Is there nothing that will stop the Baird Government from pursuing the destruction of treasured cultural landmarks and robbing communities of their soul? Artists and supporters in south west Sydney are hoping there is something, but the record so far is deeply discouraging. The latest property under threat is the former studio and home of Alice Klaphake, who opened south west Sydney’s first private modern art gallery in Leacocks Lane, Casula, in 1976. An unpretentious and intimate space, it was the former scientific laboratory of her late husband, Dr Wolf Klaphake. The Modern Art Gallery became a popular gathering place for local artists and crafts people. Alice was a feisty artist and community activist, whose gallery attracted artists and visitors like Lloyd Rees, Margo Lewers and Elisabeth Cummings. She was a great supporter of local artists and among her first exhibitors were Lorraine Maggs and Fonika Booth. Alice was 75, when she closed the gallery in 1984.
She later sold the property to the NSW Government to become part of a Georges River cultural corridor. It is well connected to the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, where an ampitheatre was built in recognition of her contribution to modern art in the region. The land is controlled by NSW National Parks, which in 2012 drafted a plan of management for Leacock Regional Park. Her son, author, sculptor and botanist, Van Klaphake has continued to live at Mount Omei, as the property has long been known, and which has been his home since 1949. Now artists and friends have rallied in support of him. Van has been asked to leave the property and is deeply concerned about the future of Mount Omei. “We always envisaged that it would become an artists precinct and continue to support emerging artists in the region. I’ve written to the Minister but I’ve still been asked to vacate the property at the end of June, even though I’ve lived here since I was 2 years old. I’m concerned the property is earmarked for demolition.”
For the last three Sundays, groups of artists have organised brief exhibitions of their work in the former gallery space, drawing attention to the threats facing its future and celebrating Alice’s contribution to their lives and community. They have posted their concerns on social media and urged people to contact their local state MP Anoulack Chanthivong. On the first Sunday, June 12, Mai Nguyen-Long exhibited her work Rider, right, among pieces by 19 other artists. Mai posted “A heritage assessment is being conducted but at the same time Van Klaphake has been told that National Parks plan to demolish the buildings and the premises must be vacated by 30 June. As part of an uncertain farewell / act of support, artists have joined the Gallery to stage 3 exhibitions 3 Sundays in a row.”
For June 19, another post urged “It might be raining but the Sunday Series continues!! Plunge into the reality check pool with confronting and thought provoking works by Vieterartist Ray Beattie & Julie Textworthy this Sunday at Mount Omei. Acclaimed artist Lorraine Maggs will exhibit a diverse range of works including oils, mixed medium and 3-D works and sculptures at the final Sunday series on June 26. Van Klaphake will exhibit his detailed botanical drawings and meticulous bird carvings.” Left is Van’s photo – Lorraine Maggs with a fantastic oil titled “Cut Loose” The same work can be seen in last Sunday’s exhibition of her work, below.
Last Sunday Keryn Coulter posted, “I have just returned from viewing the Big Fish Little Fish Exhibition at Mount Omei Gallery Casula. The gallery has a wonderful history and is under threat of demolition by the State Government. Thank you Lorraine Lois Maggs for inviting me along. It really is a quite magical place and should be preserved.” Her observations correspond with Van’s own views, “I hope that this exhibition will be an opportunity for the public to visit this magical place, to experience Leacock Regional Park’s wonderful birdlife and to support local artists as my mother and her community always envisioned.”
The artists are posting – PLEASE HELP SAVE MOUNT OMEI Write to: Macquarie Fields State Member of Parliament, Mr Anoulack Chanthivong MP, Shop 3 Ground Floor, 2–6 Oxford St, Ingleburn 2565. Or you can phone his office 02 9618 2077 or email firstname.lastname@example.org