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WA Society for the Arts

Stephen Pollock, Fremantle Herald, 5 March 2022

'Secret Society'

AFTER 126 years, the oldest art society in WA – The West Australian Society of Arts – is still going strong and will hold its annual exhibition in Fremantle this month.

Featuring oil, pastel, watercolour and acrylic paintings from about 150 WASA members, the exhibition includes a diverse mix of amateur and professional artists.

The origins of the society can be traced back to the 1889 Wilgie Sketching Club, chaired by Sir John Forrest’s wife, Lady Margaret, an accomplished watercolourist.

Along with other art enthusiasts including the father of May Gibbs, Herbert, they formed The West Australian Society of Arts in 1896.

Under Lady Forrest’s motto of “Encourage – Educate – Exhibit” they have prevailed for more than a century, developing a tight bond with the state, with the Governor of WA automatically becoming the society’s patron.

Prominent artists

In 1897 the society sent artwork to Queen Victoria to commemorate her diamond jubilee.

“It is interesting that our society has survived the ebbs and flows for 126 years,” says WASA treasurer Tanya Izzard.

“We have never sort government assistance, nor have we really promoted the society in a big way. It is purely artists wanting to belong to a group of like-minded people.

“Over the past 126 years, many of Western Australia’s most prominent artists have been members of WASA. We truly are one of WA’s best-kept secrets!”

Notable artists in this year’s exhibition include Jenny Davies (finalist in the 2021 Lester Prize), Suzanne Lawson (semi-finalist in the national Doug Moran Portraiture Award), Brendon Darby and international award-winning Australian artist Leon Holmes.

Aside from paintings, there will also be a small display of digital art, glass and printmaking in the exhibition. Ms Izzard says the society has recently appointed a new committee who are pushing for change, focussing on younger artists who don’t paint, instead working in [media] like sculpting, glassmaking and printmaking.

“We want to be recognised and we want to embrace the new and emerging art/artists, especially the younger ones,” Ms Izzard says.

“We are also want to be more inclusive of other art forms besides painting. The original society included silversmiths and sculptors.

“The society is statewide and we are pushing more and more for meetings to be [accessible] to our country members via Zoom and Facebook Live.”

With membership doubling over the past year and the society looking at modernising, the future is looking bright, except for one thing – they don’t have a roof over their head.

“We are actively involved in finding a permanent home,” Ms Izzard says.

“It is quite embarrassing to have the oldest art society in WA without a home. Our meetings are held in the Palms Community Hall in Subiaco.”

If you have a suitable ‘home’ for WASA, get in touch with Ms Izzard at

The WASA annual exhibition: the Italian Club, 65 Marine Terrace, 25-27 March , 2022.

Henry Prinsep was a founder member in 1889 of the Wilgie Sketching Club (later the West Australian Society of Artists). He was its president in 1904-05 and exhibited oils and effective watercolours with it in 1901-08. He is represented in the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the Battye Library and Little Holland House, Busselton. 

References and Links

Staples, A. C. 1966, Bio of Prinsep in ADB.

Garry Gillard | New: 5 March, 2022 | Now: 15 April, 2022