Lismore loses out on art bequest

MARGARET Olley always intended to make a $1million bequest to the Northern Rivers when she died.

Many in her birthplace, Lismore, hoped and believed that the money would come to the Lismore Regional Art Gallery, to be housed in a Margaret Olley Centre, part of a brand-new gallery desperately needed by the town.

But trustees of the Olley estate have announced that the bequest - some of her favourite works and a replica of Olley's Sydney studio - will go to the Tweed River Regional Art Gallery at Murwillumbah.

Lismore Mayor Jenny Dowell, a passionate campaigner for a new gallery for Lismore named after Miss Olley, said yesterday that while she was delighted the bequest was going to Tweed, she was disappointed, and believed Miss Olley would have been too, that Lismore had missed out.

"Sadly there was a split in our community about priorities, and a split between Lismore City councillors too," Mayor Dowell said.

"There will be a new gallery in Lismore in the next four or five years - I'm determined to drive that. But it will require the combined will of the people and of councillors to see it through.

"It's always a challenge for council, when there's a strong call to put money into roads, to allocate funds elsewhere.

"But I would urge councillors now to see what this city needs for its future."

Director of the Lismore gallery, Brett Adlington, told The Northern Star: "Look, of course we're disappointed.

"But it would have been a long shot to pull it off, given the history that Lismore has, and the fact that we're not in a position to do it as quickly as the Tweed, where there has been the vision for some time to build a new gallery."

Mr Adlington said the Tweed gallery has always had plans for a third stage, which now will be created by the Margaret Olley bequest.

"Building a new gallery has been on our agenda for a long, long time. We've been sitting in this building for 60 years. So while this is disappointing news for Lismore, perhaps it will be a catalyst to reinvestigate the need for a new gallery here," he said.

"We're in a ... building that's been largely untouched in that time, while other councils, such as Tweed have moved ahead.

"Jenny Dowell has been an amazing supporter, working tirelessly to try and get a new building, but there was always a faction in the council that caused division in the community.

"We've missed an opportunity, and may miss out on visitor numbers. The idea of cultural tourism is very strong and people will be heading to the Tweed to see the Margaret Olley installation on permanent display, just as our numbers in Lismore rose during the outpouring of sadness following the artist's death in July."

Life of a great Australian artist

June 1923: Margaret Olley born in Lismore.

At high school in Queensland, painting becomes her passion.

1947: Olley wins the inaugural Mosman Art Prize.

1948: Olley holds her first solo exhibitions at the Macquarie Galleries, Sydney and the Morton Galleries, Brisbane.

1950s: A trip to Magnetic Island and Papua New Guinea reveals her passion for colour and light, and heralds her future direction as a still life painter.

The middle years: Margaret is befriended by such luminaries as William Dobell, Russell Drysdale, Donald Friend and Jeffrey Smart.

She travels all over the world: Europe, America, Asia.

1991: Olley is made a Member of the Order of Australia for her 'service as an artist and to the promotion of art'.

2006: She is awarded Australia's highest civilian honour, the Companion of the Order 'for service as one of Australia's most distinguished artists'.

Over the years: Margaret Olley has donated artworks worth $7 million to Australian galleries.

July 26, 2011: Margaret Olley dies, aged 88.

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