Saturday, July 30, 2011

May Gibb's Home, Nutcote

When my sister Lita asked me if I wanted to see Nutcote, the home of May Gibbs, Australia's famous and iconic children's book author and illustrator, I said yes right away.  Never mind that we didn't grow up with May Gibbs' books or characters, and I never really heard of her until that day, but we both love seeing homes of artists to see how their home and surroundings inspired their work.

While walking down the path towards the yellow house, Lita and I reminisced about one of our European trips together as adventurous young twenty-somethings--and particularly our visit to Monet's house in Giverny just outside of Paris. We didn't have internet nor mobile phones then, so trip planning was challenging. We managed to get ourselves on a train that brought us to Giverny and back, and during the ride we even befriended two older American ladies who gave us tips on how to travel together and keep track of expenses.  Those ladies were probably as old as we are now.

I don't remember much of Monet's house anymore, but I do remember feeling inspired, and happy that we had made the effort to figure out how to get to Giverny.

The original lemon tree in front of the house

Here at May Gibbs' home, we went directly to the back garden which has a beautiful view of the water. I'm sure she drew inspiration from such a gorgeous vantage point, but May Gibbs was more interested in the botanical details in her garden--the little pods, nuts, petals and leaves.  These are the things that form the basis of all her storybook characters.

Looking up at the house from the garden

The docent who welcomed us to the house led us through some gallery rooms right by the garden (and under the main house),  and invited us to watch the 19-minute video which was looping in the back room.

The short documentary on the life of May explains how her family sailed from England to Australia when she was only 4 years old. In Australia, her drawings were noticed right away and by the time she was 12, she was contributing illustrations regularly to the newspapers.

The second video is about how her characters are all based on Australian plants and flowers and the recurring theme saving the plants and environment.  The few other visitors that day seemed to be skipping the video, preferring to visit the interiors right away. I'm glad we watched the video first because it brought May Gibbs to life, and made the house visit so much more interesting.

I found it quite curious that her talent was recognized so early on. It turns out both her parents were artists too so when they noticed her talent, they strongly supported and encouraged it.

illustration from here

The simple house is staged as if she were still living in it, with old English furniture and accessories from that era. Some of the items are original and belonged to her, but most are reproductions. Her original easel sits in the middle of her studio.

 photos from here

The studio opens up into this balcony which overlooks her garden, and has the same beautiful view of the Sydney Harbour.
 Lita, engaging the guide in deep artistic conversation

The ladies who guide the tours are  enthusiastic volunteers all well-versed on the life of May Gibbs.  Many of May's watercolor portraits hang in the rooms, but unfortunately I wasn't allowed to snap any shots inside the house. Too bad, I would've wanted to take detailed shots of the nicely-restored interiors.

This picture doesn't show the most interesting thing about the kitchen--the stove and the counters.
Photo from here

There's a little coffeeshop on the premises that is also run by volunteers, so sometimes it's open and sometimes it's not.

Nutcote is a happy place visit in Neutral Bay. It's not only interesting to those who are familiar with the Gumnut Babies, but to anyone interested in history, art and creativity. I know my girls would love to see this place, and they'll even be interested in the Gumnut Babies after visiting the house.

If I lived in Sydney, I would take Thursdays off and sign up for this art course right away!

I left Nutcote House excited and inspired--and that's from someone who didn't even know any of May Gibbs' characters before coming here!

Aside from being a "museum house",  Nutcote is now also a venue that hosts children's birthday parties and weddings. 

Nutcote House

Open Wednesday to Sunday
From 11.00am-3.00pm
5 Wallaringa Avenue, Neutral Bay, New South Wales 2089
Tel: +61 2 9953 4453
Fax: +61 2 9953 0302

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