WANGARATTA ART GALLERY
The Gallery presents a diverse visual arts program of national, state and regional exhibitions. The program includes shows by regional artists, touring exhibitions
and joint ventures with the public galleries sector in Victoria and elsewhere. Established in 1987, Wangaratta’s unique regional gallery is housed in a heritage building located in the creative arts precinct, adjacent to the WPACC and a short walk from the CBD. The spacious interior offers a distinctive and rare experience for the gallery visitor. Wangaratta Art Gallery collects contemporary textile art, small sculpture, wood, and significant works of art from and about the north-east Victoria region. It also collects works by state and national artists of significance and delivers the most significant acquisitive award for textile art across Australia.
One of the most powerful ways of supporting the Wangaratta Art Gallery is through the Wangaratta Art Gallery Friends. Wangaratta Art Gallery Friends Inc. is a non-profit
volunteer group that act as gallery supporters and ambassadors. The Friends assist with the gallery’s volunteer staffing, fundraising and events.
Wangaratta Art Gallery’s Wangaratta Contemporary Textile Award (WCTA) is a biennial award and exhibition that celebrates the diversity and strength of Australia’s contemporary textile artistry. The WCTA is nationally significant and has been presented by Wangaratta Art Gallery since 2009. Wangaratta has a long and prominent history of textiles both in manufacturing and as a craft form. To build on this unique tradition and commit to the advancement and growth of contemporary textiles, the WCTA is an acquisitive prize that continues to capture the current state of play for contemporary textile practice in Australia.
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.
images – Top L-R: The Hassall Collection: A selection of Contemporary Indigenous Art, installation view, Gallery 1, 2018. Melanie Irwin, Abdominal Envelope Performance Piece, Sat 14 Sept, 2019, Gallery 2. Wangaratta Contemporary Textile Award 2015, installation view, Gallery 1.
Bottom : Exterior view of Wangaratta Art Gallery. Photo: Ewen Bell