“State-owned galleries have exhibited 33.98% women (down from 36.90%) and 66.02% men (up from 56.80%), with no data available on non-binary artists.”
The Countess Report 2019
Edith Holmes, Self portrait 1942 © Courtesy the artist’s estate
Sheila is a national philanthropic foundation with a mission to overturn decades of gender bias by writing Australian women artists back into our art history and ensuring equality for today’s women artists.
Sheila will have succeeded when a visit to a state or national gallery shows equally the art, lives, stories and ideas of women and men, when students learn about our great women artists in equal measure to the great male artists, and when the women graduates from our art schools are equally represented in the art community.
While our cause is serious, we like to have fun with it and celebrate art, artists, successes and stories. Sheila Foundation’s Board has set the course for our three main strategic focuses which are:
- Contemporary Women – Providing opportunities and support for contemporary Australian women artists.
- Into the Light – Painting women back into Australia’s art history.
- Going Global – Supporting the unique Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art.
All three programs have been designed to create maximum impact for the areas they focus on and each has unique and important stories to uncover and tell to a wider audience.
Huge progress has already been made since the Foundation’s official launch in May 2019 including:
- supporting The Countess Report which collects and publishes gender parity data that has already facilitated significant improvements to women’s representation in the 10 key sectors of Australian contemporary art
- progressing the digitisation of the Cruthers Collection to help historians, researchers, curators and artists rethink Australian art history to incorporate women’s voices and stories
- leading Into the Light, a major project to fill the gaps in Australian art history, having completed the pilot project in 2018
- supporting emerging contemporary women artists through practical support such as fellowships and acquisitions to public collections, including the creation of the Michela and Adrian Fini Fellowship
- acquiring important historical works by Australian women artists to ensure they can take their place in public collections and help give a more balanced and realistic view of Australia’s history.
“One of our ambitions, as the Board of Sheila, should be that we won’t need to exist at some point! However, somehow the conversation is still stalled right now and there are all sorts of reasons for that – these are structural, difficult, thorny, long term questions and unfortunately, it’s going to take more than a few gestures to make real and lasting change. This is where Sheila steps in”.
Why is Sheila needed?
Ann Newmarch, Women Hold Up Half the Sky 1977 © Courtesy the artist
It seems to be the fate of generations of Australian women artists to be some of our country’s best kept secrets.
Sheila’s aim is for women artists to be represented equally in state, national and commercial galleries and museums and to ensure that gender bias is not a stumbling block for our contemporary women artists, as it has been for their predecessors. Even in 2020, a walk through most Australian art museums reveals that up to 80% of artworks are by men. What view of Australia would we see if art by women made up an equitable percentage of museum displays?
We need to be seeing many more women artists in the 20th century rooms of our state and national art galleries, in our art history texts and in our school curricula, so that women’s art, women’s stories and women’s lives are no longer secret, and the next generation grows up with a more balanced picture of our country’s art history and therefore our nation’s history.
For our current female artists, things are slowly improving, however there is still a way to go. Sheila’s focus is on providing practical support to contemporary women artists and being a strong advocate for change.
Sheila is here to lead the way, walk alongside our contemporary women artists and be a voice for those from the past.
“Now without question the whole country will get to know just how good our women’s art is. I’m overjoyed this has happened and pleased to be a part of it in my own small way.” Lady Sheila Cruthers, in her keynote address to the symposium for the exhibition Modern Australian Women 1925-1945 at the Art Gallery of South Australia in 2001.
Lady Sheila Cruthers
Shelia Foundation is named in honour of Lady Sheila Cruthers, who started life as Sheila Della Vedova in 1925, the ninth child of Italian migrants. Sheila left school at 14 to get a job and quickly rose to become a legal secretary to Lawrence, later Chief Justice Sir Lawrence Jackson, at law firm Jackson McDonald. In 1950 she married a young journalist, Jim Cruthers, and together they created a strong partnership in which Jim forged a career as a media executive who, for his working life, had Sheila as a sounding board.
Sheila developed an interest in art in the early 1970’s when she began visiting Perth galleries with her son John. From her first purchases in 1974, she collected art by women – drawn to the young women she saw staring at her out of their modernist self-portraits, possibly reminded of the plucky young woman she was as she embarked on a career. Sheila gradually built a unique collection, aided by her keen eye and her willingness both to purchase works by relatively unknown artists, and to commission new works.
