Artist Helen Pammenter’s work is celebrated in final exhibition in Jamestown

For the past 50 years, South Australian artist Helen Pammenter has encouraged others to pick up a paint brush and colour their world.

Now, at 95, the legendary advocate for regional arts is being celebrated in a final exhibition.

Works depicting classic subjects for Ms Pammenter — including stunning landscapes from around the state — are gracing the walls of the Belalie Art Gallery in Jamestown, in the state’s mid north.

Becoming a renowned artist was an unlikely outcome for a farm girl raised at Canowie Belt before World War II.

In those days, women like Ms Pammenter were expected to dedicate themselves to traditional matriarchal duties like cooking, nursing and child raising.

“There were always people to feed and work for lots of men coming through,” Ms Pammenter said.

“I realised I needed one day a week to put aside where I wasn’t going to be a gopher for everyone. It was pretty difficult, but it helped me.”

Painting became a passion for Ms Pammenter from a young age, and her talents were encouraged at the one-teacher school she attended five kilometres from her childhood homestead.

“I loved to paint and the teacher seemed to approve, so I ended up painting my homework and my poems much more than I ever learned it,” she said.

But it wasn’t until many years later, once she had trained as a nurse, married a farmer and had several children, that Ms Pammenter found the time to pick up the brush once again.

“I had bad health for a year and I had surgery and I knew I had to get myself out of the pit,” she said.

“I saw an advertisement in the local paper for a course in the Gladstone High School and from that day a new world opened up and I was hooked.”

Rediscovered passion flourishes
Setting aside time for herself, Ms Pammenter put herself through an American painting course by correspondence.

“They sent me wonderful textbooks and a paint box and that set me going, but it wasn’t enough because there were no organisations around here then,” she said.

So she started one, and became one of the founding members of the Belalie Arts Society in Jamestown.

Co-founder and patron Malcolm Catford said that Ms Pammenter was instrumental in bringing the community together with an artistic focus.

“There were a lot of people who didn’t play sport and it was a new group of people who emerged to do something different,” Mr Catford said.

“As a painter, teacher and judge, having someone like Helen in the society was the icing on the cake, we call her the artist in residence.

“I’ve often said at our Belalie Arts meetings that if you haven’t got a couple of Helen Pammenter paintings in the house you should be ashamed of yourselves.”

Sharing love through the brush
Ms Pammenter’s last exhibition in Jamestown completes a full circle after her painting career took her right around South Australia.

“The first time I exhibited was at the hospital in the main street of Jamestown, and I actually sold a painting, to my astonishment — I felt up in the air,” she said.

“The parts of Australia that I’ve seen are bewilderingly beautiful, so I’ve tried to get that through with painting.”

Landscapes and flowers are her favourite subjects, and while she has succeeded in mastering many a medium, she says there remains a sense of being out-of-place at times.

“It’s funny, I don’t want to be there [at the exhibition],” Ms Pammenter said.

“I’m a very severe critic of my work. I don’t think there’s ever been one I’m really pleased with, there’s always something.

“But it’s also a lovely day because my friends and family are there, and I’ve always been astounded that my paintings have sold.”

The exhibition runs until the end of the month.