Pilgrim on the Leviny Women and Mrs Larritt

Artist Catherine Pilgrim mines historical collections and objects for lost and hidden stories. Skilled across many artforms and crafts - from printmaking through to textiles - observation and drawing is at the heart of her practice. In this reflection Pilgrim shares with us her longstanding engagement with the lives of local women, particularly the Leviny women, so central to the cultural history of Castlemaine, and to her own artistic practice.

Original albumen photograph of Gertrude Leviny c1903, photographer T Humphrey, Collins St, Melbourne, mounted in hand-carved timber frame made by Gertrude Leviny c1907. Collection: Buda Historic Home and Garden (detail) Image: Catherine Pilgrim.

The Leviny Women and Mrs Larritt

Bertha Leviny (nee Hudson) 1844–1923

Mary Florence Leviny 1869–1939
Ilma Edith Thompson 1875–1939
Beatrice Kate (known as Kate) Leviny 1877–1965
Gertrude Olga Louise Leviny 1879–1969
Bertha Dorothy (known as Dorothy) Leviny 1881–1968
Hilda Geraldine Leviny 1883–1981

The Leviny Women and Mrs Larritt

Buda Historic Home and Garden is stitched into the fabric of CAM—through both the legalities of ownership and the shared history of these much-loved institutions.

Installation photograph, Making History: Hidden World of the Leviny Women, Castlemaine Art Museum, 2015. (Wallpaper design by Dorothy Leviny c1907) Image: Catherine Pilgrim.

The Leviny family were heavily involved with both the establishment and ongoing running of the gallery during their lifetimes. One of the gallery’s earliest locations was a Leviny-owned premises used rent free; eldest daughter Mary Leviny was part of the committee that established the gallery; various family members worked in honorary positions over many years. As the antecedents of our current creative community, the Leviny family provide a rich narrative for us all to appreciate.
My 2014 research (particularly around the women) during my artist-in-residence project at Buda has continued to influence my work. I am consistently inspired by the curiosity and commitment to excellence I found reflected in the Buda archive.

Catherine Pilgrim, (detail) Hilda Leviny (Buda Series), 2014. Graphite on Arches Satine 300gsm. Private Collection, copyright the artist. Image: Lorena Carrington.

As is often the case in examining history, it is the gaps that provide the most interesting fodder. Images from the exhibition Making History: Hidden World of the Leviny Women (Benefactor’s Gallery, CAM 2015) utilised empty pictorial space as a metaphor for the unknown, the uncertain or the hidden. Diary entries and objects from the Buda collection were used as the basis for images relating to each of the Buda women, while each image also incorporated a sense of the incomplete.

Catherine Pilgrim, Ilma Thompson (nee Leviny) (Buda Series), 2014. Graphite on Arches Satine 300gsm 39 x 19. Collection: the artist. Image: Lorena Carrington.
Kodak Advertisement brochure cover with Ilma (or possibly Kate?) and Ilona Thompson taken at Sandringham. Photo attributed to Kate Leviny c1914, Buda Historic Home and Garden Collection. Inspiration for Pilgrim’s image and as reproduced for exhibition catalogue.

"My understanding of these women is from sketchy information that allows room for interpretation. I am not an historian. I am not wanting to “correctly” present this story, because I don't want to miss out on the fabulously inconsistent details that allow the story depth and complexity…

And in a contemporary community rich with “makers” of all shapes and sizes, what a wonderful history to share."

Catherine Pilgrim Blog: Sunday 13 July, http://catherinepilgrim.blogspot.com/

This sense of absent knowledge continued through my more recent research into Mrs Larritt, wife of the first Surveyor of Bendigo and original mistress of the building we now know as Dudley House. One element of this series, the work titled The Surveyor’s Wife, was installed at CAM as part of the Experimental Print Prize Exhibition during 2019.

Catherine Pilgrim, The Surveyor’s Wife (Mrs Larritt) 2018. Stone lithography with hand colouring, stone lithography on cotton used to upholster ladies chair, digital print sewn as cushion. All with found antique furniture. (Upholstery work by Charles Caddy).
 exhibited in the Experimental Print Prize 2019, Castlemaine Art Museum. Image: Tim Gresham.

As is the case with many people my current work patterns have been disrupted by the pandemic and the need to support my teenagers schooling from home. I look forward to a more productive time going forward and to a reopened CAM and Buda.
Catherine Pilgrim
October 2020

Interested in reading further? The catalogue for Catherine Pilgrim's exhibition Making History: Hidden World of the Leviny Women (Benefactor’s Gallery, CAM 2015) is available for purchase from CAM's retail space.

Further Reading

Catherine Pilgrim

Catherine Pilgrim has exhibited widely since returning to Australia after studying lithography and drawing in Washington DC in 1994. In 2011 she completed a Master of Fine Art (Research) at Monash University. Prior to the pandemic, Pilgrim conducted drawing workshops in her studio to guide small groups to improve observational drawing skills, to which she will return when permitted.

Pilgrim has won a number of awards for her works on paper including the Australian Print Workshop Collie Trust Award. Her works are held in public and private collections including the National Gallery of Australia, Geelong Regional Art Gallery, National Australia Bank and Castlemaine Art Museum. She currently lives and works in Central Victoria. View more of her work at www.catherinepilgrim.com

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