Wednesday, 14 September 2011

An arresting image

Several months ago I came across an unusual etching of a street scene in an antique market.  Divorced of any cars or people the main subject in the print was the power lines and the mature hoop pines growing at the edge of a park. The work was untitled but was signed Christine A. Pecket and dated [19]35. I didn't buy the work at the time, but regreted not doing so as soon as I left the building.

Etching by Christine A. Pecket

Luckly two months later the etching was still for sale on my next visit to the market. The image was too striking to ignore, so, this time, I purchased the work. Captivated by the unusual composition I immediately wanted to learn about its creator. I soon discovered that Ms Pecket was not mentioned in the New McCulloch's Encyclopedia of Australian Art (the standard general reference on Australian artists) or Heritage: The National Women's Art Book (the main reference for Australian female artists).

The signature had a clumsy youthful feel as if written by a hand not used to writing her name. Perhaps Christine Pecket was a school girl when she made the etching, this might explain the absence of a title and edition numbers. Despite the crude signature the image was most arresting and deserved further enquiry.

Despite the lack of knowledge in the standard art history references, I soon discovered that there were a few interesting paintings by her as well as some pieces of pottery illustrated on the internet. I also discovered that she had written an autobiography in the 1970s. Further research on some on-line sites revealed that she had lived for many years in Sydney, close to where I live.

While the previously mentioned reference books were unforthcoming I next turned to the Design & Art Australia Online (DAAO), an excellent free-access website managed by the University of New South Wales. This site has the ambitious goal of documenting every artist who is working or has worked in Australia. So far about 8,000 artists have been documented and I am pleased to have been involved with the project since its launch in 2007.

Christine Pecket's autobiography, Some Facets of My Life, tells of her battles recovering from polio when she was a girl and how she battled with her severe disabilities during her lifetime. Despite being forced to labour in many unglamorous jobs she worked as an artist for over forty years. At the end of her book there are a number of her images reproduced including the street image illustrated above.

For the record, in her book, the illustrated etching is titled 'Ormond Street, Ashfield' and shows the street where she lived during the 1930s when she was studying art in Sydney. The park in Pecket's etching is Ashfield Park, and this fine Victorian-era reserve still has many fine examples of hoop pines (Araucaria cunninghamii) as well as circular beds of canna lilies.

The distinctive shape of the hoop pine

Intriged by Christine Pecket my research into her creative life continues. Hopefully my biography will appear on the DAAO website in the next couple of months. In the meantime if anyone has any information about her or has examples of her work I would love to here from them.

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