The Huon Art Exhibitions Group (HAEG) was formed to facilitate a series of artwork exhibitions and competitions that are held regularly each year. The aim is to cultivate artistic and cultural life in southern Tasmania’s rural areas and to foster young and emerging artists. HAEG events give local artists of all abilities a venue to show their work and an opportunity to meet and network with artists in the region. HAEG members exhibit their work at the Lovett Gallery at 14 Mary Street behind the Town Hall in Cygnet each weekend, plus Fridays, through the summer. The work of members is available for purchase at very reasonable rates.
Anne Le Fevre, who lives at Egg and Bacon Bay in the Huon and who is a past prize winner, life member and treasurer, recalls that an art group was formed around 21 years ago by Noelline Edwards and three other women, one of whom had a tea room and art gallery in the Cygnet ANZ bank building. Noelline recalls that the Huon Valley Council was very supportive of their idea for an art group. The group decided that the Cygnet Town Hall was a wonderful and unused venue that would be perfect for exhibitions.
Sheena Lowe, Ginger Nutt, Lesley Odfeldt, Michelle Rauenbusch and Richard Stanley joined them soon after. Sheena Lowe, who became the chairperson for the first six years, recalls that there was significant enthusiasm to formalise the HAEG group, so a committee was formed and a constitution established so they could apply for grants and funding.
Noelline Edwards recalls that there were many creative people in the Huon Valley, many who had moved from interstate to enjoy a simpler lifestyle and were exploring their creative side.
‘We felt that founding the HAEG would bring these creatives together and also encourage creativity in the wider community.’
Today there are dozens of artists’ studios hidden in the valley’s rolling green hills. The large number of creatives – weavers, painters, blacksmiths, jewellers, leatherworkers, chefs, photographers, woodworkers, boat builders, guitar makers – give the town its reputation as an artistic hub.
Richard Stanley, who owns Stanley’s Art Gallery in Cygnet, suggested that Anne Le Fevre join. ‘And then I was ‘elected’ to be the treasurer by the group,’ Anne humorously recalls.
20 years later and she still is!
‘In the first few years all the income and expenses were scribbled down in a school text book,’ Anne says. ‘Now thankfully we have spreadsheets to keep track of the 130 members’ fees and a point of sale payment system in the gallery, which makes my job easier.’
Anne, who has been painting since she was a child, has won prizes in the acrylic section of the art prize. She recalls that in the early days there were two exhibitions – Watermark, held in March and Southern Exposure, heldin November.
‘Two exhibitions were too demanding so the group decided on the annual Huon Art Prize format,’ Anne says.
In 2023 the Huon Art Awards celebrates its 21st anniversary. The exhibition is held over 16 days and offers over $18,000 in prizes.
‘The awards, which are managed by the Huon Art Exhibitions Group, has become one of the largest regional art awards in Tasmania,’ Paul Thomas says.
Approximately 2,000 people visit the exhibition in March. Generous sponsorship comes from local businesses. Nearly every genre is covered with 28 awards over nine categories.
There is one judged Huon Art Award of $2,250, comprising $2000 and a $250 voucher; two acquisitive awards of $1,500; three judged awards for each artwork category; two judged overall Young Artist awards worth $750 and $250; and one People’s Choice Award of $1,000. Some Young Artist awards are made up partially or entirely of vouchers for art materials.
The acquisitive awards are chosen by the sponsors, who choose the winners from all the artworks and become owners of the artwork at the end of the exhibition.
HAEG secretary Paul Thomas, who has been involved with the Art Awards for nearly 20 years, says that they receive around 300 entries per year so it takes considerable time to categorize, judge and exhibit the work.
‘It’s a little frantic at times, but the committee works feverishly in the last week before the exhibition opening to get all the entries exhibited in the town hall,’ Paul explains.
Paul says that HAEG aims to offer a variety of exhibitions throughout each year. They recently teamed up with the Terror Australis Literary Exhibition and had a bushranger themed exhibition.
‘Our recent portrait and life drawing exhibitions were enthusiastically supported,’ Paul says.
Painter Mary Ann Tandy, also a member of the life drawing group, said she valued the experience of participating in and running the life drawing exhibition at the gallery with support and guidance from other HAEG members.
Mary Ann has been a member of the HAEG group for a few years, after moving to the Huon from Western Australia and she loves the Huon landscapes that she captures in her work. Her studio overlooks views of Helms Bay through to Lymington and she describes the ever-changing light and mood of the landscape and river as ‘magical, mesmerising and inspiring’.
Mary Ann won Best Oil Category in the 2022 Art Prize for her painting of Huon Island. Mary Ann says that receiving comments and feedback from visitors to the Lovett Gallery is extremely valuable.
Mary Ann admits she can be so engrossed in her work she becomes hermit-like, so the other members become her social life.
There are also individual exhibitions at the gallery throughout the year.
‘Bob Brown recently exhibited his landscape photographs,’ Paul Thomas says.
Paul explains that most of the artists and members are locals from the Huon Valley and the members volunteer their time to run the gallery. 20-30% off the sales are returned to the artists. The remainder is used to pay for rent and other operating expenses.
Jen Beith is a watercolour and acrylic painter who also works with leather. She learned leather work in the 1980s when she operated a Salamanca Market stall with her creative father. Jen experiments with organic forms through her leather sculptures, which reflect on the Huon’s natural environment and flora.
Some HAEG members have gone on to achieve success outside the Huon. Susannah Archer, who was a Huon Art Awards finalist ,was also a finalist in the prestigious Henry Jones Art Prize in 2021.
‘What an honour to be accepted,’ she says. ‘And I sold my work, which was a lovely surprise and so encouraging.’
Susannah settled at Dover in the far south of Tasmania from interstate with her family. She is a lover of the Tasmanian wilderness, which she experiences first hand by exploring many walking tracks and trekking the national parks. Susannah works in charcoal, oils, acrylic and water colour and is exploring her creative future, focusing on landscape and botanical themes.
The official Huon Art Awards opening will be held at the Cygnet Town Hall on Friday March 3rd at 6.30pm. All are welcome. The exhibition is open 10am-4pm Saturday March 4th through to Sunday March 19th.
See website www.haeg.org.au for information on membership and future exhibitions.