Tag Archives: Agency

Painting with Parkinsons

By Wendy Johnson

Cards say so much. They can be funny. Consoling. Just plain lovely. A beautiful handmade card—with or without words—is all the more special when painted by someone using art as therapy. So when I was told by Halie Rubenis, Business Development and Retail Manager at Agency in Braddon, that the beautiful cards I was buying for Christmas were the result of an innovative art program called Painting with Parkinsons, I felt quite emotional.

You see, everyone wants to make a mark in life. Indeed, in so many ways it’s all about the mark. And making a mark is precisely what a group of 12 Canberrans with Parkinson’s do when they gather to paint.Parkinsons 3

Painting with Parkinsons Canberra was founded at the end of 1994 in the Botanic Gardens by artist Nancy Tingey, an Accredited Professional Member of Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre (since 1996). Nancy wanted to combine her role as a community artist and art curator with caring for her husband Bob who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when he was 46.

Bob has been part of the group since the beginning and was the youngest member when he joined. He draws on past experiences to paint and so it’s no surprise his art often makes reference to geological formations. Bob had led a busy life as a geologist, working in many countries and making seven journeys to Antarctica.

Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological condition that affects people from all walks of life. It’s sometimes called a ‘movement disorder’. So why encourage painting? Painting is successful because it’s a magical unravelling of a series of steps.

“You create a mark on the paper. Then you create another mark. And another,” says Nancy. “It’s almost a linear process and people with Parkinson’s can cope with that quite easily. What they can’t cope with is a whole lot of stimuli presented at once.”Parkinsons 2

Today, Painting with Parkinsons is recognised as one of the most effective art therapy programs in the world. Many who paint discover inner talents and abilities. Bob’s hand moves involuntarily, for example, but this goes away when he paints. “Although he had never painted before, he took to it like he did any other activity in his life—with great enthusiasm and energy,” says Nancy.

The group produces work that is shown in exhibitions, which Nancy says is extraordinary and wonderful. Bob’s painting Light was featured in the United States Parkinson’s Disease Foundation calendar for 2013. Katrina Muir, diagnosed with Parkinson’s at age 55, first attended the Canberra group to observe, but soon found her work being used as a logo to promote the GOLD dance group at the Canberra Dance Theatre. “Painting with Parkinsons is a place where I can just be myself,” says Katrina. “I don’t have to explain my symptoms to anyone and am treated with much respect. I feel treasured for the person I am.”

Art helps group members lose themselves in their work, which takes their minds off the illness. Ann Nugent—who worked as a teacher, writer, editor and theatre critic—was diagnosed with Parkinson’s some years ago. She says painting alleviates her symptoms and encourages her to experiment with her art.

Halie says Agency has just received a whole new range of cards by Painting with Parkinsons. The cards are also available at the Handmade Shop. And Painting with Parkinsons will be the first exhibition group to showcase at the new National Disability Insurance Scheme building. Seven works will be exhibited for about three months.Parkinsons 1

For more information on Parkinson’s Disease visit http://www.parkinsons.org.au/

See Canberra’s Living Artist Exhibition … by bus!

In less than two weeks, Canberra’s biggest ever design festival gets underway. If you haven’t yet trawled through the 70 events on offer during DESIGN Canberra, now’s the time. Planning is the name of the game here, so you don’t miss out on something you really, really want to see. By Wendy Johnson

One of the five segments of DESIGN Canberra is the Living Artists program. This gives you exclusive insights into the innovative work of some of our best artists and design firms. How? These creatives are throwing their doors open to the public and letting you into their world. This segment is so popular that DESIGN Canberra has put on two guided bus tours—of interest if you can’t be fussed driving all over the place. They’re a bargain at $25 (but book early as places are limited). On Saturday 21 November you tour from 11am to 3 pm and on Sunday 22 November 10 am to 1pm.

