Reviews/Visual Art

Artist’s vivid imagination still appeals

16 September 2020

Saskia Haluszkiewicz says May Gibbs had the imagination of a child. Seesaw’s junior reviewer makes some astute observations about this exhibition, the first of many children’s arts events happening in Perth as part of AWESOME Festival.

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Junior review: ‘May Gibbs’ Gumnut Baby Exhibition’, AWESOME Festival ·
State Library of Western Australia ·
Saskia Haluszkiewicz aged 10 ·

May Gibbs was an artist and a writer who was born in England but came to WA in 1885 aged eight. The family lived in Harvey and then settled in South Perth where May grew up. She always loved the bush and used to tell her younger brother stories about the bush creatures.

The exhibition was about the gumnut babies. May first created the characters Snugglepot and Cuddlepie in 1918 and invented stories about them to go with her illustrations.

I found it a good experience to see the original paintings and prints in the exhibition, not just as pictures in books. The paintings show a world like ours but in gumnut terms. One picture shows gumnut babies in a live art class, with one gumnut baby as the model in a funny pose. All the paintings they were making were on leaves.

‘Christmas Bell Babies’, Cover illustration for ‘Flannel Flowers and other Bush Babies’, 1917 by May Gibbs. Photo supplied

I love the different hats and how every baby has a different flower hat from their trees. I love the wattle babies with their yellow pom-pom skirts, they are so cute. Children can learn a lot about the bush from May’s works. And like indigenous culture, the gumnut babies have ceremonies and dance and celebrate the bush.

My favourite character is Ragged Blossom. All of the bush creatures are friendly, apart from Mr Lizard and the Bad Banksia Men, so even the spider is very cute with big eyes and long eyelashes. It’s like May still had the vivid imagination of a child even into adult life.

In the exhibition there are four drafts of one painting showing gumnut babies dancing in the air. Behind them are clouds, and in the last two drafts May has seen the shape of the clouds she has painted are like an elephant and has then incorporated them into the image.

An interesting artefact in the exhibition is a postcard May designed in World War 1. She made them for people to send to the troops overseas to remind them of home. The picture has a gumnut baby hiding behind a leaf and says “Dear Old Sport, How Are You?”

May was one of the first writers to make stories about the Australian bush for children. Before that all books for children came from England. May Gibbs has been well loved by children from many generations, and so it’s nice to have an exhibition of her works here where she grew up. The exhibition also makes a good introduction to The Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie which will be performed by the West Australian Ballet as part of AWESOME Festival.

May Gibbs’ Gumnut Baby Exhibition continues until 1 November as part of AWESOME Festival.

Pictured top: ‘Gum-Nut Babies’ cover image 1916, by May Gibbs. Photo supplied.

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Author —
Junior Reviewer

At Seesaw we believe that shows designed for children should be reviewed by children. Our junior reviewers write an honest response, in their own words. Their contributions are a vital part of the arts playground.

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