Committee Spotlight: 44 and Still Going Strong!

~ Michelle Saleeba

Army Art is Perth's longest running charity art exhibition, started in 1974 by then President of the Special Air Service Regiment's (SASR) Auxiliary, Maureen Smethurst. The focus on providing a platform for emerging artists to exhibit their art work hasn't wavered and neither has Army Art's core value of serving the community by raising money for charities to assist those in need.

Army Art maintains it's focus on supporting Defence charities but it has expanded over the years to provide a substantial amount in donations to a wide range of not for profits in Western Australia. This year we proudly support Tiny Sparks WA and Working Spirit, both organisations started by passionate individuals committed to ensuring positive change in our community, and which like Army Art are 100% volunteer run.

For 44 years numerous people have volunteered their time and energy to growing the vision of Maureen and the group of ladies who got it all started in 1974. As we continue in their wake we'd like to pay tribute to Maureen and to all the volunteers whose inspiration and dedication have made the Army Art fine art exhibition so successful.

Army Art volunteer committee members at exhibition enjoying displayed artwork
Committee members c. 1974

What motivated you to start Army Art?

In 1974-1975 I was President of the SASR Ladies Auxiliary and our motto was Friendship and Welfare. The Ladies met once a month and raised money for charity, desirably military related. I was painting with Anne Dudgeon and the late Robin Schuman with well known Perth artist, Gillian Peebles (formerly Aitken) as our teacher. We found there was nowhere in WA for budding artists to exhibit their works and as Art Shows were enjoying great success in the East we thought we could hold one in Swanbourne to meet our charity commitment.

Newspaper clip c. 1977

Were there any obstacles you had to overcome to keep the event running for so long?

Over the years ladies on the Committee of the SASR Ladies Auxiliary gave their time to make sure Army Art continued each year, and thanks must go to Chris McCalman as one of the stalwarts who believed in Army Art and made sure it continued.

What do you wish people could know about Army Art and the work they do?

In 1974 we started out with 140 paintings and approx. 100 pieces of pottery and were able to donate $1,000 to charity. In 1984 they had 545 paintings and 303 pieces of pottery and they donated $5,000 to charity, it was the largest exhibition of its kind in W.A. Quite an achievement. The fact that Army wives ran the exhibition and also met the artists each year, was most rewarding. The donations they were able to give to charity were greatly appreciated.

Historical image of Army Art ticket from exhibition of artwork held at Campbell Barracks
Exhibition ticket from the very first Army Art exhibition 1974

Describe your most memorable Army Art events or moments …

Our first Opening Night in 1974 was quite anxious, fortunately it was covered on the evening TV news and as a result a gentleman arrived on Saturday morning wanting to buy the painting he saw on TV. He was so disappointed to find it had been sold on opening night so he asked to be invited to next years opening night………we hadn't even thought about a next year!

Do you have a favourite piece of artwork or artist that you’d like to share with us?

During our second Army Art show, some staff from the Perth City Council came on the weekend to select a suitable piece to present to the visiting Lord Mayor of London! The Ladies of the Auxiliary were invited to attend the presentation to the Lord Mayor at the Perth City Council Hall. The artist donated his commission to Army Art!

What are your hopes for the future of Army Art?

That it continue to be a vehicle for upcoming artists to exhibit their works.

The current Army Art committee couldn't agree more. Thank you Maureen for your commitment to charity, the arts and for getting this marvellous ball rolling!

Historical image of Army Art founder Maureen and her husband Neville Smethurst at an exhibition enjoying the Australia Artwork
Maureen & Neville Smethurst

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