Friday, May 4, 2012

Daphne Mayo, MBE

Is it unfair of me to think that the rest of Australia considers Queensland as a home to rednecks and that it lacks culture? Only recently Philip Adams in The Australian, on some weird explanation of how Anna Bligh lost power, was likening Queensland to the Deep South of the USA - a sledge that both communities should take umbrage at. Queensland does not have a monopoly on those with extreme viewpoints either right- or left-leaning, and has fostered its fair share of artists too. Today we are looking at one of Queensland's most prominent artists, the sculptor Daphne Mayo, pictured below around 1912 with her work Winged Victory
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #72615)

I suppose we could have the whole state of origin debate, because Daphne Mayo was born in Sydney but educated in Brisbane where her father was an insurance executive. She attended Brisbane's Central Technical College from 1911, where she met Lloyd Rees who later became her fiancé, although they were never to marry.

Mayo was originally an artist, but turned to modelling (i.e. sculpture) during her time at the college. She was awarded Queensland's first ever travelling art scholarship, which enabled her to sail to Europe at the end of WWI. Once in London she studied at the Royal Academy of Arts, graduating in 1923 with the gold medal for sculpture, the highest honour on offer there.  She won the prize with this work, Return of the Prodigal Son.
(Photo: "The Daphne Mayo Collection" UQFL 119_014. Fryer Library, University of Queensland Library. Used by permission.)

This prize enabled her to move to Italy for further study, but the death of her brother hastened her return to Brisbane. This awful event, however, came at a propitious time for her, as Brisbane was about to enter a building boom.

Her headquarters was in Ascot Chambers, a Queen St high-rise formerly at the corner of Queen and Edward Sts (now the site of Tattersall's Club), and that was also fortuitous as architects Hall and Prentice were located there. 
(Ascot Chambers: Painting by Keith Sullivan; Tattler Magazine)

It was Hall and Prentice who designed Brisbane City Hall, where Daphne Mayo sculpted the tympanum.  
(Photo: © 2012 the foto fanatic)

Mayo also worked on Tattersalls Club, another Hall and Prentice design, where she provided friezes representing the horse in sport.
(Photo: © 2012 the foto fanatic)

But of course she did wider work than that. Take a look here to see a neat interactive presentation about the front doors of the Library of NSW where she created a work representative of Australia's indigenous people. She made statues for St David's Cathedral in Hobart, a WWII Memorial for The King's School, door panels for the North Gregory Hotel in Winton and many other commissions in Australia.

The Brisbane Women's Club decided to commission a monument for Anzac Square in Brisbane, and although they engaged Mayo to prepare it, they rejected her original plans for emphasising the service and sacrifices of women for a more eclectic presentation involving all the armed services, represented mainly by men. Daphne Mayo included an image of her brother (who died of a war-related condition) at the head of the line of servicemen (and one woman) in this piece. This is it.
(Photo: "The Daphne Mayo Collection" UQFL 119_023. Fryer Library, University of Queensland Library. Used by permission.)
(Photo: "Daphne Mayo: Let There Be Sculpture", © Queensland Art Gallery/GOMA 2011; Robert McQueen)

And I love this statue of "the jolly swagman" that has been installed at Winton in north-western Queensland (above).

It should not be overlooked that Daphne Mayo was small and frail, suffering from chronic asthma. Yet she created these large works involving heavy physical activity, often outside in the harsh Queensland climate.

Mayo's contribution to the arts in Queensland was not restricted to her own work. She was active in raising funds for the establishment of the Queensland Art Gallery, and she was a trustee of the gallery for many years during the 1960s.

Daphne Mayo died in July 1982. Her name lives on in her work, and the Daphne Mayo Visiting Professorship in Visual Culture, which brings a world renowned art figure to the University of Queensland each year for lectures and master-classes.

If you click here, you will be transported to UQ, where the Fryer Library has a magnificent on-line exhibition of her work and life. I also recommend the book "Daphne Mayo: Let There Be Sculpture" published by Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art in 2011. It is available at your local library.



  1. . . . we done, you have connected (almost) all the dots, Ms Mayo was an old girls of St Margarets and the school holds a MAYO Festival bi-annually where jewellers and sculptors show their wares. Barbara Heath (and Mal Enright) were part of the original artists to support this venture, this years event will be held around the first of June 2012.
    Cheers from mal E (love your work

  2. Great! Thanks for the additional info.

  3. I like the compromise war memorial very much. The low relief sculpture is sharp and entrancing.

    But why did a women's club commission a woman artist to design a scene of women's service, then reject her plans as being too woman-focused? The armed services, naturally represented by men, had been done many times before; the service of women had not.

  4. One can only guess, Hels. Surely they must have had an idea of what Mayo was likely to produce. Perhaps they decided that her original submission was too anti-establishment.

  5. TFF -- this UQ paper sheds a little light on the Women's Club thinking re the Anzac frieze:


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