Thrills in the hunt to rescue and re-love ‘lost’ art

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Dr Kathryn Spurling, left, and Margaret Hadfield with paintings they salvaged by Ainslie artist Lindsay Cameron-Smith. Photo by Kathryn Vukovljak

ARTIST Margaret Hadfield and historian Dr Kathryn Spurling are working together to rescue, rediscover and re-love vintage art.

They describe themselves as the “American Pickers” of local art, going on hunts at auctions, garage sales, old houses and op shops for original retro art to fix up and sell on through their new venture, the Artistic Vision Gallery.

“It’s like treasure hunting, we’re coming across gems every day and we appreciate the work so much as it’s what we’re knowledgeable about,” says Margaret.

“It’s the thrill of the hunt and the bargaining!

“I despair when people go and buy some imported print which might match their curtains, and they spend $250 on it and I’m thinking, people please. This is original stuff.

“Please don’t go into a store and buy a splash of colour when you can get an original work of art for the same amount or less.”

Kathryn says she tends to do the research and looks at the auctions, and while they try to keep to Australian artists they occasionally see things they fall in love with and can’t resist bringing into the gallery.

“We’ve got old masters, vintage Australiana, indigenous work and kids’ art, but it’s all original,” she says.

“The thing I love is that landscapes change, so being a historian I get very excited about trying to save the history.

“It also goes another step in that direction of rescuing art and giving it another life and loving it, and supports that recycling concept as well.”

Dr Kathryn Spurling, left, and Margaret Hadfield… “We appreciate the work so much as it’s what we’re knowledgeable about.” Photo by Kathryn Vukovljak

Kathryn says the idea for the venture started when she saw very dirty old art being auctioned off that no one wanted. At the same auction house, she says she and Margaret found boxes of work by an artist called Lindsay Cameron-Smith, who had lived in Ainslie, had mental health issues and died a few years back, though the paintings were all “filthy and in disrepair”.

“We took a shopping trolley full that they were going to chuck – well you can imagine I became an expert on spiders,” says Kathryn.

“I’m a bit traditional but when we cleaned his work up and started to hang it up together, it was amazing. He wasn’t recognised during his lifetime but who’s to say he’s not a great artist?”

Margaret, who runs art classes at her studio next door to the gallery in Fyshwick, says she fixes up the artworks with paint if needed, cleans them, puts them in new frames and seals them with an environmentally sound sugarcane non-petroleum paint.

She says the idea is to honour the artist, and bring original work into people’s homes.

Kathryn says they have a huge, eclectic collection of work ranging from $15 up to about $1000, but mainly around $400.

“The search is the fun part, finding a work of art and being able to love it again,” says Kathryn.

Margaret says she and Kathryn have no shortage of leads, from chatting to people who are curious about what they’re doing, and they enjoy the road trips and meeting the shopkeepers they call in on.

“They’re delighted for us to film and give them some sort of publicity, but they’re also stuck with this artwork that’s not selling so they come down in price for us. And they’re very negotiable,” she says.

“But once you have the same art in a gallery alongside other artwork, that’s been freshened up with a new frame or paint, it’s going to sell.”

Margaret says she’s even found two of her own works through the hunts.

“Fortunately they weren’t at the tip!” she laughs. “I found one I’d done in 1981 when I lived in Binalong in my 20s, at the good Green Shed in Civic. I bought it back. And another was at an auction. It’s been fascinating.

“I tell my students now to date and sign their work, it’s so important! I’d hate my own work to be tossed aside and there might be family members who want them back.”

Artistic Vision Gallery, Unit 7/51 Tennant Street, Fyshwick. Open Friday and Saturday,10am-5pm, Sunday 10am-1pm, or call 0418 237766 to make an appointment.

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Kathryn Vukovljak
Kathryn Vukovljak is a "CityNews" journalist with a particular interest in homes and gardens.

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