End of the line for fine art at Sherwood Park

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Last man standing: Graphic design and illustration lecturer Mark Rashleigh is the only staff member remaining in the former School of Art and Design at Sherwood Park, Warrnambool. (Artwork: Untitled (landscape), Martin Jones).

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A5CECD;”] M [/dropcap]ark Rashleigh is the last man standing at what was once a flourishing School of Art and Design at Sherwood Park, Warrnambool, and, come mid next year, he too will be gone.

It is indicative of how much things have changed that Mark, a lecturer in graphic designer and illustration, now has an office in the Faculty of Business and Law at the Deakin University campus because the former visual arts studios are closed due to various structural concerns.

A similar, if metaphorical, corrosion has also claimed the art school that will officially end next year after starting life under the former Warrnambool Institute of Advanced Education in Timor St (now South-West TAFE) in the late ’60s, before relocating to the Sherwood Park campus in the 1980s. There, as a university degree, it became part of the Deakin merger.

“When I first started here, in 1985, there were about 13 staff teaching a very broad visual arts degree that included painting, sculpture, art history, photography, print making, graphic design and ceramics,” Mark, who will retire in June, said.

At that time, the teachers – most of whom were established artists – would mount joint exhibitions, maintaining a tradition that began when the school first started.

A document held by the National Libraries of Australia, for example, records some of the names in a joint staff/student exhibition held at the City of Hamilton Art Gallery in November 1970 and it reads as a virtual who’s who of the early South-West Victorian arts scene: Ken Daniel** (lecturer), Ron Quick (lecturer), Graeme Birt (lecturer), David Wormald, John Elphick, Jill Fitzgerald, Jennifer McConnell, Christine Taylor, Ken Saddler, John Rogers, Trevor Morrison, Peter Bond, Lilian Baxter, Alan Murdoch, Frank O’Brien, Chris Carroll, Gary Sparks, Judith Lovell, Gary Heath, Lorrain Callow, Michele Hill.


Beginnings; A teenage Graeme Altmann surrounded by some of his early paintings created in the former School of Art and Design studios at Sherwood Park. Photo: John (Jack) Wilkins.


[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A5CECD;”] I [/dropcap]n its prime, the airy studio space at Sherwood Park was alive with the sound, movement and colour of artists in action and gave the campus its energetic heart, usually to the beat of a paint-splattered cassette player set up in a corner.

Students pursuing somewhat more subdued degrees in economics, marine biology or primary school teaching could wander over and see what the “hippies” of the campus were up to.

The halcyon days of the 70s, 80s and 90s, however, crashed into the economic rationalism of the 2000’s when university degrees around Australia were no longer about providing knowledge and skills, but also a financial return.

In this new climate, art schools were in a hopeless position.

And while Mark can’t speak about Deakin directly, he can reflect on the challenge facing all visual art degrees.

“A visual arts degree is a quasi-industrial process: they cost a lot to run. There is the high cost of the studio spaces, and the high cost of running courses for small groups of students, because that is how the learning happens, in small groups, not in a large lecture theatre,” he said.

Skilled staff who leave or retire are not replaced, and, suddenly, painting is no longer available, or sculpture, or perhaps print making, and the degree is reduced to a husk.


barbara fulton
Room to move: Artist Barbara Fulton with some of her large canvases in the painting studio in the 1980s. Image: John (Jack) Wilkins.


[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A5CECD;”] A [/dropcap]t the same time, Australians love art: according to the ABS, more than a quarter of us visit a gallery or museum at least once a year.

“The returns on the investment in art schools and courses cannot be measured in dollars, but in what we get back – as a culture – from the artist,” Mark said.

Yet Mark remains optimistic. As he closes the door on his career, and that of the school, South-West TAFE is refocussing its visual arts courses at its new location in the Timor St complex.

The wheel has turned full circle.

“Art changes its address, but it’s not going away,” Mark said.

** Ken Daniel established the art school at WIAE in 1970. When the school amalgamated with Deakin University around 1985, he was appointed Dean of the fine arts across all Deakin campuses.

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6 thoughts on “End of the line for fine art at Sherwood Park”

  1. What a sad day for Warrnambool. While it’s great that artists’ initiatives like the f project are going from strength to strength, what a shame there is no longer a place for graduate and post-graduate formal arts education in SW Victoria.

  2. Those were the Days, my friends..We thought they’d never end. The paint splattered cassette player was iconic and was invariably belting out ” I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” by U2. Some of us have..some still searching. All of us are grateful for the memories!!

  3. U2! You are so right Jenny – that was the soundtrack. Such wonderful memories of a place that nurtured so many of the artists we still have around South-West Victoria today.

  4. “Those were the Days” I remember the old green couch where we solved the world’s problems, Thanks for all the wonderful times and thanks to Ron Quick,Ann Connors, Bruce Vinnal, Martin Jones, Martin King, Ken Daniels, Sony Dalimore and all those other great people e.g Herb Hinkley and Jenny in the office. One of the best Art Courses ever, 9 subjects in our 1st year, talk about coming out well rounded, it helped me with teaching art to many students in W’Bool over the years and I am still painting(or hooked on this habit)

    1. Some great names there, Barbara – and some great memories too. (If only all of the world’s problems could still be solved by talking on an old green couch…) Best of all, how wonderful that you are still hooked on painting!

  5. Those were the days .. Ditto thanks to all those mentioned Barb . They certainly were the best creative years . We were so lucky to have a foundation first year of practicing a wide range of disciplines eg painting, printmaking,ceramics,sculpture,photography,drawing,art history… So many art courses ESP these days don’t offer that. They provided us with a broad range of skills and different ways of thinking and solving problems . Many wonderful memories of my years there from 1984-1986 & our field trip with Ron Quick to Flinders Ranges . It is very disappointing that the focus is on economics and a lot of art courses are being ditched .., I hope the Tafe course and independent art groups in Warrnambool can provide the outlet & environment to explore a life of Art. My course there was a very strong foundation for 30 years since as a professional artist.

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