Tamworth Regional Gallery first opened on 1 June 1919 as the Tamworth Art Salon and Art Library. The gallery was established from a gift of 100 artworks and art reference books by artist and collector John Salvana. The first gallery was housed in the Tamworth Municipal Council Chambers, which is now the Community Centre in Darling Street.
The circumstances surrounding Salvana’s gift to Tamworth are civic minded and somewhat romantic. Salvana had thought of providing a collection of artworks as an educational resource years beforehand, and he finally decided to act on his idea. He wrote to five or six councils in New South Wales and selected the council that replied promptly and that agreed to his request for adequate display and storage facilities.
Salvana remembered his early days, when he first heard the call to pursue the thorny track of art. His nature responded to the beauty around him, but the handicap was heavy. Sydney was a long way off. There were no opportunities at Wellington or Mudgee for the study of art – no picture gallery, no art atmosphere. The bush was his only school.
It became a dream of his to provide a rural centre with an art gallery, so that young children and those with an interest in art might be encouraged to study it and be able to learn from viewing original artworks at first hand. Salvana included in the collection artworks that were not finished pieces so that the students might have a better understanding of how a painting or drawing is constructed. He also thought that it was important for the public to develop an appreciation of Australian artists and their work. In making his gift, Salvana also imposed conditions that included the care, storage and preservation of the artworks for future generations. This would be the responsibility of Tamworth Municipal Council with the assistance of two artists. The catalogue produced, with practical instructions, was sold for 1 shilling, with the proceeds used in the care and maintenance of the collection. The Salvana Collection consists of paintings, works on paper, plaster reliefs and books. Salvana added further works to the collection in 1925.
In 1961, the Burdekin Bequest, a substantial collection of 19th- and early 20th-century Australian and European works, was left to the people of the Tamworth region by Margaretta Emilie Burdekin of ‘Plumthorpe’, Barraba, upon her death in 1958, and by her husband, Norman Weeks Burdekin, who had predeceased her in 1947. Norman Weeks Burdekin had lived in England from the late 1880s; he married his first wife Margaret Gant on 28 April 1890 at Bournemouth, Hampshire.
The Burdekins were art lovers who had developed and built their collection over many years. Among their friends and associates were Australian artists including Hans Heysen, Will Ashton, Sydney Long and John Salvana, who would visit ‘Plumthorpe’ to draw and paint.
The Guy Kable Memorial Arts Building was opened by His Excellency, the Governor of New South Wales Sir Eric Woodward KCMG, CB, CBE on 16 June 1961. The first exhibition in the new gallery was selected works from the Burdekin Bequest, four landscapes by John Salvana from the 1919 collection, After the Storm by Ernest-Gaston Amas and Carl Plate’s Young Parrot Alarmed, the winner of the 1960 Tamworth City Council 100 guinea prize. This exhibition was followed by an exhibition of 26 paintings from the Australian War Memorial featuring works by George Lambert, Ivor Hele, W.A. Dargie, Harold Herbert, Fred Leist and Arthur Streeton on the subject of World Wars One and Two and the Korean War. The exhibition finished at the end of October. This was followed by 30 selected works from the Art Gallery of New South Wales that would exhibit until the beginning of 1962. An interesting feature was the transportation of these exhibitions in crates by goods train. Visitors to the gallery were encouraged to sign the visitors’ book, which was located at the Library Counter.
The Regan Silverware Collection of early Australian silver was gifted to the gallery in 1963 by Mr and Mrs Lyttleton-Taylor. Several other smaller collections and individual works were also gifted, including the Miss Perry, W.J.H. Treloar, Ivan Maunder and Greenfell collections.
The year 1960 saw the start of the Tamworth City Council Acquisitive Art Prize. The winning entries in each annual prize would be acquired into the collection. The Prize was short lived and was eventually taken on by the Tamworth Art and Craft Society. In 1974 the judge’s comments brought about a change in the focus of the prize from painting to textiles. In 1981, the Tamworth Art and Craft Society donated a collection of textile works to the gallery and a policy for the development of a textile collection was initiated.
A strength of regional galleries is their ability to specialise in a particular medium, thus ensuring that they can acquire works systematically and develop collections of significance. The Tamworth Fibre Textile Biennial developed from a survey exhibition of 1975 showing the most innovative fibre textile works from the previous two years into a curated exhibition recognised nationally as Australia’s pre-eminent textile exhibition. It has since evolved into the Tamworth Textile Triennial.
In 2000 the gallery added the Utopia Collection, a bequest consisting of historically and culturally important silk batiks, textiles, works on paper, ceramics, and wooden carved ceremonial figures from the Utopia Cultural Centre in Central Australia.
In December 2004 the gallery moved to a new purpose-built library and gallery building, designed to international exhibition and conservation standards with state-of-the-art exhibition areas, a spacious reception area with gift shop, a multi-purpose meeting room, and a studio workshop and facilities, all suitable for disabled access.
The Tamworth Textile Triennial, held every three years, showcases the best of textile art from across the country, attracting artist participation from all states in Australia, wide audiences and critical review. Each triennial engages a guest curator, who devises a theme-based exhibition for artists working in the textile medium.
In June 2019, Tamworth Regional Gallery turned 100 years old. This long history and substantial collection is a tribute to the initial custodians. Over its history the gallery collection has developed into a diverse and varied collection with works ranging from oil paintings, works on paper and silverware through to delicate textiles.
To find out more about our collection, click here.