Norma Cairns and her teaching had a big impact on many. Norma donated many works for fundraising. Her last project of her own printed art cards was to raise funds for cancer research – a subject dear to her heart.
EXHIBITION OPENS at CONDOBOLIN MPS Wednesday 22 November 2023
Steven Cavanagh has been working with Heather Blackley and Karen Tooth to produce a survey exhibition of Norma’s paintings. He will head over to Condobolin on Tuesday 21 November to install the exhibition at Condobolin MPS.
‘Summer Moon’ painting by Norma Cairns.
VALE Norma Cairns (nee Funk)
Well known in realist art circles, arts and crafts, and the Lake Cargelligo community, Norma Cairns, at the age of 85, finally put away the easel and retired from both painting, teaching, and exhibiting after 37 years.
Commenting on her relative late start to art as a 50-year-old grandmother, Norma said, “It was hard to live then. Art was not regarded as something you had to do. If you weren’t working normally, like doing farming or housework, you weren’t doing anything!”
Despite this, art was extremely important in Norma’s life. Her dear sister Peewee encouraged her to enter a competition in Griffith and then start attending art classes with Lance McNeill.
Lance McNeill ran the McNeill Academy of Realist Art (MARA) a private academy which developed the concept of ‘responsive realism’. There were six groups or schools that he travelled to tutor leaving lots of homework to be completed in between times. At times the schools included Geelong, Bendigo, Mildura, Ivanhoe, Findley and Griffith. They would organise to meet or conduct highly successful exhibitions.
“I thought I could paint!” said a jocular Norma, “Lance said my grass looked like bomb bursts!”
Norma became hooked on the teaching of Lance, who she described as a great teacher who was easy and good to work with. With an insatiable quest for knowledge, Norma persisted asking questions to quench her need to understand everything about art.
Norma attended every class, workshop, seminar, and master class she could. She also joined painting trips to the Flinders Ranges, Ivanhoe, Bendigo, Guildford, Apollo Bay and Port Campbell to name a few.
Her memories of those times were vivid. She treasured the friendships made. Art discussions were serious and passionate with no distracting newspapers, wireless radios, or phone… “It was full on art!”
Excelling in watercolour, drawing and oil colours, she went on to win the highly prestigious gold and silver medals as well as certification and diploma level from the academy.
Norma started teaching art in an ‘Outreach’ program in Lake Cargelligo with Jean Nixon late in 1977. The class progressed to TAFE, where Norma developed her realism program to meet TAFE guidelines.
“The basics are so important. For everyone to progress you can’t miss a study. So, I developed the folio of work idea, and everyone completed one work each day. This included charts, learning from the masters, specific tasks and developing your own work.” Norma carried this concept into her private classes and developed a self-paced program so that students didn’t miss out on valuable learnings.
Along with her great depth of knowledge, Norma’s students never ceased to be amazed at the volume of work she produced. Over 400 complete paintings and so many class examples or studies to illustrate a concept. She had even painted one scene in 47 different ways!
Norma followed her own advice, recommending, “the more you do it the more you love it! Painting what you know and your personal response to it. Put something of yourself into the work and it comes through. It won’t happen easily – you must try hard and take responsibility for what you do.”
Many homes have her paintings on their walls, and they’ve won many a competition throughout the states. Norma’s legacy of ‘love it; enjoy it and practice it’ will live on through her many students.
10 August 1929 – 14 July 2023
Norma’s art cards help raise funds for cancer research.
Top Image: Norma surrounded by the Lake Art Tart ladies.