A collection of enchanting and forgotten works by one of Australia’s most loved and iconic artists and authors, Pixie O’Harris, is back on public display after being rediscovered and restored.
- Paintings created by Pixie O’Harris in the 1950s for Taree hospital, among others, have been rediscovered and restored
- The paintings are now part of an exhibition that has drawn interest from Australians around the country
- A collection of paintings from Sydney’s Fairfield Hospital were also discovered and form part of the display
It is the final chapter in what has been a long journey for two women, to find and then revitalise the paintings and bring them back into public view.
Janine Roberts and Penny Teerman, from Taree on the New South Wales Mid North Coast, started searching for the paintings a couple of years ago after reading about them while researching a local history project.
The 25 paintings were created by Pixie O’Harris and her brother, Olaf O’Harris, for the hospital in Taree in 1957, as part of an ongoing quest to brighten the atmosphere of hospitals, health centres, and schools around NSW.
Over the years most were removed from the hospital walls, and over time were forgotten.
In 2018, Ms Teerman and Ms Roberts unearthed a large number of the works that were stored away in an old hospital storeroom, however a number of other paintings remained missing.
Then last year the remaining paintings appeared mysteriously one day at the hospital, without a note or explanation.
“We don’t know where they came from. We haven’t asked too many questions. We were just so thrilled to have them,” Ms Teerman said.
Another collection of Pixie O’Harris paintings was also discovered stored away in Sydney’s Fairfield Hospital.
A decision was made to hold an exhibition featuring all the forgotten works.
“For me the fascination is seeing all the little things that are happening within a busy artwork and they are very lovable characters she’s used in them. It was a very gentle time,” exhibition curator Sue Mitchell said.
“These works show a lot of European influence, but they also show a lot of Australian native influence in the trees and animals and things.”
People travel from around Australia to see ‘Forgotten Works’
Over many months the paintings were conserved and restored, ready for the exhibition at Taree’s regional gallery.
“We couldn’t take on restoring them to pristine condition, and in a way that’s only right,” Ms Mitchell said.
“We felt that these paintings have had a life, they’ve been in a busy public working environment and they have bumps and knocks and things like that.”
The exhibition, The Forgotten Works of Pixie O’Harris, is now open and has already attracted hundreds of people from throughout New South Wales and further afield.
“The community at large has come — we’ve had visitors from all over the state and interstate,” Ms Teerman said.
“And I think that’s wonderful and I just hope Pixie will have a great revival with this exhibition.”
Ms O’Harris’s family members, including grandchildren and her daughter, Halcyon, now in her 80s, also attended.
“We had so many family members both from Pixie’s family and Olaf’s family and they gave so much to us — it was really wonderful,” Ms Roberts said.
“The coming together of the paintings, the community, and the families for the exhibition has been a moment of Pixie magic.
“It’s so exciting because we really thought these paintings had gone to the tip or disappeared into people’s houses, and to see them now, two years later, on the walls is amazing.”
Artworks a chance to ‘reminisce and remember’
Pixie O’Harris holds a treasured place in the hearts and memories of many Australians.
Once word spread about the plans for the exhibition, people from around Australia responded.
“While we were working on our plan putting together this exhibition, there were reports and people ringing in who had Pixie O’Harris works all over the state and the country, many offering to loan them for the exhibition,” Ms Mitchell said.
Many also shared their memories of Pixie O’Harris hospital paintings.
“I was moved in to the new hospital in Taree and that’s when they put the paintings up, and I looked at them for so long,” Lyn Brown said.
“They were just beautiful and have always been in the back of my mind and it’s so good to see them back.”
Alison Ricks shared an old photo of herself in front of the artwork that was on the wall of the Taree maternity ward when she gave birth to her son in 1983.
“She had given birth to her son in front of The Water Babies painting,” Ms Roberts said.
“So I think this exhibition is also about people reminiscing and remembering the paintings and what they meant to them.
“Pixie painted in more than 50 hospitals across New South Wales.”
In a bid to also draw in young children, Pixie O’Harris books, fairy wings, and hidden garden treasures have been woven into the exhibition.
“We wanted to make it an exhibition across generations — older people remember them, and we also wanted to attract a new audience in young children,” Ms Roberts said.
“The content of these paintings is so beautiful, it appeals to them, there is this innocence about them.”
Pixie O’Harris came to Australia from Wales in 1920 and died in 1991.
Her legacy lives on and once the exhibition wraps up in March, the Taree collection of old and treasured paintings will go back on display at the local hospital.