Artist shares her creative journey

NOSTALGIC CONNECTIONS: Julie Ann McEwen shows her earliest work in the exhibition and her former student, director of the Walkway Gallery, Naomi Fallon displays a more recent piece by the artist.

Caroline Hammat

In 1973 a young South Australian School of Art graduate began a 30 year career teaching art at the Lucindale Area School (LAS).

Julie Ann McEwen’s own art was put on the back burner for decades while she taught on and off at the school until her husband suggested she could stop teaching and focus on her own art.

Since retiring from teaching, a job she loved, the artist has been involved in numerous group exhibitions.

Ms McEwen is a familiar face at the Millicent Gallery and first exhibited there in a 2016 SALA group show and has volunteered at the gallery since.

Nostalgia – The Creative Journey is the first solo exhibition of Ms McEwen’s work held in Millicent.

The display of her work mostly spans the past 20 years and includes an acrylic on masonite painting completed while a new student at the school of art.

The exhibition was originally planned without the artist’s knowledge.

“This was my husband’s idea, and my daughters, her daughters and Janice (Nitschke),” she said.

“They had planned it for two years and hadn’t told me.

“I was told in November it was on the gallery calendar and then I couldn’t back out.”

The exhibition has evolved to show the depth and breadth of Ms McEwen’s creative journey.

Her love of art was fostered from a young age by both her parents and grandmother, with her grandmother’s ‘art shed’ central to Ms McEwen’s creative experimentation as a child.

“Grandma had everything in there and I used to hang out there every school holiday,” Ms McEwen said

“We would go out to grandma’s art shed and we would draw with her fine little ink map pens.

“We would sketch and draw, we did puppetry and paper mache, stitching on the treadle machine, stitching by hand, collage work.

“She was way ahead of her time and just let me do whatever I wanted to do, and she encouraged me.”

This connection to family is strong throughout Ms McEwen’s work with many of the materials used reflecting her need for this connection.

“From being a toddler and learning how to thread a needle and stitch, and as you get older you wonder why you are still doing these things,” she said.

“Mostly now everything I do has a stitch or two or more, it’s my connection with my family.”

Nostalgia runs through the exhibition and one of Ms McEwen’s former LAS students curated and opened the show.

Naomi Fallon is the director of the Walkway Gallery in Bordertown and says ‘Mrs Mac’ played a crucial role in her own arts career.

“I was very fortunate to be paired with her, she was an amazing art teacher,’ Ms Fallon said.

“I was the only art student in year 12 in an agricultural school.

“Mrs Mac used to pick me up at 5.30 in the morning and take me to exhibitions in Adelaide or Mount Gambier.

“She really encouraged that love for art, and a teacher can really make or break a student’s love in something.

“It’s no coincidence that 20 years later I’m the director of the Walkway Gallery.

“She taught me so much at school, not just about techniques but also how to love art, and that it was possible to have an artistic life living in the country.

“She really believed in me.

“It’s 20 years ago but even to this day I talk about Mrs Mac and how she is the reason I’m doing what I’m doing.

Nostalgia – The Creative Journey includes 130 artworks and is currently on display at the Millicent Gallery until April.