Packsaddle started 30 years ago, when a group of friends who regularly met to paint or draw or just talk about each other’s work, got together to exhibit.
The Packsaddle fundraising exhibition shows how imagination and creativity can make a huge difference within a community such as Armidale,” said Robert Heather, Director of the New England Regional Art Museum. “The support of this group has made it possible for NERAM to purchase artworks by leading artists from around Australia, which then become part of our collection and which are then available for gallery visitors to enjoy, students to experience and artists to draw inspiration from.
“This is one of the most successful fundraising projects of its type in the country, which also provides an opportunity for many people to discover the joys of collecting art while supporting their local art gallery.”
What is Packsaddle, and why did it first begin?
Packsaddle is an annual fundraising exhibition for the New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) in Kentucky Street, Armidale. Held annually at NERAM, it is a selling exhibition of artwork from well-known and emerging Australian artists. Angus Nivison, a prominent artist and supporter of Packsaddle, had this to say at a recent floortalk:
“The unique thing about Packsaddle is that it gives you (the buyer) a great handle on what’s happening. In one place you get to see more artworks than you could see in a week round the galleries in Sydney.”
Packsaddle started 30 years ago when a group of friends who regularly met to paint or draw or just talk about each other’s work, got together to exhibit.
At the time, there was no commercial gallery in Armidale, so they decided to open a cooperative venture, “The Gallery Image”, not only to show local artists but also major artists from the capital cities.
They found it both demanding and rewarding, but after a couple of years they realised they could not continue full-time. They had made so many important contacts with artists – it seemed a shame to waste all their efforts, so they decided to hold just one or two exhibitions a year.
They held the first exhibition at “Packsaddle”, a small house on North Hill, which was the home of Beverley and Owen Wright. The exhibition was a sell out! They held another there – also a sell out. The group then moved the ever-growing exhibition to the Town Hall, but they were not allowed to hang things on the walls, so they were very relieved when the then Director, Joe Eisenberg, offered them a home at NERAM.
Why the name “Packsaddle”?
As mentioned, after they closed the gallery, their first exhibition was held in Beverley and Owen Wright’s home. The Wrights called their house “Packsaddle”, because the roofline reminded them of such a saddle. Owen later donated his own packsaddle, which he had made himself, to us. The saddle, used many times working on and around the family property, “Wongwibinda”, is on display at all Packsaddle exhibitions, along with a whip Owen made for Beverley. There are many stories about Pat Elkin, a founding Packsaddler and an expert horsewoman herself, cracking this whip at various functions … often to the dismay of those around. Another of the original Packsaddlers, Benoni Pearson, sketched the saddle packs, and this sketch is now our logo.
Who are the Packsaddlers?
Our group includes artists, art educators, researchers and art appreciators. We are dedicated to finding quality works of art at an affordable price. The consistently high standard of work on show in the exhibitions over the years has meant that Packsaddle has grown into an exhibition that attracts a large audience of collectors and art lovers.
The four original Packsaddlers were: June Atherton, Pat Elkin, Benoni Pearson and Beverley Wright.
The make up of the group has changed over the years, but Pat remains on the committee as our inspirational Patron, while June continues to support the group as often as she can. The team is now co-chaired by Glenda Kupczyk-Romanczuk and Moira Lloyd, working with Frances Alter, Michelle Bookallil, Liz Fulloon, Julia Hardman, Julia Rose, Michelle Schouten, Lynne Walker and Anne White.
Our aims remain the same. We believe we have an important role to play, not only in supporting NERAM, but also artists, who are the backbone of our cultural life. In this we are inspired by the words of another long-time supporter, Christopher Hodges, artist and gallery owner, who told an audience at one of our openings:
“We (artists) work because it is our passion, but we need to eat and feed our children. Every time you buy a picture, an artist is blessed.”
We are also intent on enthusing the public of the New England by introducing them to the artworks of established and emerging Australian artists that may not normally be available in regional Australia.
And why do you love being Packsaddlers?
Former Chair, June Ross, sums it up: “Being a Packsaddler can be more than helping to mount an exhibition; it provides a sense of camaraderie with a group of like-minded people, focused around art, and importantly, it should add some fun and frivolity to life …”
How do you raise your funds?
Works are sent by galleries and individual artists from all over Australia.
The artists get their asking price, and Packsaddle gets a commission. The galleries that represent some of the artists forego part of their commission to support Packsaddle.
