Fascinating story of Wollongong Art Gallery

Must go again! On an earlier visit:

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It is the Gallery’s 40th anniversary.

An immersive interactive installation project that celebrates the significant and generous gift by Bronius (Bob) Sredersas, a Lithuanian migrant and steel worker whose personal art collection became the impetus for the establishment of Wollongong Art Gallery.

Incorporating the Sredersas art collection, this innovative multidisciplinary exhibition recognizes both the Gallery’s origins and celebrates the contribution that migrants and refugees have made and continue to make to our communities.

This work has been created by the Society of Histrionic Happenings under the curatorship of Anne-Louise Rentell​ through the Gallery’s Visiting Curators Program.

​​THE GIFT on Vimeo

See also THE GALLERY / The Story of Us.

It was not until 1975 after a chance meeting with a very modest gentleman named Bronius (Bob) Sredersas. Bob wanted to donate his collection to the “Children of Wollongong”. This momentous gift was the catalyst on which the Art Gallery was built (Sredersas Gallery). The Illawarra County Council donated the property formally known as the Hughes Whetton Reilly Building (now Wollongong Youth Centre), including the land upon which it stood to Council on the proviso that the property be used for an Art Gallery. Through the persistence and hard work of the society, volunteers and donors, and with the assistance of Council and Government funding bodies, a Director and Board of Trustee was appointed and on the 2 June 1978 Wollongong City Gallery was officially opened by Mr Neville Wran, Premier of NSW at 85 Burelli Street, Wollongong attended by over 500 people. The first exhibition was titled Burghers of Calais, with works borrowed for the National Gallery and Art Gallery of NSW.                                      

Local ABC has a great feature: The Lithuanian secret service officer whose art collection changed an Australian city.

Bronius 'Bob Sredersas stands in front of a painting while holding a cigarette.

I was back in Wollongong by late 1978, though seeing out the year working at Sydney University.

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“North Wollongong Beach in the early 1980’s. Photo thanks to Lost Wollongong member Michael Schurr.” I was living not far away in Church Street at that time – well, at least from late 1978 to the beginning of 1981.

I recall hearing about “The Gift” at the time. Interesting the role played by Father Michael Bach, whom I met earlier in the 70s when he officiated at a wedding where I was a groomsman.

Mr Sredersas’ life outside of work could not have been more contradictory — he would not be seen at the local pubs that were filled with steelworkers or at the local football matches and horse races.

Instead, he would spend his time at his fibro cottage in the Wollongong suburb of Cringila, tending to a garden of roses, cabbages, lemons and a line of trees to absorb the dust from the steelworks.

It was in 1956 when he decided that his home needed a painting and he caught the train to Sydney, a journey he would regularly make over a period of 20 years….

In 1977, hastened by a break-in which saw 13 of the works stolen — including two Willian Ashtons and a Norman Lindsay — Mr Sredersas began to wonder where his collection would be stored over the long term.

He decided that the people of Wollongong, the city he felt he owed a great debt to, should own the paintings.

A devout Catholic, Mr Sredersas, who was then in his late 60s, enlisted the help of Father Michael Bach who was the administrator of Wollongong Cathedral at the time….

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