Jenni Martiniello's glasswork studio

Jenni Martiniello’s glasswork studio

Lisa Cahill, Cascade #2, 2013. Image: Greg Piper. View at The Hayshed

Lisa Cahill, Cascade #2, 2013. Image: Greg Piper. View at The Hayshed

Saturday’s tour includes Canberra Glassworks, housed in the historic Kingston Powerhouse and Australia’s only cultural centre wholly dedicated to contemporary glass. This studio is currently home to glass artists such as Jenni Martiniello, Brian Corr, Emilie Patteson, Melinda Willis, John White and Nikki Main. The Hayshed in leafy Pialligo is where three professional artists work. Lisa Cahill and Kirstie Rea use glass as their primary medium. Julie Ryder has been working in textiles for 25 years and exhibits nationally and internationally. The next stop on Saturday is M16 Artspace, a studio and gallery complex in Griffith. M16 features the work of 15 artists who create across jewellery, textile design and mixed media visual arts. 



Sunday’s bus tour takes you to Workshop Level, a studio built by Mel George and Jeremy Lepisto to make custom glass projects for themselves and others. Mel is also the curator at Craft ACT. Then it’s over to Curtisglassart where Matthew Curtis and Harriet Schwarzrock work in a studio at the back of their home—predominantly with molten glass making sculptural work for exhibition. Next up is Six Wiluna, a shared workshop established by director Elliot Bastianon and housing artists Luke Batten, Andrew Carvolth, Nicholas Harper and Sam Ryrie. Here you’ll see furniture, gold and silversmithing, and sculpture.

Workshop Level Open Studio: Jeremy Lepisto, Further from Here, 2015. Image: Paul Foster

Workshop Level Open Studio: Jeremy Lepisto, Further from Here, 2015. Image: Paul Foster

And last, but not least, it’s off to Queanbeyan to visit Pocket Studio, run by gold and silversmith Alison Jackson. Alison has just finished her first solo exhibition, Table Tools, at Craft ACT, and has also completed a CO-LAB project with renowned designer maker Jon Goulder. The pair made Cheese Companions for Agency in Braddon. At Pocket Studio you’ll see Alison’s jewellery and tableware.

Copper Vessel by Alison Jackson; photo by Angela Bakker

Copper Vessel by Alison Jackson; photo by Angela Bakker

DESIGN Canberra is an initiative of Craft Act: Craft and Design Centre.

Visit the website and stay with Lost Four Words for more coverage of what you can expect during this massive festival.


Vogue Living in the Palm of your Hand!

Two Canberra designers are finalists in prestigious Vogue Living Alessi design prize. Scoop by Wendy Johnson

We’ve all been there. Struggling to meet and greet at a function while delicately balancing an entrée in one hand, valiantly trying to avoid dropping the food and making a fool of yourself. Well, a cracker of a design by two Canberra talents is the solution.

‘Company vessels’ are pressure-moulded stainless steel vessels, curved and scaled to fit in the palm of your hand. They’re perfect for serving entrées and are the brainchild of two designers making the capital proud for being named finalists in the prestigious Vogue Living Alessi design prize (Emerging Designer).ACTivate Nellie_Peoples-TomkinsPeoplesWoolfe_001

TOMKINS + PEOPLES are in the running for the collaborative project between designer-maker Nellie Peoples and industrial designer Sam Tomkins. ‘Company vessels’ reflect the design team’s passion to make beautiful, functional objects that play a role in bringing people together, including when sharing food.


“Through the vessel we explored the possibilities of a new food utensil,” says Nellie. “The design evolved from the desire and need to greet each other while holding food. When not held, the vessels are designed to form a pattern, to come together like those who surround it.”

The ‘Company vessels’ project was supported by the $2,500 prize awarded to Nellie and Sam at last year’s DESIGN Canberra Festival—Design + Craft Award for their Fusion: the art of eating vessels. The finished products can be bought at Agency in Braddon (Craft ACT’s retail shop).


Nellie earned an architecture degree at University of Canberra (UC) before studying gold and silver-smithing at ANU School of Art. She now produces innovative jewellery and metal objects. Sam completed his Bachelor of Industrial Design at UC and now teaches there. His designs focus on improving the user experience. The pair met in a Design Technology class at Daramalan College. They’re a cohesive team and create intelligent objects that celebrate each of their disciplines and skills, and their ability to communicate and collaborate has taken them to new places over many years.