Each Packsaddler is in contact with galleries and individual artists, and the list continues to grow as we find more and more interesting artists, or they contact us. Because so many artworks are now on offer, some of the works on paper are displayed in special folios that customers can look through.
More than a million dollars worth of art has been sold at Packsaddle Exhibitions over the past thirty years. We are proud of this continuing success. It is based not only on the quality of the works on sale, but also on the relationships that we have built within the regional art buying community and with the galleries and artists who support us and who we in turn support.
Where do the funds go?
Packsaddlers have always used all proceeds of each exhibition to support NERAM, primarily with the acquisition of artworks. We continue to build the NERAM Collection so that the famous Hinton and Coventry Collections housed at the gallery are set among contemporary works and do not become isolated historical islands.
In 2012, Packsaddle initiated the acquisition of the late Margaret Olley’s The Yellow Room Triptych – for which the local community raised $400,000 in just fourteen months. We contributed over $80,000 to this fundraising, and the painting is now a major attraction.
Over the years we have also provided much-needed funds for specific additions, including a new lighting system, improved hanging accessories, scaffolding, Solander boxes, and many other essential items necessary for the running of such a significant gallery. In the mid-nineties we funded the Packsaddle Studio as part of the Stage Two extensions. The Studio now provides space for regular community art classes, seminars and workshops. We have recently refurbished the flat attached to the Studio so that it provides comfortable accommodation for visiting artists in residence.
We have regularly contributed to essential conservation work on the Howard Hinton and Chandler Coventry collections. In 2015 we donated $20,000 to NERAM’s Adopt an Artwork fundraiser. We adopted two works: Esther Paterson’s The Yellow Gloves and Nora Heysen’s Eggs. Nora Heysen was a friend of Pat Elkin’s, and The Yellow Gloves portrays a feisty woman, who we Packsaddlers would all like to emulate! It also continues the yellow theme begun with Olley’s Yellow Room Triptych, so we have added yellow gloves to our hats as part of our support for this fundraiser.
What can visitors expect to see at this year’s exhibition?
Every year is different as we welcome new as well as returning artists, and this year is no exception. It is a special 30th anniversary year. So, apart from wonderful artworks, we plan to reshow the film of interviews with the original four Packsaddlers, For the Love of Art, and also have copies of our scrapbook, Packsaddle – The First 30 Years, hot off the press. And every year we hope to attract new art enthusiasts, as well as welcoming our faithful buyers back.
Two of them have commented.
“You feel you are buying a good piece of art, because it’s already been validated.” – Margaret Cooper.
“Each year I think I’ve got enough and I won’t buy anything more at Packsaddle, but every time there’s something new and wonderful.” – Libby Beasley.
Over the years we have invited a wonderful array of artists and art lovers to open our exhibition – Wendy Sharpe, Barry Pearce, Edmund Capon, Jenny Sages, Madeline Winch, Christopher Hodges, Angus Nivision and Roy Churcher, to name just a few.
This year we are delighted to have award-winning artist Idris Murphy opening the exhibition. We asked Idris specially because a work by him was one of the first acquired by Packsaddle for the NERAM Collection. In 1989, his asking price was $650. Now he commands prices in the thousands … an indication that art can be an investment, as well as a joy.
How can FOCUS readers support Packsaddle?
Come along and see the exhibition. If you can come on opening night (Friday, October 30th) it’s a great place to be. We ring a cowbell at 6pm, and then the race is on to purchase your favourite art work before anyone else does. As a current Packsaddler, Lynne Walker says, “It’s busier than the opening day of a Grace Brothers sale”. Then for the next two weeks the Packsaddlers are at the gallery each day to talk about any of the exhibits. If you want to surprise a friend or relative, you can give them a Packsaddle Gift Voucher and let them choose their own artwork. If your funds are limited, you can at least buy a raffle ticket and have the chance to win an artwork for a mere $5. On the last day (Sunday, November 15th) buyers are invited to come and collect their artwork and celebrate with a glass of wine.
Plans for the future?
More of the same! We are going to keep finding more artists whom we are proud to exhibit. And, of course, we are going to keep raising money for one of the most significant regional art galleries in Australia.
But for now, it’s 30th birthday party time – come and help us celebrate.
This year’s Packsaddle exhibition opens at NERAM on Friday, 30th October at 6pm and runs through until Sunday 15th November. The gallery and the café are open from Tuesday until Sunday from 10am until 4pm. For more information, see www.packsaddleart.com or www.neram.com.au