Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ewart, Joyce Vera Mary (1916–1964)

by Jan Roberts

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Joyce Vera Mary Ewart (1916-1964), artist and teacher, was born on 29 August 1916 at Murrumburrah, New South Wales, second daughter of native-born parents Archibald Charles Ewart, railway fireman, and his wife Lilian Ethel, née Harper. Joy was born with Marfan's syndrome, a congenital disorder of the connective tissues which led to the early deaths of her sister and brother. The Ewarts were Christadelphians, a fundamental Christian sect which Joy was to reject. The family moved to Maitland where she attended school and at the age of 11 began art lessons under Reginald Russom at the local technical college. In 1935 she won a scholarship to East Sydney Technical College, but found the atmosphere under Frank Medworth stifling. Frequently ill herself, Ewart worked for a time as a nurse's aide, and studied painting under Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo and Lo Schiavo. In 1939 she and her friend Enid Fisk were students of the Hungarian artist Desiderius Orban. His classes were liberating, introducing them to Zen Buddhism and to the modern art movement, seen in Sydney for the first time at the (Melbourne Herald) Exhibition of French and British Contempory Art.

When she lived with her parents at Chatswood and from 1942 at Greenwich, Ewart's health improved. She taught drawing with Thea Proctor and began to gain recognition. Ewart's solo exhibitions at the Macquarie Galleries in 1942, 1943, 1944, 1948 and 1953 were well reviewed; she also showed with the local Contemporary Art Society of Australia, the Encouragement of Art Movement, and in the Archibald exhibitions of 1943 and 1944. In 1948 the National Art Gallery of New South Wales bought her painting 'George Street North' and her 'Onion's Point' won the Mosman art prize. Next year she went abroad.

London was hard. Too sick to do more than paint flowers on glass tumblers and too poor to pay board, Ewart lived with the family of Douglas Parnell, an Australian opera singer. Paris was better. Her French was excellent, she worked as a nanny, travelled to Spain and Italy, painted and sent canvases to Australia. Hayter's Paris studio, Atelier 17—where Miro, Picasso, Ernst and Chagall had their work printed—inspired her with the idea of starting a similar workshop in Sydney.

Back home in 1952, Ewart drove herself so hard that she sometimes fainted in front of her students. She taught at the University of Sydney, Presbyterian Ladies' College, Pymble, Church of England Grammar School for Girls, Newcastle, Maitland and Newcastle technical colleges, and at summer schools and youth camps. In 1955 she opened a painting studio at Chatswood, in a dilapidated old stable with a loft and brick courtyard. Adults, adolescents ('transitionals') and children attended her practical art classes. Lawrence Collings made a film, Youth Creates, which showed her teaching and which impressed gallery audiences in Melbourne and New York.

Having won a Fulbright scholarship in 1959, Ewart undertook a course in painting and printmaking at Newcomb College, Tulane University of Louisiana, United States of America, but had to leave early. She used her dying landlady as the subject of her lithograph, 'Fever': James Gleeson wrote, 'in no other work is her . . . knowledge of suffering so blazingly displayed'. In 1960 she visited Madame Lacouriere's print workshop in Paris and saw 'artists and artisans working together'. Knowing how limited her life was, Ewart threw herself into encouraging quality printmaking, especially lithography, using presses set up in her Chatswood studio. The Workshop Arts Centre was formed with Joy its honorary art director; classes commenced in February 1963 in premises at Willoughby.

Miss Ewart died of a dissecting aneurysm of the aorta on 4 July 1964 in Royal North Shore Hospital and was cremated. The focussed will of this crusading, mystic zealot had dominated those who fell under her influence. Sleeping only several hours a night, driving her frail, elongated body, she strove to release the creative spirit in herself and in others, especially children. Her arts workshop became a model for new centres which developed in the 1970s.

Select Bibliography

  • Bulletin (Australian Society for Education Through Art), 2, no 3, Oct 1966, p 12
  • Workshop Arts Centre (Willoughby, Sydney), Community, no 3, Sept 1974, p 8
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Jan 1943, 12 May 1945, 18 Feb, 7 July 1948, 10 Aug 1961, 17 July 1963, 6, 12 July 1964
  • J. Ewart scrapbook (privately held)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Jan Roberts, 'Ewart, Joyce Vera Mary (1916–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ewart-joyce-vera-mary-10137/text17899, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 24 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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