For this BRAG Voices we look back on the construction of the new gallery building in 1989-1990, moving from its former location in the Bathurst civic centre. Former AGNSW Curator and artist Hendrik Kolenberg reminisces on the charm of Bathurst and the friendships he formed with BRAG gallery directors and local artists:
“The Bathurst Gallery is a special place to me.
In 1989, not long after arriving in Sydney, I opened an exhibition of John Caldwell’s spectacular Antarctic watercolours there. That was my introduction to BRAG (then still occupying its cramped old premises in the civic centre as part of the historic Town Hall site at the heart of old Bathurst), to its then director, the delightful Shirley Batty and the wonderful wide streets, brick and stucco buildings of this attractive archetypal Australian country township in mid-western New South Wales.
Shirley was pivotal in the development of a new gallery building in Keppel Street, which opened in 1990 after she had retired. Shirley was a contemporary, friend and admirer of Earle Backen, a Sydney-based Australian artist and teacher, originally from Wagga Wagga, also in country NSW. Earle was an exceptional printmaker, draughtsman, painter in oil and watercolour from whom Shirley acquired significant work for the BRAG collection. Louise Doyle followed Shirley as director, extending my involvement in the Gallery and then, Amanda Lawson. Louise and Amanda were warm and engaging directors who encouraged my interest in the Gallery, Bathurst and its artists. They were followed by Richard Perram and current director, Sarah Gurich.
In 1995 the Sydney painter Ian Chapman introduced me to David Brian Wilson, with whom I quickly formed a close friendship. That led to more frequent visits to Bathurst and nearby Rockley, where David & his psychologist wife, Lulu, lived. David was a committed and inspiring teacher of drawing in Bathurst, first at his own Macquarie Art School in Webb’s Chambers, George Street and later at the regional TAFE. David was an active member of the Gallery’s Society and a positive force for art and artists in Bathurst. He was also an outstanding draughtsman and painter of the human figure, portraits and landscape who died prematurely aged just 51, in March 1998. My wife and I assisted BRAG in staging a retrospective of his work in 2001.
David introduced me to many more local identities and artists, and alerted me to the work of two fine sculptors, Stephen Hart and Ingrid Morley. Stephen was responsible for an outstanding monumental public sculpture in Bathurst at Riverside Park, ‘Conversation’, an ambitious local contribution to the bicentennial year. Drawings by David of Stephen at work on this and an intensely realized portrait of him are in the BRAG collection. Ingrid encouraged David’s sculptural ambitions and after his untimely death, formed a close friendship with David’s widow. Ingrid now lives in Jenolan but retains strong links with Bathurst.
When Rachel Ellis moved from Sydney to live in Bathurst and into a house of her own in Durham Street, the town gained another artist of singular quality whose paintings of its particular character and surrounding landscape are providing an invaluable pictorial interpretation of what is special about Bathurst. Her vision is poetic in its appeal, celebrating the town, its topography, architecture and most importantly, clarity of country light ...
For me the spell of Bathurst is in its art, artists and streetscapes, initiated by my first visits to the Bathurst Gallery, for which I have an ongoing fondness, nurtured by its ever helpful, friendly and highly capable staff.”
1 April 2020
Images from archives documenting construction of BRAG and Bathurst Library. Photograph of Hendrik Kolenberg and Lulu Wilson at BRAG, 2019 in BRAGS 50 Years: The Art of Giving with David Brian Wilson self portrait in centre.