Five minutes with Art: TF Gallagher

Five minutes with Art: T F Gallagher, Old Totara Tree – historic landmark, Oamaru 1948. NOM88/418.

T F Gallagher, Old Totara Tree – historic landmark, Oamaru 1948. NOM88/418. During the Covid-19 lockdown I am doing 3 checks per week on the building and collection stores at the Museum & Archive and at the Forrester Gallery. I am checking security, pest and climate controls. When I visit the Gallery I treat myself to “five minutes with an artwork”. I simply select a work randomly and then take time to LOOK carefully at it. I think about the formal elements of the work such as: how it has been created and executed (the line work or brushwork, how the paint is applied etc); the composition; the subject matter. I wonder about the intention of the artist? I ask myself how I feel when I am looking at the work – does it spark some sort of recognition for example in terms of the subject matter, the activity (walking outside for example), an emotion, a memory or idea? The artwork that I looked at this week (and which is currently our Facebook banner image) is by T F Gallagher (1888-1965) It is called “Old Totara Tree – Historic Landmark, Oamaru", 1948. The artwork was donated to the Museum collection in 1962 by the artist. The Forrester Gallery archive tells us that Thomas Francis Gallagher was born in Kakanui, the son of Irish parents who farmed in the Kakanui-Totara area. Gallagher was the second child in a family of 9. As a teenager he worked in the grounds of the Dominican College at Teschemakers and it was here that he received early encouragement in art. Gallagher appears to have studied art for one year at the Julian Ashton School of Art in Sydney in 1912. The story goes that he planned to emigrate to Australia permanently but after bushfires devastated his favourite landscape (presumably close to Sydney) he changed his mind. Gallagher worked at Milligan & Bond and was a founding member of the North Otago Art Society, continuing to paint in his spare time. Up close the paint application is very chunky and heavy and just a little bit on the garish side which overall creates a bit of deadness. I think Gallagher’s watercolours are more skilled and a lot fresher and livelier. However the composition is strong and it creates a real sense of the exhilaration of standing on high escarpment looking out. I like this work most for its very strong sense of place: this landscape is instantly recognisable to a local, even if the tree is long gone. The Gallery holds several other works by Gallagher: two watercolours and an early sketchbook. The main subject of the painting - the iconic Totara tree, for which Totara district is named, was apparently demolished by bulldozer in the 1940s. Collection of Waitaki District Archive Id100887 Totara Tree near Brydone Memorial. Collection of the Waitaki District Archive. Id 100887 Jane Macknight Director, Forrester Gallery

Ingrid Cole