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Finding Vera exhibition hopes to uncover lost artwork

Finding Vera Scarth-Johnson art
Stefanie Story and Annette Tyson invite the Bundaberg community to view the art work from artist Vera Scarth-Johnson in their Finding Vera exhibition at the Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery from 14 February.

Vera Scarth-Johnson’s story will be displayed to the Bundaberg community in the Finding Vera exhibition with hopes of uncovering some of her lost artwork.

The Finding Vera exhibition will showcase 50 of Vera Scarth-Johnson’s artwork loaned from Bundaberg community members, with curators Stefanie Story and Annette Tyson hoping to highlight the outstanding work from a vibrant and intelligent woman who lived in the Bundaberg Region from the 1950s through to 1972.

Residents could own Vera's work

Stefanie and Annette said some of the illustrations had graced the walls of people’s homes, some of them gifted to the owners by Vera herself, and some include rare examples of her work as well as personal photographs and memorabilia.

Stefanie and Annette said Vera’s contribution to Australian botany was as significant as Bert Hinkler's contribution to aviation, yet very few of the current generation have ever heard of her.

Finding Vera Scarth-Johnson art
The Finding Vera exhibition will open at Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery on 14 February. Image: Ray Peek, Vera Scarth-Johnson portrait, photograph. Image courtesy of Patricia Peek.

“Many of her paintings can be found in the homes (and garages) of Bundaberg residents who may not be aware of their artistic, scientific and historical significance,” they said.

“Around fifty paintings, plus photographs and memorabilia have already been located and permission granted by their owners to be loaned for the exhibition.

“We believe that showcasing her work will bring her the belated recognition to which she is entitled and hopefully unearth and preserve paintings that may otherwise be lost forever.”

The pair hope the Finding Vera exhibition will help them unearth more of Vera’s treasures and learn more about her extraordinary life.

“We feel our exhibition will make a significant contribution to Bundaberg history but more importantly we believe appropriate recognition of this outstanding woman is long overdue,” they said.

The history of Vera Scarth-Johnson

Vera was born in 1912 in Morley, England and passed away in Cooktown, Australia 19 May 1999.

She was known as a conservationist and environmentalist before her time and was keen to pursue a career in horticulture, but this was not considered to be a suitable occupation for a lady during those times.

Finding Vera Scarth-Johnson art
The Finding Vera exhibition will showcase 50 pieces from artist Vera Scarth-Johnson and open at Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery on 14 February.

Initially Vera studied art at both the Leeds College of Art and the St Albans College of Art and worked as a model to raise funds to purchase a farm, however, when her grandfather saw the level of her determination to be a farmer, so he provided her with the finances to develop a piggery and market garden of her own.

Although born in England, it was Vera’s time in Bundaberg that became integral to the development of her career in horticulture and her skill in botanical drawing.

The agricultural holding that she owned just outside of Bundaberg, produced both tobacco and sugar cane, and Vera was one of the first women to obtain a sugar assignment.

During the mid-1960s Vera began a lifetime association with the Royal Botanic Gardens and assisted in international recognition of the rare plants and flowers from the Bundaberg Region, as well as those captured by her on her travels throughout Australia and the Pacific Islands.

Additionally, during her time in Bundaberg, Vera successfully campaigned to secure protection for coastal Wallum Country; she donated 93 hectares of the heathland to be maintained as a wildlife reserve in the Coonarr area and this was named the Vera Scarth-Johnson Wildflower Reserve in 2006.

The Finding Vera exhibition will open at Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery on 14 February.

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