogue shows that he was not alone in finding a rich vein of inspiration in the more industrial side of life.
Gold seemed to hang in the very air in the middle years of the 19th century, and the fields of California proved as attractive to the would-be prospector as did the goldfields here; indeed, many Australians were lured across to try their luck on these foreign diggings. With such a great influx of people from around the world it’s no surprise that artists great and small were also part of the optimistic throng, and fortunately they left behind a rich collection of images that tell of both success and disaster on these fields of dreams.
Not everything in the ground is golden of course, although it can still bring its own rewards. Jan Senbergs was inspired to create a series of works on the Mt. Lyell mining operation after a trip to Queenstown in Tasmania in 1982. The experience appears to have galvanised the artist into creating a sequence of images that at first seem like some modern vision of hell, until you look into them more closely and begin to see a more abstract beauty.
These two fascinating and heavily illustrated books trace the artistic life that grew out of the great coalfields of North Eastern England from the 19th century through to the last quarter of the 20th. They celebrate the work of some really wonderful coalfield artists who were driven to both illustrate and make sense of the gruelling existence they were leading at work, as well as celebrate their lives away from the mines.
The Ashington Group of artists grew out of this same movement and came together in the evenings in Northumberland, ostensibly to learn more about art but in the process finding themselves inspired to create works of their own that documented and celebrated the lives they found themselves and their families living.
Northumbria Press, 2010
Wonders of work and labor : the Steidle collection of American industrial art: Betsy Fahlman and Eric Schruers
As Jan Senbergs and many other artists have found, there can be great beauty and power in industrial landscapes and subjects, and this beautifully illustrated volume celebrates the collection of American industrial art amassed by Edward Steidle during his time at Pennsylvania State University in the 1930s. Focused primarily on the mineral industries as befits a collection belonging to a department of Earth and Mineral Sciences, the range, breadth and beauty of the works is quite remarkable and remains a fitting memorial to a man who recognised the importance of art within such a seemingly prosaic field of endeavour.
A lovely image from our Picture Collection of the Park Gold Mining Company, by William Tibbits of Ballarat