If you’re visiting Norfolk Island for the first time, it’s easy to be captivated with the island’s natural beauty, from pine-covered hills to its rugged coastline. For the artists of the island, these sights offer abundant inspiration for exploring their creativity.
On the outskirts of town, adjacent to the leafy Queen Victoria’s Garden, there’s a local art gallery that is a showcase of the talent of local and visiting artists. Gallery Guava has become a much enjoyed port of call for both visitors and locals since its establishment almost twenty years ago by gallery creators Tracey Yager & Sue Draper, who first opened the gallery in a small shop at the other end of town. Tracey had grown up on Norfolk Island and was looking forward to expanding her artistic skills, and capturing the uniqueness of her island home in paint. Sue had recently moved to the island to try a change of career and begin painting full time. They wanted to create an exhibition space to display their own works and encourage other artists to do the same, whether they were artists working full-time at their craft or just dabbling in their spare time.
For many people who make artworks, their careers haven’t always begun at university. Often an artistic interest that began as a hobby can turn into a self-created career, with many who’ve had fulfilling professions in other fields often turning to art as a relaxing alternative. Over the years, a large number of people have become part of the Gallery Guava artistic ‘team’. At any one time, around 15 artists and artisans are featured. Some are Norfolk Islanders who have lived here most of their lives, some are newcomers, and others are people who have spent a period of time here, but all express their connection with the island through their creative works.
Norfolk has an abundance of subject matter to capture the imagination which is translated into a variety of works by the artists. Many are items inspired by the island’s iconic pine trees, Norfolk’s flora, the sub-tropical landscape and the marine environment, the history, and the people and creatures that live here, including the cows. Even the island’s colourful roosters are featured at the gallery. Local Anson Bay artist Dale Howe has produced a range of paintings, prints and cards that show them off in all their feathery glory. Dale specialises in watercolours and uses the medium to great effect in her highly detailed botanical studies of the island’s flora and fauna. With much of her life lived on the land, a close connection with the animals and plants that are part of farm life is evident in her work.
Dale’s brother, Steve Ryves lives across the paddock with his wife Alison where they have been operating the Cottage Pottery since the 1960s. Their pottery has been displayed in the gallery since it first opened along with many of Alison’s other creations, such as painting and ceramics. In recent years, Alison has been specialising in producing a beautiful range of porcelain pieces with a highly lustrous glaze, that take multiple firings to achieve such a depth of colour. Her work with the kiln has led her to branch out to making jewellery. Especially popular are her necklaces of shimmering dichroic glass. ‘Dichroic’ means ‘two colours’ and it involves infusing layers of metals and oxides within the glass to achieve a highly reflective rainbow effect. Each piece is unique and Alison says it is like a creating an individual little painting inside the glass.
Another artist working with glass is Lyndel Coyne, who lived on the island for a number of years and is now a regular return visitor. Lyndel specialises in glass bead making and works with high quality Murano glass, sourced from the famous Italian island of Murano. She transforms the glass from its original ‘stick’ form into individual hand-made beads in an involved technique where the glass is heated and held at differing temperatures to create the myriad of colours. She then uses the beads to create unique jewellery in a range of necklaces, pendants, bracelets and earrings that are much sought after for their beautiful colours. This gorgeous jewellery creates a shimmering rainbow amongst the gallery’s displays.
Tucked away in a fascinating studio down near Bloody Bridge, Norfolk Islander Jane Evans is delving into a new career. After years spent working the land growing vegetables for market, she is now exploring the traditional craft of bone carving. Jane is creating lovely organic pieces of jewellery, which are carved and often decorated with scorched markings reminiscent of the weave used by the islanders for hat making. Jane also encases beach stones, glass and shells in fine and delicate macramé to make pendants and keyrings. Traditionally, Jane’s ancestors would have used whalebone for carving, but these days the carvers use cow bone. Also creating bone carvings featured in the gallery is Eric Sweeney, who is working with another traditional technique… the ancient art of scrimshaw, where detailed figurative designs are engraved into polished bone, and then filled with ink to create a scene or image on the bone. Each artist uses the same medium for their art form, yet the end results are interestingly varied in style.
Some artists work across a range of art forms and one of those is multi-talented sculptor, jeweller & painter Margarita Sampson. Margarita grew up on the island and her work is inspired by the lush subtropical environment and sea life, which she has been surrounded by for most of her life and features largely in her works. Her jewellery is worked in sterling silver and contains many of the Norfolk icons – pine needles, island weaving, fish and shells are all favoured subjects created in perfect miniature form. At the other end of the scale, her large sculptural works have featured in Sydney’s ‘Sculpture by the Sea’ for many years. She has received a number of awards for her work, including a Churchill Fellowship for jewellery that advanced her studies abroad. Learning new casting skills enabled her to create a range of Norfolk themed pendants and charms which can be found in the gallery.
Meanwhile, Sue and Tracey themselves are kept busy creating works in a variety of media for their gallery. Tracey Yager, whose devotion to art dates back to her childhood, specialises in watercolour. Inspired by her much loved Norfolk environment, Tracey also paints local scenes in acrylic on plywood and loves to work with old timber. As well as her original paintings, the gallery also displays a range of limited edition prints of Tracey’s work, one series featuring classic wooden boats with wonderful reflections in water that she exhibited at the Australian Wooden Boat Festival in Hobart.
Sue Draper demonstrates her versatility of talent in a variety of media, including acrylics and pastels. Her love of ‘found’ and natural objects has resulted in a series of scenic works painted in acrylics onto driftwood. Sue has also directed her needlework and interior design skills towards producing a range of canvas carry bags and linen tea towels and napkins, with lovely prints of fish, terns, pine trees and palms. One print which is really enjoyed is Sue’s very original ‘Norfolk Willow’ design, her delightful representation of the traditional Oriental china design using Norfolk Island imagery of pine trees, historic buildings and island flora to re-interpret and old classic.
Sue and Tracey have set a high standard of creativity, workmanship, and presentation in Gallery Guava. One of the special things about the island, they say, is its clear and unfiltered light, and they have re-created this clean and fresh atmosphere in their gallery. Clear white surfaces provide an ideal backdrop for their displays, which use found objects, quirky vintage pieces and natural foliage to enhance the displays.
What is very satisfying is the way that Gallery Guava has been able to encourage and nurture local talent and creativity. People who come to live on the island often find that the slower pace of life opens up opportunities to explore skills and interests that previously lay dormant. The rich culture of the island, and the unique natural and built environment prove to be an inspiration, providing both themes and materials for creativity.
When you visit Gallery Guava, set-aside time for a visit to the adjoining Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama. This is Norfolk’s premier tourist attraction, where you can see for yourself Sue and Tracey’s major artistic work – a 360 degree painting, 50 metres in the round, which they painted to tell the story of the island’s people and their origins with the Mutiny on the Bounty. From the docks at Portsmouth, to Tahiti, on to Pitcairn, and from there to Norfolk Island, this must-see attraction is an inspiring and emotional experience and has been awarded a number of Tourism Awards.
And of course before you leave, stop a while in the adjoining ‘Hilli’ restaurant or wander in the Queen Victoria’s Garden nearby and reflect on your own very special and unique Norfolk Island experience.
Image Credit: Robin Nisbet
Gallery Guava Homewares collection. For more information please visit:
Article content disclaimer: Article first published in YourWorld, Volume 06 Issue 01, 2016. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.