Creative Histories is a project of Queensland artist Judy Barrass who is interested in interpreting history through her art practice.


Now and Then – Catalogue Essay

Gympie Regional Gallery February—April 2017

Now and Then celebrates the history of Gympie on the 150th anniversary of the discovery of gold by James Nash, and the birth of the Gympie township.

Six local artists were invited to make a body of work in response to the objects and collections in Gympie’s historical museums. Each of the artists has taken a unique approach, restating, intervening, interpreting, and mixing the stories that evolved from their interaction with the museum objects, to create the artworks that form this exhibition. Two young artists from Gympie were also invited to contribute, creating digital animations in response to visiting the local museums.

Bringing artists into the museum context invigorates the interface between the museum and its audience. History can be fun, and it can be creative. There’s more than one way to tell a story and more than one way to think about the objects in a museum display. Some of the artists have been more inspired by what was absent than what was included, and others have found new ways to restate the past and link to it the present. The theme ‘Now and Then’ reflects that strong connection between the past and the present.

Museums, the keepers of our collective past, offer up a rich source of inspirational material for artists. Artists can choose to work with the stories told or untold, to intervene or to restate, or to take their inspiration from individual objects. Almost forgotten crafts can suddenly live again and both audiences and artists can rediscover the past in a new context.

Museums tell the stories of our past through their collections of objects, the things left behind.

Barb  Hart has been intrigued and inspired by a diverse array of  museum objects, from the farm machinery in Kilkivan District Museum to the advertisements in old copies of the Gympie Times, and more.  Each of her pieces stands alone as a reference to both the form of the object and  the stories from the past it contains. So an old piano with beautifully carved panels speaks to Barb of lost skills and the nature of decoration; roof shapes become the inspiration for a series of boxes;  and wood rescued from the boiler fire at the Woodworks Museum is carved with love into a statement about sustainability.

John Gerritsen has used a core box from the Gold Mining Museum to house a timeline that speaks through a collection of objects, not only of the human past, but the land of the human past, but the land itself. His series of bold lino cuts depicts two industries that seem to have dominated much of Gympie’s history, mining and timber.

In his work ‘The Town that Saved Queensland’ Shawn Jarvey  intervenes in the museum’s display, juxtaposing two seemingly disparate objects to change the story and  make us aware that the bounty of gold that  led to settlement of Gympie and saved Queensland had disastrous consequences for the local indigenous population.

Museums usually tell the story of the past through objects and words, rarely through sound. Shawn’s video installation ‘Our land abounds in Nature’s gifts of beauty rich and rare’ fills this gap, imagining what it might have sounded or been like to be in in the past or perhaps into the future.

Rhonda  Rettke has also worked with a range of objects in the museums’  collections making felt hats that refer to several disparate items such as a tractor seat, a switchboard and a ball and chain. Her hats reminds us that history is not something conveniently relegated to the past, we carry it around with us in our heads as part of our present lives and culture.

Much of what is in Gympie’s museums refers to industry and  men’s work.  In her intervention in the Manager’s Office at the Woodworks Museum Meaghan Shelton aims to insert the feminine into the museum display, correcting what she sees as an absence by installing objects hand crafted in the traditional women’s craft of crochet into the male sanctum of the  mill office.

Meaghan’s chance encounter with a small piece of pokerwork in the museum display museum also led her to learn and experiment with the technique as part of her art practice, with stunning results.

Robin Hines has embraced the exhibition theme ‘Now and Then’ with a series of four paintings depicting modern iterations of  objects from the past, reminding us that history only exists in relation to the passage of time.  His work  highlights the things we have in common with the past and the way our contemporary objects will become part of history.

Like Shawn Jarvey’s installations and John Gerritsen’s ‘Bedrock’ Robin’s fifth painting ‘Dense’ reminds us that there was a place here, and occupants, even before the first white settlers arrived in Australia.  The landscape  of Gympie has changed dramatically and irrevocably in the short time since the first settlers arrived in the district.

Our museums are the keepers of the stories of that change.



Animations by Mikaela Butcher and Jaime Southern



Leave a comment

Opening Night – Now and Then

Now and Then artists
The ‘Now and Then’ team. Mikaela Butcher, John Gerritsen (back), Rhonda Rettke (front), Meaghan Shelton, Robin Hines (back), Barb Hart (front), Shawn Jarvey, Judy Barrass (curator), and Jaime Southern.

A smiling and friendly crowd of friends, families and history and museum lovers gathered for the opening of ‘Now and Then’ at Gympie Regional Gallery last night. Each of the artists has approached their interaction with the museums from a different perspective, making a show that is interesting and diverse, and which offers an insight into the many ways historical objects and collections can be the stimulus for art works. In the next few weeks the blog will feature each of the artist’s work and their approach to the exhibition.

Rhonda Rettke with a felt hat inspired by a tractor seat.

Rhonda Rettke’s whimsical felt hats (and her felted outfit)  were a hit with the crowd and there was a line-up to experience Shawn Jarvey’s video and sound installation.