During a period living in New York in the 1980’s, Sheila provided a home away from home for many women artists, visiting from Australia. She also began AustArt, a group that staged events to raise money for American museums to purchase Australian works and she invited Americans to view artworks she had brought with her. In particular she highlighted a section of the Cruthers Collection she called “the artist and her work”: pictures paired with self-portraits. The Collection, already well-known in Australia, began to acquire international recognition.
After returning to Perth, Sheila joined the management committees of several local public art organisations and continued to build her collection in a more focused way. In 1995 it was shown publicly for the first time. The exhibition was called In the Company of Women – 100 years of Australian Women’s Art from the Cruthers Collection and ran at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts as part of the National Women’s Art Exhibition.
From this point, Sheila began to look at different ways she could share her collection with the public and also began to gain recognition for her collecting. In early 2001 she gave the keynote address at Modern Australian Women 1925-1945, the first museum exhibition of Australian women’s art at the Art Gallery of South Australia. In 2005 she was recognised in her own right with a Chancellor’s Medal from The University of Western Australia for her contribution to women’s art.
In 2007 Sheila and her family realised their desire to share the Collection with the public by gifting it to The University of Western Australia, where it now resides at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery. This allowed Sheila (by now 82 years old) to take a back seat, leaving the Foundation to continue her good work. She passed away in December 2011, 10 months before the opening of Look. Look Again, the first major exhibition of the Collection at the University, and the publication of the book Into the Light – the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art.
Sheila Foundation was created with the intent to harness Sheila’s incredible sprit, love of art and desire to support female Australian artists. Her work and passion are the cornerstone for all the Foundation does and the inspiration for all future endeavours.
Board of Directors
John Cruthers, Chairperson, is a Sydney-based art curator, consultant, writer and collector. From 1974 he worked with his parents to assemble the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art, which was gifted to The University of Western Australia in 2007. He was curatorial adviser to the Collection from 2007-17 and has been a member of the UWA Cultural Collections Board since 2011.His position as Chair of the public Sheila Foundation is a continuation of this work.
“It seems to be the fate of generations of Australian women artists to be secrets, a situation that will hopefully be remedied by Sheila’s historical research project Into the Light: Recovering Australia’s lost women artists 1870–1960. Was it an accident of history that Australia lost one of its very finest artists of either sex, Clarice Beckett, for nearly 40 years after her premature death in 1935? That Dorrit Black did not really emerge from obscurity after her death in 1951 until a handful of years ago? That Jane Sutherland, Clara Southern, Jane Price and Florence Fuller are not household names? We need to be seeing many, many more women artists in the 20th century rooms of our state and national art galleries, in our art history texts and in our school curricula, so that women’s art, women’s stories and women’s lives are no longer secret.”
Katrina Burton has a legal background and over 20 years’ experience as a non-executive director. She has been a director of Home Building Society, StateWest Credit Society and Landgate. Katrina is a founding director of not-for-profit organisation EON Foundation Inc.
“While I have a legal background and am definitely not artistic, I have a love for the arts and see my role at Sheila as a chance to contribute to the sector. The arts are so vital to our culture and identity, and Sheila’s mission is something that needs doing and is achievable. Art is so special as it makes us smile, wince, examine the human condition, think outside our own experience of the world and connects us to others.”
Helen Carroll is Curator of the Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art and oversees Wesfarmers’ extensive commitment to support of the performing and visual arts in Western Australia and nationally. Prior to joining Wesfarmers in 1999, she held the position of Public Programmes Coordinator and Curator of Australian Art at Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, The University of Western Australia. She served on the Board of the Art Gallery of Western Australia for eight years, and previous Board appointments include Art on the Move Western Australia, of which she was Chair from 2003 to 2005. Helen received the Business Leadership Award for her work in support of the arts in the 2008 Western Australian Business and Arts Awards.
“Sheila Foundation presents an opportunity to provide a leadership role to the industry. We need to spread awareness of who is working in Australia and create a model for the new generation of women artists and how they can have professional success. Everyone needs to see themselves reflected to participate fully. And of course, as a society we need to value the work of women artists and tangibly invest in their art.”
Michela Fini is the co-founder of the White Swans giving circle and chair of the philanthropy committee for Black Swan State Theatre Company; advocate and patron of the New Australian Pavilion for the Venice Biennale (opened in 2015) and an advocate for WA community engagement with the Venice Biennale; and a WA committee member of the Snowdome Foundation investing in new treatments and early clinical trials for blood cancer.
“When I was younger, I attended art school and studied architecture and I’ve always been passionate about the arts, artists and creative expression. Art is such an important asset to our society. Being part of the Sheila Foundation Board made sense to me, as it gave an opportunity to support a different type of arts organisation – one that is innovative, West Australian based and promoting real change.”
