Home' South Gippsland Sentinel-Times : February 14, 2017 Edition Contents PAGE 12 - THE SOUTH GIPPSLAND SENTINEL-TIMES, TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 14, 2017
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THE generous gift of more than 600 pieces of
art known as the Robert Smith collection has
arrived in Wonthaggi.
Rodney James, arts consultant for the Bass
Coast Shire Council, has been working hard
since November to catalogue each individual
print, painting, and sculpture in the collection,
including the famed works of social realist art-
ist, Noel Counihan.
Rodney has also been sorting through the
vast array of art reference books that accom-
pany the collection.
The collection has been delivered to the Bass
Coast Shire Council and is now stored at the
Wonthaggi Union Community Theatre.
A special, climate-controlled and secure
room has been constructed specifically for the
It is in this room that Rodney has been gradu-
ally sorting through the hundreds of pieces.
He was down to the final three pieces last
week; one of which is an example of 19th cen-
tury German expressionism in the form of a
lithograph by Kathe Kollwitz.
“There’s a good sampling of her works in this
collection, as well as art from the turn of the
century,” Rodney said.
He said the art collection was a great coup for
“It’s very important. This is a unique collec-
tion,” Rodney said.
“There’s no private collection in Australia
that I know of that has this scope and this fo-
cus. What Robert Smith has done is assemble
a collection of Australian and international art-
ists who are interested in things to do with arts
of the social conscious.
“That relates back here in quite concrete
ways through the mines, and through other
forms of labour.
“I think that’s a really good synchronicity for
the works to come here, that we can explore all
sorts of ideas that are relevant to here, and also
Rodney has also been sorting through more
than 5000 books that make up the reference
library curated by Robert Smith over a lifetime.
“The books represent his interest in music
and art, and also support the artworks as well
in their content,” Rodney said.
“We can possibly create a nice reference li-
brary for the artworks, which will be on display.
“All the pieces came in these cylinder boxes
and we’ve been progressively unpacking, cata-
loguing it all, working against the master list.
“So my job now is to go through and do the
audit, to value it, to make sure it’s insured, and
then to think about ways in which we might dis-
play the works.”
Coordinator of Recreation and Culture at the
shire, Mark Lindsay, said the council will now
await the delivery of the final report from Rod-
“The report will have all the cataloguing and
information in it, and we will be presenting that
to council for advice on how and where these
pieces will be exhibited,” Mark said.
“We need to have this art available for people
to view and to appreciate. It’s been an amaz-
ing amount of work, if you look at the size and
the complexity of getting the collection to Won-
“We’re really excited about this opportunity
and the leverage it could provide firstly to get
a position for it to be appreciated, but also to
loan complementary art collections.”
Rodney echoed Mark’s sentiments regarding
a regional gallery space for Bass Coast.
“I think Wonthaggi is ready for its own region-
al gallery, definitely.
There are none down this way, and they per-
form a very vital role in any community,” Rod-
“This collection would give a very strong entry
point into establishing our own gallery. We’ve
been looking into four or five different loca-
tions; each one has its own merits, and so we’re
working with council to figure out which would
“Some of the best galleries across Australia
started with a collection, and they used that to
create a very vibrant and strong series of pro-
“It’s important that this is a living, growing
collection that relates to contemporary artists.
Why not use this as a starting base to explore
social art in the Australian consciousness?
“There’s no point in having this sitting in a
vault simply doing nothing.”
The report containing the extensive catalogue
of the Robert Smith artworks is due to be de-
livered to the Bass Coast Shire Council in the
Robert Smith collection
arrives in Wonthaggi
By Madeleine Stuchbery
Arts consultant for the Bass Coast Shire Council, Rodney James, holds up a por-
trait of Robert Smith, whose collection of art and books has been donated to the Bass
Coast Shire Council. Portrait is painted by Carmel O’Connor in 2008. ms010717
Rodney had only three pieces left to catalogue, in-
cluding this linocut from the 1950s by an unknown
Mexican artist. ms030717
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