Gay Hawkes’ art studio used to sit right on the water at Dunalley, in Tasmania’s south, but there is no evidence it was ever there.
- Artist Gay Hawkes lost her home, studio and art in the 2013 Dunalley bushfires
- A new exhibition called The House of Longing will display her works from before and after the fires
- It includes pieces made for her imagined home, as she is still without a house of her own
The building, along with Ms Hawkes’ home and a huge collection of her art and tools, was destroyed in the 2013 bushfires that ravaged the south-east of the state.
With just the clothes on her back, the furniture maker fled to an evacuation centre at Nubeena where she spent several days.
“You’re fleeing from something like a big monster that’s coming,” Ms Hawkes said.
“Listening to the people who were flooded [recently] and the people escaping in Ukraine and taking their belongings and rushing away — I really identify with them and I know how they feel.
“You’re so grateful when people give you a cup of tea and something to eat, or toothpaste, because you’ve got nothing.”
The former teacher and celebrated artist, 79, never rebuilt from the fires and sold the land where the boat shed studio once stood.
Her loss, resilience and unique skill will be displayed as part of a new exhibition called The House of Longing, beginning this month at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG).
Quoll fur and chicken feet
After the fires, a friend let Ms Hawkes live and work in a small studio on a property at Bream Creek that looked out to Hellfire Bluff across rolling countryside.
“It’s such a beautiful spot and I was so inspired that I made 31 pieces of furniture in the three years I was here,” Ms Hawkes said.
“The aim was to furnish a whole house which I hope to get.
“Every time I looked up it would lighten my heart.”
Throughout her career she has used material salvaged from forestry sites in south-west Tasmania, drift wood from the Bass Strait Islands and pallets from the streets of Melbourne.
One piece even uses quoll fur, leather from cane toads, and chicken feet.
Ms Hawkes said her only requirement was that she had to like the material.
The House of Longing
Her upcoming exhibition at TMAG will display works from before the fires from collections around Australia, as well as the pieces she created after.
A lot of the furniture is for her imagined house, with the exhibition reconstructing her ideal home.
“In my head I’ve got a house, but I don’t actually have it,” Ms Hawkes said.
Losing her uninsured studio was a big setback, and she has since found herself priced out of the Hobart rental market.
“I know women my age who are living in a van or going from toilet block to toilet block,” she said.
“It’s a disgrace. [Housing] is just a basic thing that people should be able to have.
‘You don’t have to buy things’
TMAG curator Peter Hughes said Ms Hawkes was a pioneer of pallet furniture.
“She has always been a minimal consumer,” he said.
“She has said to me she has never paid for a piece of wood.”
He said the exhibition will appeal to a broad audience.
“There are cabinets about the football grand final and sculptures of Lady Di.
“But behind the apparent simplicity of the work is a really lovely sophistication that shows her ability to make a collage in 3D.”
Ms Hawkes used to teach children how to make furniture from her Dunalley studio, something she looks back on fondly.
“I taught them to make furniture from things they found as well, and the attitude that you don’t have to buy things and if you need something you can make it,” she said.
The House of Longing opens on Friday, March 18 at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and will run until late August.