The Locals - 60 Years Collecting Upper Hunter

This exhibition marks a significant milestone in the history of the Muswellbrook Shire Council and its predecessors - 60 years of collecting artworks resulting in one of the great regional collections of Australian art. It all began with the Muswellbrook Art Prize in 1958, then known as the Festival of the Valley Art Prize. This acquisitive painting prize began a collection of artworks that now numbers over 1,300 pieces. That first Prize in 1958 saw two works establish what is now called the Muswellbrook Shire Art Collection, those two Prizes were:. 

1. For a painting of any subject by an artist resident anywhere in Australia, won by the then Newcastle based Thomas Gleghorn; and
2. For a painting of any subject by an artist resident in Muswellbrook and surrounding districts, won by Muswellbrook resident Viola Bromley.

As the years continued the Prize grew to add a section for Works on Paper, Ceramics and a separate Photography Award. All these were acquisitive, but over the years there were also periods where the local section ceased to be acquisitive, dependent to some degree on the availability of sponsors and also concern over the space required to store and display an ever increasing collection.

Fortunately, local philanthropist and artist Max Watters OAM came to the rescue of the local artists by proceeding to purchase significant works by locals even when the Council had ceased to collect them. This meant that by the time Max handed his extraordinary collection over to the people of Muswellbrook and the Upper Hunter Region in 2004 it contained, alongside the famous and the important, examples of the artistic endeavours of many local artists reaching back over the years and filling in those gaps where the Muswellbrook Local Art Prize had been unable to.

In recent years it has been the policy of the Arts Centre to collect as many local artists work as possible and despite monetary constraints the number of locals represented in the Muswellbrook Collections has continued to grow, often via the continued generosity of Max Watters, sometimes by the generosity of the artists themselves or other local collectors and occasionally by some clever accounting by Arts Centre staff.

To celebrate 60 years of the Collections curator Elissa Emerson, Arts Centre Public Programs Officer, has chosen to focus on the Locals in the Collections, choosing 60 significant artworks by 60 significant local artists. Not every local artist is represented in this selection, there are currently 171 local artists with work in the Collections, but this was due to that age old problem of space. I believe that what Elissa has done here is to create an overview of the locals and in that process Elissa gives us the breadth and diversity of artistic expression that the Upper Hunter Region has given to the arts in Australia.

Exhibiting from 2 September to 21 October 2018. Opening night
6pm Saturday 1 September 2018. Free entry with
refreshments courtesy of Hollydene Estate Wines,
Hunter Belle Cheese and Pukara Estate.

Hunterbelle logo 

Artwork: Dale Frank, The Spiteful Tuffets Palette
1984, oil on canvas, 117 x 174cm; Donated by Iam MacNeill,Muswellbrook Shire Art Collection.