Margot Beck Talks About Her Mother, Friedl

Friedl was always an artistic person - very visual, and a great lover of nature and beauty. Growing up in an aesthetic environment, her parents were both artistic. Her father was a wonderful photographer and gardener, and had an eye for beauty. Her mother was musical and interested in literature and art. They encouraged Friedl to draw and paint. As a young girl, she drew and did cards and calligraphy, using Indian ink.

Pen and ink cards c.1935

Although she longed to develop her skills and study art, financial circumstances didn't permit an artistic career. However at the age of eighteen, a friend of the family, who recognized her artistic talents, generously paid for one year's study at the George Bell Art School.

Friedl's family was close to the Boyd family. She went painting with Arthur Boyd and Wilfred McCulloch around 1938, painting apple blossoms, and felt so humbled by Arthur's talent. In 1940 she married and moved to Sydney. As a mother bringing up three daughters during and after the War, she sewed clothes and sold them to help with the finances. Her sense of design and colour awareness was translated into superb embroidery - a labour of love!

In the 1950's, she briefly tried her hand at pottery, but her great love was drawing, and particularly watercolours. She recorded the misty forest from her kitchen in Pymble, but had little time for painting. However her creativity and imagination were expressed in her garden and the most beautiful flower arrangements. Later, she used her artistic flair as an account executive in advertising with George Pattersons, from 1958 to 1970.

Untitled (Forest at Pymble) c. 1953

Friedl was always observing nature and planning paintings in her mind's eye; the rock pools at Portsea, views of the coastline, the ever-changing sky, twisted tea-tree, and the flower treasures she found in her garden.

In the late 1960's, she went to night school and started experimenting with collage and abstraction and design, painting on tissue paper in combination with watercolours. Her subjects included flowering gums, wattles, water, birds, and seedpods. She even tried geometric shapes around landscapes.

Twin Lakes 1979 Collage

In 1972-3, she accompanied her husband, Godfrey, to England and spent much time painting the Lake District, where they walked and explored. Also she recorded the little village of Halton-on-Lune near Lancaster, where they lived. Friedl captured the subtle gentle colours of the English landscape, with its bare trees, misty mornings, old stone walls and houses. Her love of water and reflections and rocks found great sympathy and appreciation for the wild grandeur and beauty of the Lake District. The ever-changing light on the water and dramatic skies of the changing seasons captured her imagination. She expressed the poetry of that place in all its moods.

Pictorial Record of Lune Valley at Halton 1973

An exhibition of Lake District watercolour paintings was held at Manyung Gallery, Mt Eliza, on 8th December 1974, and proved a great success.

After returning to Australia, Friedl did watercolours of boats and water at Mallacoota. Inspiration was also found at her brother Victor's cattle property, Kingston Grove, near Violet Town. She found many painting subjects there - golden paddocks and hills and rocks of the Strathbogies Ranges. Blackened gnarled dead trees she saw there reminded her of the heads of horses, and she recorded them in her painting 'Boho Horses'. She experimented with oils and conte crayon, but preferred the softness and luminosity of watercolour.

In the early 1980's, Friedl designed a series of natural pools in her garden at 'Cherrygarth' at Mt Evelyn, landscaping them with rocks and plants.

Photograph of ponds at Cherrygarth by Friedl Gardner

On cold wet days, or when inspiration beckoned her to her upstairs studio, she drew native flowers from life. Painstaking observation and artistry recreated nature in all its intricate detail and wonder. Instead of stiff botanical specimens, her flower and bird studies looked natural and graceful and full of life.

Cards produced by Amnesty International from paintings by Friedl Gardner

Her final exhibition of watercolours was at Manyung Gallery on the 4th of August 1985, and included watercolours of her garden, and a magnificent painting of rock pools at Portsea back beach.

Friedl's generous caring sensitive nature attracted her to supporting Amnesty International. She found the letter writing to help prisoners who had been tortured, traumatic, and instead decided to paint for Amnesty. In 1981 she had an exhibition of native flower watercolour paintings at Austraflora Gallery, Montrose, to raise funds for the organization. It was an enormous success. The paintings were so appreciated and admired that they were photographed and printed as cards. Thousands of Friedl's cards have been sold to aid Amnesty.

Newspaper article from Lilydale and Yarra Valley Express April 18 1981

In 1988 Friedl had a serious fall, which resulted in spinal injury, and she could no longer paint. Then, she focused her artistic eye on photographing her magnificent garden to make cards to further aid Amnesty.

Amnesty International cards photographed at Cherrygarth by Friedl Gardner

Despite a hard life and ill health, and coming late to the art world, she has achieved acclaim for her artwork; She won a Caltex prize for painting at the Benalla Art Gallery. Her output is impressive, especially considering the pressures that have been placed on her during her life, and the relatively short time she was painting intensely.

Friedl has brought much joy and beauty to so many people, with her landscapes and flower studies and remarkable photography of her enchanting garden.


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