Penrith Regional Gallery celebrates the life and art of Gerald and Margo Lewers

Celebrating 75 years: Gina Plate in Lewers garden, the only Australian example of a public gallery garden designed around principles of modernism.

Celebrating 75 years: Gina Plate in Lewers garden, the only Australian example of a public gallery garden designed around principles of modernism.

​When Margo and Gerald Lewers purchased a farmhouse and market garden in the foothills of the Blue Mountains they set about turning it into a home and studio that mirrored their artistic sensibilities.

The Lewers, leading lights in the Australian Modernism movement, were great entertainers and Patrick White wrote on Gerald Lewers death in 1962 that in the house at Emu Plains "ideas hurtled, argument flared, voices shouted, sparks flew".

Gina Plate in Lewers Garden - the only Australian example of a public gallery garden designed around principles of modernism.

Gina Plate in Lewers Garden - the only Australian example of a public gallery garden designed around principles of modernism.

It was a place, White said, where "people gathered spontaneously".

This year marks 75 years since the Lewers family first moved into the Nepean River property and the anniversary is being celebrated with a series of exhibitions and public events titled Emu Island: Modernism in Place.

Gerald Lewers bought the property in the early 1940s and after he retired in 1950 to work full time as a sculptor the family moved in permanently.

Following Margo's death in 1978, daughters Darani and Tanya bequeathed the family property for an art gallery, now known as the Penrith Regional Gallery and the Lewers Bequest, along with a large collection of their parents' works.

The Lewers were members of the Contemporary Art Society, the "engine house" of Australian Modernism and subscribed to the idea of "life as a total work of art", according to Dr Cassi Plate.

"Everything you do is in the spirit of abstractionism."

Plate is the daughter of Margo's brother, artist Carl Plate, and she and sister Gina were frequent visitors to the Lewers' home.

She has consulted on an exhibition of work by the Lewers and their contemporaries, including Frank and Margel Hinder, Judy Cassab, Tony Tuckson, Carl Plate, Robert Klippel, Henry Salkauskas, Eva Kubbos and Stanislaus Rapotec running until November 19.

For Christmas gatherings Margo Lewers would have a colour theme, remembers Gina, a horticulturalist and landscape designer.

"She would have a dead branch of some sort and paint it," she said. "She had an amazing collection of baubles of all shapes and sizes and colours then she would decorate that tree in two or three colours.

"She would dye the cushion covers in those colours, she'd wrap the presents in those colours, and so it was like going into a wonderland for a child."

Margo's artistic sensibilities extended to the garden and Gina believes the Lewers garden to be the only Australian example of a public gallery garden designed around Modernism principles.

"Margo's garden could be said to have a similar heritage significance as Heide, the English and French inspired gardens created during the same era in the countryside outside Melbourne by arts' patrons and modernists Sunday and John Reed, and now also the grounds of a public gallery," she said.

Where the gardens and sculpture walk of Heide are spread over several hectares the Lewers garden wraps closely around the family house, extended by architect Sydney Ancher in 1956, separate accommodations completed by Ancher in 1964, and Gerald Lewers' studio.

"That garden was and still is unique because of the different sorts and combinations of plants Margo used, plants chosen for their textures and especially for their colours, because of the integration of both Margo and Gerald's artworks throughout, and for the ways the living areas of the buildings connected seamlessly with the garden, even to the extent of plants and ponds being inserted in to the stone verandahs," Gina said.

Margot Lewers' sense of colour was evident in the way she'd arrange platters of foods for her many parties: bright blue borage flowers to decorate a carrot salad, red nasturtiums and yellow calendula for a green salad.

"Little touches – the integration of life, art and the garden," Gina said.

Talks and tours at the Lewers Garden will run Sunday, September 17.

-Sydney Morning Herald

Gerald Lewers working on reclining figure. Penrith Regional Art Gallery is celebrating 75 years of modernist art and living at its Emu Plains site.  Photo: Penrith Regional Gallery

Gerald Lewers working on reclining figure. Penrith Regional Art Gallery is celebrating 75 years of modernist art and living at its Emu Plains site. Photo: Penrith Regional Gallery

Artist Margo Lewers in her front garden.

Artist Margo Lewers in her front garden.

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