60th anniversary

Willoughby Arts Centre - 60th Anniversary

“All arts are brothers, each a light unto the others” - Voltaire

This quote by Voltaire encapsulates the values and the goals of the North Shore Workshop Arts Centre.

Meeting in Joy Ewart’s Chatswood studio on the 13th April, 1961, fellow artists including Sue Buckley, Robert Curtis, Elizabeth Rooney and James Sharp, along with students and parents of children from Ewart’s classes, met to create the foundations of what became to be known as Workshop Arts Centre (WAC). In 2020, the Centre officially changed its name to the Willoughby Arts Centre.

Joy Ewart’s vision, summarized by the Centre’s motto, was achieved with the opening of the Laurel Street property in 1963. Today, the Centre is filled with distinguished arts that have been unified under one roof.

Brief History

On 4 February 1963, the lease on the Laurel Street property was signed. Volunteers cleaned the building, some structural alterations were made, their efforts crucial to the Centre then and today. A lithography press transferred from Joy Ewart’s old studio in Dalton Street was used to set up the first fine printmaking workshop in New South Wales.

Joy Ewart’s vision, summarised by the Centre’s motto, was then achieved in the opening of the Laurel Street property in 1963. The official opening of the North Shore Workshop Arts Centre was performed on Friday 16 August 1963 by Hal Missingham, Director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, before an audience of 400 people.

In July 1964 Joy Ewart died but before her death, she had the satisfaction of seeing her ambition realised. In its second year of operation, the Centre was functioning with 360 students, 210 members and 17 teachers and would continue to grow.

Today the Willoughby Arts Centre is a thriving place where 27 teaching artists conduct some 60 classes each week in drawing, children’s art, etching, life drawing, landscape painting, lithography, sculpture, ceramics and many others. Regular exhibitions of work are held in the Ewart Gallery by teaching artists, outside professionals, members and students. Through these, adults, young people and children gain experience in presenting work to the public.

Since 1979 the Centre has been entirely self-funding so that regular fund-raising activities such as Market Day since 1987 are necessary to keep the Centre in operation.

Volunteering is at the heart of the organisation. Without your generosity and dedication, the Centre could not maintain its aim of fostering and promoting “appreciation, study and performance of and participation in creative arts”.

The story of the Willoughby Arts Centre would not be complete without these major figures in its development:

Joy Ewart (1916-1964):
Painter and teacher, Joy Ewart is known to many as the founder of Willoughby Arts Centre (q.v.). Born at Murrumburrah, N.S.W., on 29 August 1916, her art studies began in 1936 with a scholarship to East Sydney Technical College, followed by further classes with the painters Dattio-Rubbo and Desiderius Orban. Through the 1950s, she had held teaching positions in Newcastle Technical College, Cessnock Technical College, Teachers’ Training Youth Camp, Workers’ Educational Association, New Education Fellowship Summer Schools and in private schools in Newcastle and Sydney before establishing her studio in Chatswood (16a Dalton Street) in 1955.

In 1959, Ewart went on to achieve the Fulbright scholarship to Tulane University, New Orleans where she attended a postgraduate course in painting and fine printmaking. With the assistance of other artists, she installed presses for lithography and etching at her Chatswood studio and began etching classes.  

James Sharp (1905-1985):
Joy Ewart’s successor as Art Director, James Sharp, held the position from 1964 to 1974. He was a semi-abstract painter of landscapes and still life in oil as well as a pioneer of collage.  

Sue Buckley (1911-1986):
Sue Buckley was born in Perth in 1911 but later moved to Sydney where she studied painting with Desiderius Orban. In 1970 she founded the Print Circle with a group of printmakers trained at the Centre.  

Michael West (1915-1980):
Michael West succeeded James Sharp as Honorary Art Director of the Centre from 1974 to 1977. From 1966 to 1978 he taught lithography at the Willoughby Arts Centre.  

Beth Pike (19. . -1987):
Beth Pike was Honorary Art Director at the Centre from 1977 to 1981. A highly regarded artist, she held classes in drawing and sculpture at the Centre.  

Marie King (1933-1987):
Marie King was Honorary Secretary of the Centre from 1962 to 1979. Confined to a wheelchair since 1951 at the age of eighteen, Marie King did not spare herself in carrying out promptly the decisions of the Board of Directors.