Wildflowers – The First Ladies of Castlemaine Art Museum

8 March—8 December 2024

An exhibition display in the Museum exploring the First Ladies of Castlemaine Art Museum and the Creating CAM Origin Storycloth Project

Opening on International Women’s Day, Wildflowers pays homage to the group of women whose vision and entrepreneurial spirit was pivotal to the establishment of Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum (now known as CAM).

The origin story of this museum is one of defiance and solidarity, of educated young women using their privilege for the advancement of their community and forging life-long friendships in the process. Mary Leviny, Lilian Sheridan, Alice Waterhouse, and Winifred Brotherton were Castlemaine locals from a young age (Mary and Lilian from birth, Alice and Winifred from childhood). They shared a love of Australian flora and fauna and were all members of the Castlemaine Ramblers or Field Naturalist Society prior to establishing the art museum.

As members of the Castlemaine Progress Association, they helped organise the exhibition Castlemaine Past and Present held in 1910. This exhibition was designed to instil community pride in the township while asking the question, "where to now?". Two years later, artist Elsie Barlow moved to Castlemaine with her young family and brought with her the momentum to turn that one-off exhibition into a fully-fledged art museum. After staging the first female solo exhibition in Castlemaine she quickly became friends with Mary, Lilian, Alice, Winifred and Alice’s mother, Mary Brough Woolley. Together with a Mrs Cox, these women became the inaugural office bearers of Castlemaine Art Gallery and Museum in 1913. The only office not filled by a woman was that of President, which was filled by Alice’s husband, Lt Colonel Newell.

This origin story inspired a series of community workshops run in conjunction with the National Trust’s Australian Heritage Festival 2023. Participants were invited to contribute a fabric motif symbolising the stories of these seven women. These were then sewn together into a single artefact, or storycloth. This storycloth forms the exhibition’s centrepiece and represents the combined effort of 24 artists, mostly from Castlemaine. It speaks to the materiality of the era and the sewing skills that each of CAM’s First Ladies possessed. Original artworks by Alice and Elsie as well as household items belonging to Winifred provide glimpses into the personal lives of these New Woman role models.

From its origin, Castlemaine Art Museum has proudly represented Australian women artists. Works by Criss Canning, A M E Bale, Jo Sweatman and Violet Teague augment this exhibition.

Curator: Sarah Frazer
Sarah Frazer spent many years working Back of House as a cultural materials conservator. She now works Front of House at Castlemaine Art Museum.

Castlemaine Art Museum wish to thank the following participants for their enthusiasm and support: Allison Nye, Barbara Wayn, Bev Tozer, Catherine Hensley , Catherine Pilgrim, Chris Lloyd, Eliza-Jane Gilchrist, Gail Reynolds, Hannah Vellacott, James McArdle, Jennifer Thorley, Jill Clifford, Lesley Instone, Linda Constable, Lisa Minchin, Liz Stayner, Marg Ridgway, Nell Fraser, Phee Broadway, Ruth MacLaren, Sarah Frazer, Sarina Meuleman, Su Jamison, Sue Keebles, and Winifred Belmont.

Womindjika Woorineen willam bit
Willam Dja Dja Wurrung Balug
Wokuk mung gole-bo-turoi
talkoop mooroopook

Welcome to our homeland,
home of the Dja Dja Wurrung people
we offer you people good spirit.
Uncle Rick Nelson

The Jaara people of the Dja Dja Wurrung are the Custodians of the land and waters on which we live and work. We pay our respects to the Elders past, present and emerging. We extend these same sentiments to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nations peoples.

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