TOMKINS + PEOPLES will participate in the 2015 DESIGN Canberra Festival, this time with Mathew Woolfe, a cook and landscape designer. TOMKINS + PEOPLES + WOOLFE will host a pop-up shop bringing together design and degustation. They’ll explore why people gather around food. Going beyond the collection and display of objects, the pop-up explores how food and the experience of sharing a meal is a context for great design. It’s all part of DESIGN Canberra’s aim to celebrate and promote the capital’s vibrant and diverse design community, including by putting the community in direct touch with the designers and artists who play such an important role in our everyday lives.attachment (2)

Although Nellie is now living in Queensland, the pair continue to work together. If they win the Vogue Living Alessi design prize, they’ll be able to present their design to Alessi, a housewares and kitchen utensil company in Italy, which will evaluate them for possible inclusion and production in its highly regarded collections.

DESIGN Canberra kicks off on 21 November and will roll out nine days of exciting events and activities. More than 70 activities are included in the festival program, including many that are free.

The program is available at www.designcanberrafestival.com.au

Cheese Please!

AGENCY CO-LAB_low res-30Cheese Companions is the result of a unique ‘co-lab’. The exquisite, limited-edition wooden cheese board by internationally renowned designer and maker Jon Goulder is accompanied by a set of three handmade cheese tools by Canberra’s award-winning gold and silversmith Alison Jackson. Only 10 cheese companions have been made in the collaboration between the two Australian artists who work in different genres, with different materials, and in different parts of the country. Wendy Johnson spoke with artist Jon Goulder and AGENCY about the co-lab project.

AGENCY introduced the designers, inspiring them to pool their talents around the nation’s love of food. “It’s about a feast for the eyes. About plating and the tools we serve and eat with,” says Halie Rubenis, Agency’s Business Development and Retail Manager.

cheese boardJon’s cheese board, made of solid timber with a Corian disk, that can be removed for cleaning, inserted into one corner, is food safe and hygienic. Five boards have been made in a light Tasmanian Oak and five in a dark Toasted American Ash. The Corian discs are available in a white finish and a black finish. Alison’s three stainless steel knives, with the folds in each pressed by hand, include a hard cheese, soft cheese and spreading knife. They’re designed for everyday use, but to last a lifetime.


So what has driven AGENCY, an initiative of Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre, to spearhead its own co-labs? “We’re passionate about connecting our members with the best designers in Australia so they can put ideas on the table, make connections, expand horizons, participate in cross-disciplinary collaborative projects and make beautiful things,” says Halie. “It’s about sharing insights into how design really works. It’s about promoting and enhancing professional practice. And then who knows what will happen?”

cheese knives

Jon was attracted to the idea of using two materials for the cheeseboard. “The Corian disk is non-porous and an inert material,” says the designer maker. “I thought it would be cool to put the cheese on the round part and use the timber part to cut bread and present crackers.”

board and knives prototypesWhen he first received Alison’s set of cheese knives, Jon sat them in his studio to get to know them over several weeks. “I would glance at them and took time for matters to gestate,” says Jon. “A cheeseboard may seem simple to design, but this one is a ‘reaction’ to Alison’s knives. They’re the star.”

Although the prototype for the cheeseboard was designed in Adelaide, where Jon lives (and works as Creative Director of The Furniture Studio at Adelaide’s Jam Factory), they were produced in Canberra at the Digital Fabrication Lab, The Australian National University Furniture Workshop.

AGENCY sells the work of an intriguing selection of local and national Australian artists and designers, each handpicked and each with a story to tell. “We don’t sell anything that is mass produced so every time you come here you’ll see something different,” says Halie. “It’s about the artists and what they’re immersed in at any time. And with the lifestyle … we want people to think about where they invest their money and to support local.”

Halie says plans for the next CO-LAB are already underway. In the meantime, Cheese Companions is on display at, and available for sale exclusively through, AGENCY, 30 Lonsdale Street, Braddon (open Wed to Sun).

All images by Thea McGrath including drawings and prototypes

Ceramicist Margaret Brown Steps Up!

Stepping Up: Profile on ceramicist Margaret Brown. By Wendy Johnson

Black lines working their way mysteriously through southern ice clay. It’s Margaret Brown’s signature look and not an easy one to achieve.