Shawn Jarvey video and sound installation


in the foreground Barb Hart works and in the background John Gerritsen’s lino cuts and one of Robin Hine’s paintings
Joolie Gibb, Master of Ceremonies with Meaghan Shelton’s work surrounding her and Barb Hart’s work in the foreground.

As usual the staff and volunteers at Gympie Regional Gallery did an excellent job on the bar and provided some exceptional nibbles.

Cr Daryl Dodt officially opens the exhibition


One of the younger artists, Jaime Southern, with her animation based in the dental surgery at the Gold Mining and Historical Museum
A visitor watches Mikaela Butcher’s animation projection in the upstairs foyer
John Gerritsen and Jim Barrass discuss the finer points of using an adze
Speeches are not always boring

Leave a comment

Make Your Mark! Tell Us About Gympie’s History Now and Then.

Make Your Mark! Tell Us About Gympie’s History Now and Then.


robinmapAs part of his contribution to the ‘Now and Then’ exhibition Robin Hines has made a series of large scale maps of historic precincts in Gympie. The maps will be on display in the foyer of Gympie Regional Gallery for the duration of the exhibition. Visitors to the gallery are invited to take up a pen or pencil and contribute their stories, drawings, reminiscences or knowledge to the map.

Robin hopes the maps will become a collaborative and fun mixture of personal memories, historical facts and perhaps stories none of us knew. To get the ball rolling he’s collected some interesting snippets from past copies of the Gympie Times and added them to the map, but he hopes others will contribute drawings, photos, and recollections to from Now, the present time and from Then, the past to make the map a living document of the Gympie township.




Leave a comment

Studio Visit – Robin Hines


Robin Hines has been making art for a long time. He’s a pragmatic and practiced artist who’s been more or less making his living by his ability to paint all his life. But that doesn’t mean he’s stuck in one genre or one style. He prefers to experiment and try his hand at whatever takes his fancy this year or this day and to try robinhines2something else another day. He’s the first to admit this hasn’t endeared him to an art world that expects painters to stick within the margins of a developed style so they can be neatly classified and valued accordingly.

robinhines3I visited Robin’s studio in the small coastal town of Tin Can Bay on a heatwave day when even he and his wife Helen had succumbed to turning on the airconditioner while they waited for the sea breeze to kick in. The studio is large, light and friendly with the usual clutter of the artists trade, brushes, models, canvas, easels, paint jars and more, and right outside an extensive garage holds the ‘archives’, work left over from a lifetime of painting, and a few more tools of trade.

Robin and Helen have led a peripatetic life from when they were married 50 years ago, living in many places and many houses here and abroad, travelling Australia a few times,  and enjoying the thrill of new places, until they built their house in Tin Can Bay eight years ago. Robin trained as a sign writer, a trade that was in demand before the digital age, which allowed them to make a living in a variety of situations.

While living in Perth Robin sailed and raced this boat.

The title of the G150 exhibition ‘Now and Then’ is a great description of Robin’s approach to making the works that will be shown in the exhibition. Modern day iterations  of objects will be shown alongside museum objects from the past.

He’s also been working on an interactive map that will be shown on the walls of the gallery foyer.


Hidden treasures abound in drawers and racks in the studio.
Hidden treasures abound in drawers and racks in the studio.



Leave a comment

Studio Visit – Barb Hart

The view from Barb Hart’s studio

The directions to find Barb Hart’s studio in the hinterland about 20 minutes from Gympie make it seem like you are going to need at least packed lunch, a few bottles of water, and a change of clothes, if not a full camping set-up in case of emergencies. The talk of creek crossings,Barb Hart artist studio winding roads, hills, dirt tracks and more made me dubious about the ability of my small sedan to make the journey, but in the end getting to this secluded and private retreat was not so hard as it sounded. It was only an hour from my home in Noosa and there I was,  with no mobile phone coverage, satellite internet, and the peace and quiet of living away from the maddening crowd.  The reward for the journey is a magnificent view from the majestic old Queenslander inhabited by Barb and husband John, and a similar view from Barb’s expansive studio in a tin shed on the property.

studio8Barb  shares the entrance to her studio with a tractor and various pieces of farm equipment, and around about the shed  inquisitive, velvety cows make their presence felt. Inside, it’s an artist’s  working space, but one with an eye out for the mud wasp and other critters that can play havoc with art works. Barb unwrapped and unpacked the many and varied works she has made for the ‘Now and Then’ exhibition and I spent a pleasant morning photographing and talking about the work before repairing to the house for a cup of tea.

Barb grew up on a cattle property in the Lockyer Valley and retains many connections with her heritage and a strong connection with the land, critters and the landscape. Somehow the natural environment and living things creep into the conversation and the work that she makes. Her studio and her works for ‘Now and Then’  reflect her eclectic and many faceted fascination with objects and history, and the make/do heritage of a country girl at peace with herself and the world.

Barb Hart at home in her studio in a comfy chair inherited from her Father.

The pieces Barb has made for ‘Now and Then’ reflect her response to objects in the Museum collections, but also her willingness and desire to enter into the conversations of other artists in the exhibition, spinning off from and adding her own twist to their interpretations and responses. Her works are varied and intensely personal  and almost everyone will find something that speaks to them.

