‘Finding’ a lost local artist

Artist rediscovered: Ethel Clara Liggins conducting an art class in the early 20th century. She set up a studio in Auburn Street, where she taught painting, drawing and craft. Photo: Jim Brown, supplied by Margaret Kearns.
Artist rediscovered: Ethel Clara Liggins conducting an art class in the early 20th century. She set up a studio in Auburn Street, where she taught painting, drawing and craft. Photo: Jim Brown, supplied by Margaret Kearns.

The chance finding of a name on a Goulburn Electoral Roll – Ethel Clara Liggins, George Street, Artist – led me on a journey to ‘find’ her. 

I was intrigued that, in 1913 in Goulburn, there was a woman earning her living as an artist. The result of my research is an illustrated biography entitled Coming Home to Goulburn – Celebrating the Life and Art of Ethel Clara Liggins.

Daughter of Goulburn couple, Ephraim and Sarah Liggins, she was born in 1886.  Her family relocated to Walsall, England in 1900 so her father could pursue lucrative business opportunities and this is where, in 1903, the 16-year-old enrolled in art classes at the Walsall Science and Art Institute. 

A gifted student, in 1905, she “carried off the biggest number of prizes at the Walsall Institute” and was awarded the Institute’s highest honour, the Kirkpatrick Scholarship. One of her drawings was even acquired by the Board of Education in 1908 to be displayed in other art schools throughout England to show students the standard to which they should aspire.

Returning to Goulburn in 1912, she set up a studio in Auburn Street, where she taught painting, drawing and craft for the next 15 years. She diversified her business in 1922 by opening a salon selling high-end fashions, furs and exclusive hand-crafted jewellery.

Ms Liggins married Goulburn photographer, Jim Brown, whose pictures taken at the beginning of the 20th century provide fascinating glimpses of Goulburn’s past, such as the removal of the last gas lamp from the main street after the installation of electric lights.

She was a woman ahead of her time. She was an astute, successful businesswoman, strong, determined and independent, buying and selling property in her own name. She always kept a clear sense of her own identity, using her maiden name in her business dealings and to sign her artwork. Ethel died in Goulburn in 1951, aged 65.

To coincide with the book launch, in February next year, there will be a retrospective exhibition of her artworks and Jim Brown’s photographs at Gallery on Track. Eight of her paintings were recently located in Tasmania and have already come back to Goulburn for the exhibition. 

I would like to see many more. She was a prolific artist, often painting landscapes in and around the Goulburn district. Some of these must surely survive? I am asking Goulburn Post readers to search in the attic, under the stairs, on top of the wardrobe, under the bed, or anywhere else a dusty old painting may have been stashed. Contact me on 0458 898 442 or email margaretkearns@bigpond.com