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Holdsworth, Hubert Augustus Gordon (1884–1965)

by Dorothy Erickson

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

Hubert Augustus Gordon Holdsworth (1884-1965), silversmith, painter and printmaker, was born on 4 November 1884 at Odiham, Hampshire, England, second of three sons of Charles Edward Hall Holdsworth, gentleman, and his wife Ellen Louise, née Bostock, both from Yorkshire families connected for generations with the Church of England. Gordon was taught music and art in England before the Holdsworths emigrated to Western Australia in 1900; they established Coplow, a homestead at Hester Siding, near Bridgetown, and became timber-millers. He joined the Western Australian Society of Arts in 1904 and began a career as painter, etcher, sculptor and metalsmith. Said to have studied metalsmithing under J. W. R. Linton, he opened an art school at Bridgetown in 1911. Much of his technique was derived from treasured books and magazines which he read in his rural retreat.

About 1911 Holdsworth received his earliest-known commission, for a brass lectern in St Paul's Anglican Church, Bridgetown. He fashioned an intricate processional cross for C. O. L. Riley, archbishop of Perth from 1914, and, in the years that followed, made 'furniture' for many churches. His work was 'firmly rooted within the Arts and Crafts tradition' and his ecclesiastical metalware exhibited a highly individual approach. Despite the remoteness of Bridgetown, Holdsworth was able to support himself over a sixty-year career. He exhibited his paintings at the Albert Hall, London, in 1912, and showed his silver regularly in Western Australia and New South Wales. In October 1920 the Bulletin's reviewer wrote that 'Gordon Holdsworth of Westralia sends a casket that might have been Pandora's'. He had held his first solo exhibition in Perth in 1916 and in 1924 was awarded a medal for a brass and enamel lectern, displayed in the British Empire Exhibition, Wembley, London.

A dashing young man with an aquiline nose, a moustache and a goatee, Holdsworth never married. He cared for his widowed mother until her death, carefully applying her make-up for church on Sundays. In later life he was described as 'fey'. John Feeney, an artist who met him in 1961, remarked that he was 'quite extraordinary . . . a complete artistic personality of a vanishing era', and added that 'his work whilst not being particularly modern was of a rare excellence'.

Although Holdsworth suffered severe burns in a fire which destroyed his home in 1953, he continued to be productive. He died on 3 August 1965 at Bridgetown District Hospital and was buried with Anglican rites in the local cemetery. When speaking of Holdswort, an obituarist recalled the words about Sir Christopher Wren: 'If you would see his monument look around you'. Western Australian churches contain numerous examples of his art. The most notable, usually in brass, silver and copper, are in St Paul's, Bridgetown, St George's Cathedral, Perth, St George's College, Crawley, Perth College, Mt Lawley, St Boniface's Cathedral, Bunbury, and St Mary's, Busselton. His work is also held in the Western Australian Museum, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the parliament of Western Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • J. O'Callaghan, Treasures from Australian Churches (Melb, 1985)
  • A. Schofield and K. Fahy, Australian Jewellery (Syd, 1990)
  • D. Erickson, Aspects of Stylistic and Social Influence on the Practice of Gold and Silversmithing in Western Australia 1829-1965 (Ph.D. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1992)
  • Holdsworth file and Western Australian Society of Arts papers (Art Gallery of Western Australia)
  • Holdsworth papers (Bridgetown Tourist Bureau Museum)
  • Holdsworth collection (State Library of Western Australia photographic records).

Citation details

Dorothy Erickson, 'Holdsworth, Hubert Augustus Gordon (1884–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/holdsworth-hubert-augustus-gordon-10519/text18669, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 16 October 2018.

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

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