An installation in Barb’s studio

‘Now and Then’ opens at Gympie Regional Gallery on March 4th. There will be a curator and artist talk forum on March 28th at the gallery.



Leave a comment

The Invitation



Leave a comment

Studio Visit – John Gerritsen


Rhonda Rhettke’s studio was the height of organisation and space, taking up a whole floor of her house, complete with dedicated kitchen and every possible tool and  piece of equipment she could need, plus an abundant store of materials.

John Gerritsen shows us what a minimalist studio looks like. A man who can get by with an open-sided shed on a hillside, a few makeshift racks and equipment under tarps and still produce beautiful work  coveted by many is to be admired.

johngerritsen3Everywhere you look there is something John has collected – driftwood, old floats, interesting bits of metal, and more. His imagination, his considerable skill with his hands, his know-how about many ways things can be done, and his enthusiasm for finding solutions, all contribute to the way he turns this collected flotsam and jetsam into something more than junk.

John is one of those men who magically produce a tape measure seemingly from nowhere whenever there is talk of measurements.john-gerritsen5

For his  major work for Now and Then exhibition he has chosen to work with part of Gympie’s mining history, core boxes from the Gold Mining and Historical Museum. During the initial stages of mineral exploration, apart form surface sediment sampling, the next best method of obtaining samples, especially those of sediment or rock beneath the surface is core drilling. The drilling  brings up samples  from beneath the surface allowing geologists to analyse the material beneath them. The cores are often split into sections and stored in core boxes. to allow the safe storage and transportation of samples as well as allowing geologists to easily analyse the core samples when needed.

John’s work takes the idea of sampling to a different place with his own specially constructed core box and its contents.


He has also prepared a series of wood cut prints documenting the mining and woodworking industries that have been so vital to the development of Gympie.


I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to John and Sandy’s lovely property just outside Gympie. His ‘studio’ and its surrounds suit his personality perfectly. Everywhere you look is a new thing, something you hadn’t thought to see. And you  know John will find a way to turn it into something wonderful, make it useful  for something, or just leave it lying around to be admired and thought about.




Leave a comment

Studio Visit – Rhonda Rettke

Rhonda Rettke Studio
Rhonda Rettke in her studio

It’s always an enjoyable experience to visit an artist’s studio, to see where artworks are made. Seeing the works complete under lights in the white box environment of the art gallery doesn’t prepare us for the  seemingly jumbled chaos of the place where they were produced.

Now and Then artist Rhonda Rettke has a large light-filled studio that takes up the entire bottom floor of the house she shares with her husband on their property outside Gympie.  In keeping with the theory that things will expand to fit the available space she has amassed an amazing collection of tools, equipment and materials that would take many hours to explore and enjoy. The flower filled and much loved garden spills into the studio from many windows and doors giving her a peaceful place to work on her textile creations.

Rhonda Rettke studio


Rhonda Rettke studio

Amongst the chaos Rhonda’s collection of vintage miniature sewing machines was a wonderful sight to a fellow collector of sewing equipment. The gem of the collection was a Vulcan that had been given to Rhonda as a child. I don’t think there are many who would still have the box in almost mint condition.

Rhonda Rettke studio
Part of Rhonda’s collection of vintage miniature sewing machines

Rhonda Rettke

Rhonda’s wry sense of humour and  love for the everyday is on show in the works she has prepared for Now and Then. We’ve agreed to not put up full images until closer to the exhibition, but here is a teaser. See if you can guess what object from the museum inspired this felt creation.

Rhonda Rettke

Leave a comment

Things Are Starting to Take Shape

meetingIn early November all six artists met with the curator. This was the first time the whole group had been together and there was much to discuss. Most of the artists were well underway with ideas and execution and  were ironing out technicalities and issues. Robin had already completed all his works! There was lively discussion and interest in the evolving artworks.

Not quite gallery ready yet. John Gerritsen giving the rest of the artists a sneak preview of some of the materials he’ll use in his installation.
Rhonda brought along several finished pieces that delighted and intrigued her fellow artists.

Leave a comment

Our Final Two Artists Join the Group

Meaghan Shelton
Meaghan Shelton in the office at the Woodworking Museum

In October artists Meaghan Shelton and Barb Hart joined the project.

Meaghan ‘hit the ground running’ with a residency at the Woodworks Museum  on a very busy and very noisy open day. There were saws buzzing and steam engines clattering and breathing and Meaghan created a good deal of interest sitting in the Mill Manager’s office creating crocheted items for her installation. You will have to wait for the exhibition to see just what she is crocheting and how she is going to install it. Thank you to the Museum for hosting Meaghan on the day.



Barb Hart


Also joining the group in October was Barb Hart, who had recently returned from an extended trip in North America. Barb also attended the open day at the Woodworks Museum and came away with a stash of  wood she rescued from the steam boilers that will be incorporated into several works for the exhibition.


Meaghan and Barb discussing ideas for the exhibition

1 Comment