Andrea Gledhill moved her family to Armidale from Sydney ten years ago to start a new life. The former curator of the New England Regional Arts Museum shares her diverse career in the creative arts world and her new venture.
> When did you arrive in Armidale?
This is my tenth year. I arrived from Sydney a few days before Christmas 1998, with 2 children, 2 dogs, and a cat, in a small car loaded to the gunnels with extraneous items that the removals van at 5.30am (following me from Cooma) couldn’t fit in his truck. The children were scrunched with the pets and boxes. It was a heatwave – a stinker – even for Cooma and Armidale.
“Are we there yet?” started 20 minutes out of Cooma from 5-year-old son Jock, just as the cat, although dosed with appropriate drugs by the vet, had a diarrhoea attack in his brand new travel box. We made it to Sydney, with windows wound down, to stay overnight with friends, and I’d booked the pets into kennels at Duffy’s Forrest.
The next leg of the journey was to Armidale and a pre-organised rented house in Laurence Ave. After collecting the pets, we stopped for petrol at Duffy’s Forrest, and we were off. The heatwave had not diminished. We lunched at Maitland, to air the animals on a median strip in the McDonalds car park. The cat looked close to carking it.
Just as we were entering Wallabadah, a policeman pulled me over for a random breath test. On reaching for my licence, I found that my entire wallet was nowhere to be found. He shuddered and gasped at the hideous sight, as the air flooded his senses.
“Mrs Gledhill, do me one favour … when you advantageously do arrive in Armidale, please make sure that you have a very stiff drink or two.” As it turned out, I’d left my wallet at the servo at Duffy’s Forrest and honesty from fellow Australians had prevailed.
That’s how Andrea, Jock, and Harriet Gledhill arrived to a hot, empty, rented house in Laurence Ave Armidale, just before Santa’s arrival in 1998. The cat survived the journey and thrived for another 9 years!
> Tell us about your artistic career?
My mother unwittingly influenced my career back in the 60s, when she gave me a subscription to the Time Life Library of Art. I devoured each book on individual artists (still do) and remember the moment at 14 when I decided that if Magritte and Gauguin could take up art in their 50s, then so could I! That epiphany was like most epiphanies at 14 – firm, but fleeting.
I’m now in my 50s and mindful that no contract has been forthcoming from the Louvre or Time Life. I began in Advertising at David Jones’ as a copywriter and layout artist, which was great training in writing and typography, but quite humdrum for a 19-year-old. So, for a challenge, I wrote a children’s book, ‘Good Golly Gosh’, which was published by Angus and Robertson. It was successful here and in the UK, and so a career in publishing began.
I worked for A & R and William Collins Publishing as Promotions Manager, graphic designer and illustrator and also for John Fairfax as a research librarian and freelance illustrator. Eventually, I’d built enough reputation in the industry to go freelance and was able to sustain a Sydney girl’s lifestyle on the proceeds. I took the business to Darwin, where I had numerous private and government contracts and worked as the artist for the ABC after hours.
I was nearing 30 and the ‘tightness’ of graphics had served me well financially, but I needed at last to let loose and find if I had that ‘Gauguin’ potential.
In 1984, I dared to become a poor student, majoring in Painting at Brisbane’s Queensland College of Art. I lived and breathed the painting and the confidence of my teachers. Just as my degree was completed, I married an anthropologist, whose work took us back to Darwin and my artistic career back to the safety of graphics to pay the bills.
Two children followed. I worked for a design company and had a weekend business selling my hand-painted baseball caps at Darwin’s famous sunset markets. I then gained a Graduate Diploma in Secondary Education, so that I could teach Visual Art and English.
The deaths of my parents and husband in quick succession meant leaving Darwin for Sydney, Cooma, and finally Armidale. My artmaking, even designing, ground to a halt – I was too busy surviving – teaching Art was the closest I got to creativity.
I took a year off in 2003, after teaching Art and English at TAS, to just paint. At Em Mallam’s studio cooperative, I had solo and joined group exhibitions, and realised that I hadn’t lost my artistic soul or ability.
> How long did you work at NERAM?
No one who has experience and knowledge of art and its history would pass up an opportunity to work in this national jewel that we, in the New England, have on our doorstep. I worked there briefly in 2000, but for family sanity, left.
When I was asked to apply again in 2004 for the position of Curator and Programs Manager, I was hesitant, but I trusted I had lots to give to NERAM’s new Director and wanted to support her through the changes that were taking place. My heart and soul was absorbed into NERAM for 3.5 years.
> What form does your art take now?
My new business is about jewellery – BeadiEye, and my clients are all the people who have come to know me and value my design sense. By word of mouth, it’s already going way beyond Armidale.
I like the idea of providing stylish yet quirky women in the bush with very individual and fun adornments beyond safe pearls and Liberty Lawn!
> How can people view your works?
Right now at my home/studio at 78 Brown St Armidale: 6772 1604 and 0400 882 543. All my work is one-off, so it’s just what you see on the walls before each piece sells. Feel free to phone and book for a view. Earrings average at $35.
Short necklaces at $55, medium, $75 and long (double-ups), $95. I’m keeping these prices at studio and party limits as, if I was to go retail, they would increase at the retailer’s discretion.
> Thanks for your time andrea