Margaret is a top-notch ceramist who works from her studio in the quiet surrounds of the Bega Valley, New South Wales. These days life isn’t all peace and quiet, however. Margaret is getting ready to participate in two exhibitions being held as part of the prestigious Australian Ceramics Triennale, named Stepping Up in 2015, coming to Canberra this week (9 to 11 July). She’ll also be participating in the free one-day Market Day being held for the public at the National Gallery of Australia on 12 July (11am to 4pm). And she’s just placed some of her beautiful work in Agency, the new store that has opened by Craft ACT: Design and Craft Centre in the Ori Building, Braddon. Phew …

Porcelain is Margaret’s preferred medium. She’s drawn to it for its pureness and translucency.

Having created and wholesaled domestic pottery for 20 years, Margaret took a short break and then completed a Diploma in Visual Arts (Ceramics) at the Australian National University, focusing on porcelain. “My whole outlook changed when I went to university,” says the artist, who received a Technical Award upon completion of her course. Today Margaret creates domestic forms that are part of daily living, like mugs and beakers, but beautiful, unique pieces that combine function with quality craftsmanship and design.mbrown_01(1)

The black lines that make their way through her pieces—each one entirely individual—are about capturing movement within a space, says Margaret. “No two pieces are the same,” says this high-end ceramicist. “While I have control over the shape of the piece I don’t have complete control over where the black line travels. It’s about letting go a little bit to see what happens. It’s like watching bugs in the sky dash around. Where will they go?”MB throwing pots

But don’t be fooled. The technique Margaret uses has taken time to master and it requires a great deal of skill. “I put a slice of black clay into the white clay before throwing each piece. I have to throw very quickly on the wheel so I only get one or two lines,” says Margaret. “They don’t all work out. I’m not so keen on multiple lines … these pieces tend to go back in the bucket.” The process is based on an old Japanese method called Neriage which roughly translates into ‘to knead’ or ‘to mix’. The colour is diffused on the inside and outside of each piece and the lines capture the movement of clouds as they drift by.mbrown_06

Margaret also creates lamps out of translucent porcelain, which are slow but relaxing and rewarding to produce she says. The hand carving of one lamp can take up to 12 hours. “These lamps can’t be slip cast like commercial products can,” she says. “I sit and hand-carve them so each one is unique. I carve possums, frogs, kookaburras, horses, Australian nature—the things I see in my everyday life.”

Since 2002, Margaret has held several exhibitions in Canberra and NSW. As part of Stepping Up, she is participating in two of the 35 free public exhibitions that will be held across the city. Her work features in Belonging: embodied commentaries inspired by place, which is on now and will carry through to 11 July at the ANU School of Art Foyer Gallery. This is a must-see exhibition of the works of more than 150 members of the Australian Ceramics Association.

Margaret’s work will also be in Stomping Ground, which features the work of Craft ACT-accredited professional members. The title refers to frequented or favourite locations and references between the ground and each artist’s chosen medium of clay. Other ceramicists participating in this exhibition are Avi Amesbury, Sarit Cohen, Linda Davy, Cathy Franzi, Bev Hogg, Ian Jones, Anita McIntyre and Gail Nichols. It’s on now at the ACT Legislative Assembly and will close 15 July.


At the Market Place, Margaret will have on hand her black and white creations. This is a unique chance for Canberrans to talk to, and buy from, 30 ceramists, including several who have never shown in Canberra before.

For a complete list of free public exhibitions being held during Stepping Up—with some underway now and some extending into August—and a list of the ceramicists who will be at the one-day-only Market Place visit the Australian Ceramic Triennale website.

The Australian Ceramics Triennale starts this week.



Credits—Artist: Margaret Brown, Images: Andrew Trousdell

Margaret Brown

Get with the right AGENCY!

It seems there is no stopping bustling Braddon from bursting at the seams. The latest venture to launch at the Ori Building is AGENCY, a new high-end store by Craft ACT: Craft & Design Centre that opens to the public this Friday (3 July). Wendy Johnson checks out the diverse range of arts and crafts on display and for sale.

Classically simple salt and pepper by nadege-desgenetez

Classically simple salt and pepper by Nadege Desgenetez

Agency is no ordinary store. It has a new and innovative approach and it’s not just with the work of the designers and artists it is stocking. “We’re selling a service, experience and lifestyle all in one go,” says Halie Rubenis, Business Development and Retail Manager. But what does that mean? Continue reading