Angela Goddard is the Director of Griffith University Art Museum, Brisbane. She joined the University in June 2015 after fifteen years at QAGOMA, seven of these as Curator of Australian Art. She writes and lectures regularly for varied contexts, and was a Board Member of the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane in 2003-08 and 2012-16.
“For me art, comes down to artists. I really enjoy spending time with them, seeing their work, understanding the work through their eyes. Our artists are truth tellers, they can challenge us, they are deep thinkers and can perceive currents and patterns and interesting aspects of our culture that can make us look more deeply at the world. We need artists in order to show us what potential we might have an to imagine our futures.”
Catherine McMahon has a background in both the public and private sectors, focused mainly in policy, marketing and organisational behaviour. Following completion of a science degree from UWA, Catherine pursued study and work in business management both in Australia and overseas. Her community involvement to date has been in the areas of welfare for military families, education and health. A recent graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Catherine has a keen interest in good governance.
“One of my favourite art pieces in the CCWA is Freda Robertshaw’s ‘Standing Nude’ (self-portrait) 1944. It is the earliest nude self-portrait by a female artist in Australia, submitted as part of her entry for the NSW Travelling Art Scholarship (she couldn’t afford a model). This incredibly strong and striking image (almost defiant) reveals a lot about Freda. My further readings of her reveal that she was an apprentice to Charles Meere, and did a feminist response to his ‘Australian Beach Pattern’, titled ‘Australian Beach Scene’. ‘Australian Beach Scene’ set a record sale price for an Australian woman artist at Sotheby’s at the time. I think all Australians should know about this painting and artist.”
Ingrid Puzey is a director of West Australian Ballet and chair of the UWA Centenary Trust for Women. She is chair of Equus Bonding Inc; a member of the Perth Festival Philanthropy Committee and the Black Swan State Theatre Company White Swans; and a mentor with Kilfinan Australia. In 2018 she was a judge in both the Western Region and National EY Entrepreneur of the Year Australia awards. In 2017 she was awarded Citizen of the Year in her local community.
“Art is so special as it has the ability to take one to another place, to see and experience something in a different way. I believe that the contribution by women to art over the ages must be recorded and reported as accurately and as timely as possible and included as appropriate and celebrated. This makes a vital impact on society. My favourite piece of art changes, sometimes on a daily basis! Today it is the Dutch masters of the golden age because I am reading about Nicolaes Maes. Our best kept art secrets have to be the women artists of the Kimberley.”
Sue Cruthers, daughter of Sir James and Lady Sheila Cruthers, studied medicine at UWA and practised in the public health system in Perth for 28 years. She has enjoyed participating in sports including cricket, swimming, soccer and long-distance running. Sue’s career in medicine sparked a strong and ongoing interest in policy, treatment and research in the area of mental health. She and her brother John are continuing the work of their mother and father – the support of women’s art and women artists, through their positions with Sheila Foundation.
Gary Dufour is an Adjunct Associate Professor at The University of Western Australia where he teaches the history of 20th and 21st art in America. A member of the UWA Cultural Collections Board, Gary was the Chief Curator and Deputy Director of the Art Gallery of Western Australia for two decades. A specialist in international contemporary art, he publishes and lectures widely, and is recognised as a leading authority on artists Jeff Wall and Howard Taylor.
Karen Connolly is a UWA arts graduate with experience in secondary education and tertiary curriculum development. She has worked in marketing and as a freelance copy editor and proof-reader, and is currently the finance officer for a number of different arts organisations. Karen served on a local government sustainability committee for a dozen years.
“Never has the work Sheila Foundation does, in connecting donors like you with support for Australian women artists, been so important.”
John Cruthers, Chairman, Sheila Foundation
Sheila Foundation Impact Report 2019 – 2020
It is a year since Sheila Foundation was officially launched by Elizabeth Ann Macgregor OBE. What a wonderful night it was, and how things have changed for all of us in this time. The disruption to the Australian arts industry over the last few months shows how vulnerable it is and how important support organisations like Sheila are.
We want to share with you what we have achieved with the support of our donors in our first year.
We are proud we have developed our strategies and programs that help women artists now and help fill in the gaps in our art history; partnered with other organisations to promote women in art; developed a strong supporter base; and been an important part of the national shift towards recognising the importance of our women artists past and present.
We have put together an Impact Report to summarise what we have been working on since launch, the progress made and what is next.
“I admire the integrity of Sheila Foundation. I believe the action of passionate people with resources can make real change to the way culture works.”
If you would like to become involved in this way, please contact us.