A champagne and sandwich lunch in the ‘Magic Mike’ Zavros exhibition was just the right way for a small group of Foundation members to conclude an intimate ‘back of house” tour of some of the more inaccessible parts of the Gallery and some of its greatest treasures. Curator Sarah Johnson introduced us to the large storage room where works on paper are kept and cared for and the workshop where Technical Officer Tobias Spitzer presides over mounting, framing, recording and checking works from the Gallery’s collection as well as those on loan from elsewhere.
Image: A rare glimpse of the Gallery’s William Dobell collection not often on public view.
In a corner at the back of the Gallery, we learnt – not without a few gasps – how a cramped but carefully organised space can quickly yield up a treasure trove of precious works of art. We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse into this Aladdin’s cave. There are to be found some of the Gallery’s unique collection of bark paintings, now housed in specially designed boxes that will ensure proper conservation as well as easy access for students and scholars. Other works, such as the extensive ceramic collection are all too rarely available to the casual visitor, but they are all there, stored, catalogued and cared for.
It is impressive to see how Newcastle’s great collection is managed and carefully monitored by experts, even in these confined spaces. The ‘icon’ storeroom at the top of the stairs always yields some surprises, but the chance to revisit familiar friends like William Dobell’s The Strapper, is a never-ending delight and a wonderful way to remind ourselves of some of the highlights of the Gallery’s collection.
We were particularly privileged to enjoy another aspect of the collection, brought out of storage just for us to enjoy. Toby, and Collections and Exhibitions Officer Ellen Wignell showed genuine excitement when they displayed their detailed knowledge – and painstaking handling – of an extensive array of drawings by Dobell. These drawings, ranging from highly finished works to simple sketches, must surely be one of the most valuable parts of the collection, and tell us a great deal about Dobell’s skill as a draftsman and his ability to capture a moment or a personality with a few deft pencil strokes.
It is to be hoped that future ‘back of house” tours will make it possible for Foundation members to find more fascinating aspects of the Gallery’s collection to explore.
Article by Lindy Henderson
Image: Foundation members enjoying the “icon room” where the Gallery’s significant collection of Australian Art is stored.