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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Heap, Amy Elizabeth (1874–1956)

by Dorothy Erickson

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

Amy Elizabeth Heap (1874-1956), artist and illustrator, was born on 6 February 1874 at Tonge-with-Haulgh, Lancashire, England, daughter of James Heap, wine merchant, and his wife Amy Elizabeth, née Bamber. Young Amy was initially educated at Bolton, and later attended art schools at Manchester and in London. She received a teacher's certificate in 1895 and a certificate for art instruction in 1897. Sketching tours in England took up some of her time and she may have taught, although her family's circumstances did not make it essential. With her brother Frederick and younger sister Ethel, she emigrated to Western Australia in 1909.

After living on a group-settlement farm at Busselton, they moved to Claremont and thence to Darlington. The sisters joined in the artistic life of Perth and became members of the Western Australian Society of Arts. From 1912 to 1925 Amy irregularly exhibited drawings, paintings, stained pokerwork pictures, metalwork, embroidery and gessowork; the embroidery was designed by Amy and worked by Ethel. In 1912 a local art critic wrote that 'Miss Heap . . . has a greater number and variety of exhibits . . . than any other artist, her work showing an artistic versatility that is remarkable'.

During World War I Heap joined the staff of Western Australian Newspapers Ltd as an artist/photographer. From 1918, as a 'specialist in embellishment', she contributed drawings and photographs to the Western Mail, a weekly journal aimed at rural readers which also enjoyed a wide circulation in Perth. Her delicate and graceful drawings provided borders for photographs, poems, articles and short stories. Daisy Rossi commented on 'her arresting and decorative covers . . . her sensitive pen and ink drawings' and the 'delicate refined style' of her water colours. In 1929, Western Australia's centenary year, Heap's brilliant water-colour, 'Nuytsia Floribunda', or 'Christmas Tree in Bloom', was the front cover of the Western Mail annual; equally striking was her water-colour of black swans for the 1932 issue. For a time, she and the photographer Fred Flood dominated the visual imagery in the Mail's Christmas editions. Both 'heard happy shepherds chanting by streams in a Western Arcady'; their work emphasized 'the values of stability and social contentment', and had 'no room for sorrow, pain and deprivation'. Amy was 'aristocratic in bearing, manner, and speech; and very, very English . . . ''a Dresden china" sort of person, small but very impressive'. Her handwriting was 'precise, neat and self-confident'. Her private life remained that. Independent and a spinster, she drove her own motorcar.

Heap retired from the newspaper about 1934 and went to live with her sister and brother at Albany. In 1933-44 she continued to exhibit on and off with the Perth Society of Artists, of which she was a member. An inveterate traveller, she visited New Zealand, Tasmania and England, where she exhibited in 1938. At the age of 70 she was described as 'indefatigable'. She died on 17 April 1956 at Albany and was buried with Anglican rites in Karrakatta cemetery, Perth. Her works hang in the Albany Town Council chambers, Woodbridge House, Guildford, and the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Murdoch (ed), The Westralia Gift Book (Perth, 1916)
  • J. L. Glascock (ed), Jarrah Leaves (Perth, 1933)
  • J. Gooding, Western Australian Art and Artists 1900-1950 (Perth, 1987)
  • C. T. Stannage, Embellishing the Landscape (Perth 1990)
  • West Australian, 20 Nov 1912, 8 Oct 1935, 23 Oct 1937, 18 July, 19 Dec 1939, 12 Nov 1940, 18 July 1959
  • West Australian Magazine (weekly insert of West Australian), 2-8 June 1990, p 16
  • Heap file (Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth)
  • Western Australian Society of Artists' file (Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth).

Citation details

Dorothy Erickson, 'Heap, Amy Elizabeth (1874–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 19 September 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 14

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