Simone Nolan: Petite Miniature Textiles
Simone Nolan told Fibre Arts Take Two all about the event’s renewed success of the Wangaratta Art Gallery’s Petite Miniatures Award.
Simone Nolan’s Friday Feature Artist Interview can be found at the bottom of this page.
The Victorian city of Wangaratta has a long and prominent history of textiles, both in manufacturing and as a craft. This week, Fibre Arts Take Two chats with Gallery Director Simone Nolan about whether its petite textiles competition has had its day. The Wangaratta Art Gallery collects contemporary textile art, small sculptures and significant works of art from Australian artists and holds the most significant acquisitive award for textile art across Australia.
Gillian Bencke won the Wangaratta Contemporary Textile Award in 2021, and we were fortunate enough to enjoy a video of Gillian discussing her winning work, Cope.
Enjoy excerpts from our recent chat with gallery director Simone, who shared her passion for textile arts and the rich history of textile art in Wangaratta with Fibre Arts Take Two.
Wangaratta’s textile history
“Wangaratta is in northeast Victoria, midway between Melbourne and Albury Wodonga,” explains Simone, “Our gallery is one of the smallest regional galleries in Victoria. We sit within the public gallery sector of Victoria, but we’re one of the smallest teams. We put out about 20 to 22 exhibitions per year across three spaces, but we really do jam-pack our programme.”
It’s no coincidence that the gallery focuses on fibre arts.
“It’s a really exciting space for contemporary textiles,” says Simone, “and we like to think we own that space, and we have a very good reason to be focusing on textiles at the gallery because Wangaratta has a significant textile industry history.”
“Our social history connected to textiles is very strong. In the 1920s, our town transitioned from an agricultural-based town into an industry town, so textile factories brought a lot of the migrants down to the Wangaratta region and helped with our population growth. It transformed the town, so we tell the story of textiles in our collection.”
Below artwork by Helle Helle Jorgensen
The Wangaratta Art Gallery has hosted two major competitions in alternating years, the Contemporary Textiles Award and Petite Miniatures Textiles Award. The last time the Petite awards were held was in 2020, a difficult year, as everyone will remember.
“We get a really big following with Petite Miniatures,“ says Simone, “People are very fond of the programme. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s really accessible, so we really have to work quite hard as a team. (During the pandemic), we questioned whether to do it because we knew people couldn’t possibly access the gallery. We’d already received all the entries, and we just thought we would give it a go. We’ll install it, and we’ll maybe photograph it. What we did, we were probably one of the first galleries in Victoria that I know of.”
The final solution was a virtual walkthrough, much like those done by real estate agents when advertising a house online. “We found a local young man who did walkthroughs for the real estate agents,” says Simone, “We approached him, and he said, ‘I can do that for your gallery. It’s the same. I know how to do it for you.’ He was brilliant at working with us on the labels of the artworks and embedding all the right information into those labels. It was the first 3D exhibition experience we had ever done, and we were really proud of ourselves.”
In 2022, with lockdowns and restrictions a thing of the past, the Petite Awards are back at full strength. “This year, we got to 32,214 entries,” says Simone, “We’ve picked 93 entrants to go on display, so this year is going to be a lot more jam-packed. The year before, because we knew it was going to be filmed rather than experienced, we had taken it back to about 53 works, so there are a lot more works this year.”
There is a delicious irony in the fact that, until COVID, Simone and her team thought that the Petite Awards might be running out of steam. “For some time, we thought that it had its day and that the audience was fizzled out,” she says, “We’ve thought it has to be reinvigorated somehow. And then because of COVID, we just thought, well, we have nothing else, we’ll just keep going with it, and the audience that we got on a national perspective really proved to us that there are people following this outside of our region and outside of our state, and really interested in the space of what protect miniature textiles is.
COVID gave us the opportunity to look into it further. There’s quite an international movement with petite miniature textiles. We’re one of the few countries that hold this event every two years, so we’re holding on to it, and we just hope each year it gets better.”
The 2021 Contemporary Textile Art Award winner was Gillian Bencke, with her piece, Cope (featured above). “This piece is inspired by an old liturgical garment called a ‘cope’ that is often stitched with religious stories,” she explains.
“I wanted to take that concept and have a little play with that in a modern context. So the cope is a garment that has not changed its shape for hundreds of years, which I thought was such an amazing idea that something could serve a purpose in that shape for such a long time. It’s so simple yet so effective in what it does for the wearer. It used to be highly embroidered with stories of Christ, the investment of time that people put into something like that I thought was such a beautiful thing. I decided that if I were to make one, what would those stories be? And how would I incorporate my life or aspects of my life into something that comes from such an old shape and form?”
Gillian wanted to represent everyday items amongst the dense imagery of her piece. “I stitched in the little things that I use every day that maybe you use every day as well,” she says, “the things that are necessary to our lives, that things are maybe not so necessary, but we still use a need and want. I wanted those to just be falling away from the centre of the cope, as though they have been dropped. So they’re falling onto the ground collecting at the edge of this cope, creating a beautiful spread of the things I use in my life.”
Experience the miniatures
“I would encourage anyone who is interested in textile miniatures to get onto the Wangaratta Art Gallery website,” Simone says.
“You can join our e-news with no charge, it’s a really good way to get our textile artists’ news and updates, so I highly recommend anyone who’s wanting to know more about our textile, art or contemporary textile opportunities to get onto our website and do that. And also, follow us on Instagram and Facebook. They’re the best ways to keep up to date because we’re just trying to grow our audience in this space all the time.”
Below artwork by Valerie Kirk
About the artist
This 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 in the creative arts precinct, adjacent to the WPACC and a short walk from the CBD.
Wangaratta Art Gallery collects contemporary textile art, small sculpture, wood, and significant works of art from and about the northeast 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.