art and about: my friend Fiona

Fiona Crawford (2013) at the Opening of “Anastasia – Woman of Eureka”

Artist and friend, Fiona Crawford, passed away in October last year. Fiona was my ‘art buddy’. For both of us, our passion to create art was put on hold while we worked through those decades of life, family, career. When we did burst forth, we enthused about all new learnings. Moreso, Fiona and I shared a zeal for travels, history, all things inter-related to art. Over a wine, or two, we discussed upcoming plans – always ‘the next trip’, what places to visit – our current art projects, mutually supportive. We visited local exhibitions together. Curiosity and excitement doesn’t wane. It rejuvenates.

As an artist, Fiona was an intelligent story-teller.  As a woman, she was fervent about equality. Her approach to artmaking reflected both. Fiona’s 2013 exhibition “Anastasia – Woman of Eureka” was a testament to her integrity and commitment to women’s rights and family history. Anastasia Withers was one of the earliest women on the Victorian goldfields. She was also Fiona’s great-great Grandmother. Anastasia was trusted to hide the miners’ gold under her petticoats. She and two other women are believed to have designed and sewn the “Eureka Flag” (1854) which became, and remains, a symbol of the battle for people’s rights.

“Anastasia – Woman of Eureka” originally exhibited at Gasworks Arts Park in Albert Park, then later at MADE (Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka) in Ballarat, regional Victoria, site of the Battle of the Eureka Stockade. Fiona told Anastasia’s story through painting, printmaking, sculpture and textiles.

Photos:  Gasworks Arts Park – Fiona’s exhibition Opening

Importantly, we had fun!  At the Mirka Mora exhibition (Heide Museum of Modern Art), we were incredulous at the many glass cases bursting with Mirka’s little sketch books. We combed over these drawings, amazed how she prolifically practised her skills. Then, Mirka’s glorious paintings and a gallery space full of her dolls. Deciding it was ‘play time’, we busied ourselves in the children’s activity room.

The David Hockney exhibition at the NGV inspired us. We’d so looked forward to it. Those explosive colours and Hockney’s new works on drawing tablets. Keeping up with kids, showing us how it’s done!
Photos:  Play time at Heide, Mirka Mora exhibition; ‘colour our world’ at Hockney, NGV.

Another exhibition that delighted us was South African artist, Robin Rhode’s “The Call of Walls”. This was his first solo exhibition in Australia (NGV) and his work was new to us. All the more reason to explore. The street is Rhode’s workspace, as he creates using photography and animation.  Wonderful!
Photos:  Watching and marvelling at Robin Rhode’s exhibition.

In 2016, I was in Sinalunga (Tuscany, Italy) for an art history/en plein air painting workshop, while Fiona was a little further north in Assisi, undertaking a residency at Arte Studio Ginestrelle. Her intention was to paint, but in Assisi, Fiona discovered Punto Assisi, an embroidery tradition practised by the local women, that pre-dates the Renaissance. Punto Assisi resonated with Fiona on every level. The linen, the threads’ colour palette, this women’s work, unique to Assisi.

Back here in Melbourne, over another glass of wine, I clearly recall Fiona telling me, excitedly, about her ‘find’. It set Fiona off on a whole new artistic journey and became the subject not only for her next creative project, but she was awarded an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship through Federation University Australia Arts Academy for a Master of Arts (Research).  Here was a different ‘canvas’ to give voice to women, drawing with thread, to “honour the unknown makers of this art.” (Fiona).  She returned to Assisi in 2019, spending more time with these women, buying their fabric and threads.   The culmination of Fiona’s work was titled “When you go looking for me I am not there”.  It was – and is – exquisite. Exhibited at the Post Office Gallery in Ballarat early 2019, her Punto Assisi embroidery was to continue on to La Storta (through Venezia Contemporanea, Venice). But, the Covid 19 pandemic hit.  Victoria went into lockdown just as her works were assembled in Ballarat.  Another journey for Fiona, when she was diagnosed with cancer. We didn’t get to see “When you go looking for me I am not there” until her memorial service in February this year, back in Gasworks Arts Park.
Photos: “When you go looking for me I am not there” Gasworks Arts Park, February 2022; Fiona’s grandchildren play at Gasworks. 

Gosh, I miss my friend, Fiona.

A glass of wine, chatting all things art, history, travel, religion (at the NGV).

©   2022 Text and photographs Pamela Reid/tPRo