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dolls, deer and wildlife in Strathford, Gippsland

I had a fascinating, fun and full day in Gippsland the day after the Chimera exhibition opening. My friend David Luxford, taxidermist extraordinaire, writer, theatre prop maker, actor and artist introduced me to some wonderfully  talented, generous, hospitable and gentle people – all either friends or family abiding in the little town of Strathford near Sale. David kindly picked me up from Sale in the morning and we first visited the Strathford local gallery which houses a diverse collection of works by local talent covering jewelery, ceramics, painting, drawing, print and sculpture. Here we purchased the last 2 seats for a Saturday night  theatre production housed in the same building.  Having organised the evenings entertainment we headed over to meet Betty Luxford -Davids sprightly 83 year old mum who has a passion for garden gnomes and dolls. Betty has been making gorgeous porcelain dolls for a wee while now and she has produced some real beauties. Best of all were the ones with the painted tattoos. Apparently the idea for tatooing the dolls came to Betty as a device for distracting attention away from the flaws in the dolls body parts and then became a important decorative element in some of the future dolls. I have attached an images here of some of the dolls with exquisitely “tattooed” faces. Betty is so passionate about her doll collection that she has a whole room set up a kind of doll musuem – entering this room would render a little girl speechless! Betty Luxford was warm, bubbly and just as excited to show me her dolls as i was to see them.

Next stop was David Luxfords home. Just as Betty has a room full of dolls, David has a room full of deer, wild boar and goat shoulder mounts….plus a couple of feral cat heads. These represent years of hunting and each one has story attached to it.  For all the weirdness of trophy hunting, these animal heads are exquisitely beautiful objects…. which is because the animals alive are exquisitely beautiful creatures. So has David reproduced this beauty in their death? … reproduced is not quite the right word here…..hum….. It seems a terrible thing to kill an animal purely so that you can admire it’s beauty in death. David’s perspective is that these introduced animals need to be culled and that his method of hunting with a bow and arrow is more “humane”. ( i hate that word). He says that the arrow is so sharp that it pierces the animal without them realising what has happened. They then bleed to death fairly quickly… stumbling around dizzy and confused then collapsing to their death.  But do they really need to be culled? And of course it is we who introduced them to this island in the first place… Anyway, as if years of taxidermy mounting is not proffession enough, David is also a writer of books, a maker of fantastical stage props, an actor and an artist in his own right. In his man shed out the back of his home,  he works on a sculptural piece for a Strathford Art Walk funded by the council.  I look forward to seeing it.

David wearing a hat he made for a theatre production! David’s sister Kathy Luxford is also an artist and she has illustrated a children’s book written by David entitled “The Frog, The Bear and Mr Sparrow”. Kathy’s illustrations are bold, colourful, playful and perfectly fit the story.  Next we go for afternoon tea at the house of a hugely creative family – Dawn and Chris Stubbs…The  whole family are artists and they live in a lovely home surrounded by bush with studios and a split level gallery at the entrance. Their home and gallery reveal a range of wildlife inspired artworks all executed with great skill and a finely tuned sense of aesthetic beauty. There are glass works, jewelley, sculptures, paintings and drawings. Heres a link to their site. By the way, One of Dawn’s works is a finalist in this years prestigious Blake Prize! Following afternoon tea with Dawn and Chris we headed back to the ranch to say hi to David’s wife, Karen before she headed of for a mid year xmas party and we headed off to the theatre. all in all a great day!

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