Established in 1987 the Rural City of Wangaratta’s unique regional art gallery is housed in a striking heritage building located in the arts precinct, a short walk from the CBD.
The Gallery collects textile art, small sculpture, wood, and significant works of art from, and about the north east of Victoria region. It also collects works of art by state and national artists of significance.
The spacious interior offers a distinctive experience for the gallery visitor.
History of the Building
The first building on the site of the gallery buildings is thought to have been a Presbyterian church which was erected in 1864 where the current Wangaratta Art Gallery Workshop Space is located.
The first minister was Rev. John Robertson and was called St Paul’s Presbyterian Church. In 1898, urged by the church treasurer, William Bickerton, a new Presbyterian church was erected which is now the main building of the Gallery. The building was opened and dedicated on 26 March 1899 by Rev Professor McDonald of Ormond College.
Unfortunately, details relating to the erection of the building and the early history of the buildings were lost in a fire in the first decade of the twentieth century. Among the building’s most magnificent features is the beautifully crafted wooden ceiling and its windows. In 1928 the original church building at the rear of the current gallery was demolished and a new building was erected on the site.
It became a Sunday School Hall with adjacent meeting rooms. This building cost £2729 and was opened in 1929 by the senior elder, Mr Walter Swan In 1957 the interior of the main building was renovated and enlarged by architect, K Murray Forster of Brighton. The additions included two vestries (now staff offices), apse (the elevated space in the gallery) and choir stalls (the large alcove in the rear right of the gallery).
In the same year three stained glass windows, the central one depicting Christ on the resurrection day, were installed above the communion table in the apse. Three other stained glass windows were installed in the choir in 1958 The additions were roofed in slating to match the original. The Sunday school buildings also gained a new kitchen and toilets at this time.
In 1977 the building ceased being a Presbyterian Church and became part of the Uniting Church of Australia. Eight years later in 1985, the complex of buildings was sold by the Uniting Church to the Rural City of Wangaratta (then known as the City of Wangaratta). The Uniting Church, in agreement with Council, retained ownership of the stained glass windows above the sanctuary, the bell and the pipe organ. These were all installed at the Emmanuel Uniting Church in Rowan Street, Wangaratta. The removed windows were replaced with glass to match the remaining windows of the former church.
The Rural City of Wangaratta refurbished the building in 1987 as a Gallery. Since the establishment of the Gallery, the complex of buildings has been connected by a covered walkway with new lighting, air-conditioning and ultra violet light reduction blinds being installed to bring the main building up to the required standard for exhibitions. Modernisation of the parts of the rear buildings and landscaping of the grounds to complement the usage of the building as a gallery, have also been important developments.
Today the building retains the integrity of the original, yet provides a magnificent gallery space much admired by visitors. If you are visiting to view an exhibition, look around and up. You will be delighted at the stained glass windows, especially the rose window over the front entrance with its beautiful colours.