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Gwenyth Ewens

Kristi McNulty

The annual Gwenyth Ewens Art Award for children was held in June [2021]. It seemed an appropriate time to find out a little more about this remarkably benevolent, but little-known woman.

Gwenyth Alberta Ewens was born in Claremont in 1912 but her family was born and bred in Fremantle’s West End. Her great-grandfather, Henry Albert, arrived in Fremantle on board the Hashemy in 1850. He owned a number of properties in Fremantle including several carriage buildings and a substantial house in Henry Street. His son, Henry William Albert, was a butcher, and he and his wife Sarah, had six children but only three of these lived beyond infancy. Henry William died of pneumonia in 1889 at only 28 years old. Their youngest daughter Ethyl Maud married Arthur Pickett Ewens in 1910 and they had two daughters, Gwenyth Alberta born 1912 and Mavis Sarah born 1916. 5

In the 1920s-30s Gwenyth’s name was often in the social pages of the newspapers, she wrote letters and contributed puzzles, her attendance was reported at various functions, she played piano at musical evenings. Art was more than just an interest for her as she won several drawing competitions. 6

On leaving school she began training in commercial art but found herself drawn into the more mathematical field of drafting. She was employed by a city firm of shop-fitters to design shop fronts, display cases, general office fittings and lead lights. In order to further her skills and improve her ability as a designer Gwenyth was one of only a handful of women to enrol to study architecture at Perth Technical School. 7

She went on to study glass in building construction and illumination for a number of years and became an authority in the field of how glass could be used in the modern home for structural, functional and decorative purposes. 8

She was awarded a Fellowship to the Lighting Engineers of Australia for her significant contributions to the art/science of illumination. 9

In 1987 Gwenyth contacted the Fremantle City Council wishing to donate $1,000 to start an art competition for Fremantle children, to help them appreciate the beautiful buildings there. The inaugural Gwenyth Ewens Art Award in 1989 themed “Historic Buildings in Fremantle,” was open to high school students. She was so delighted with the enthusiastic response, over 60 entries from 3 local schools, that she set up a $4,000 trust fund and the competition became an annual Fremantle event. She had set up a similar trust for young artists in Claremont 6 years before. 10

Gwenyth Ewens died February 15th 1995 aged 83, leaving a $75,000 bequest to the City of Fremantle to continue to fund the annual art competition for primary school children.11 Each year the Fremantle Library approaches all the primary schools in the area to encourage their year 5 and 6 students to take part. Students submit a piece of art depicting part or whole of an iconic building in the Fremantle area.

This year [2021]was the 32nd time the award has been held and over 200 entries were received from six schools, the most popular subjects being the classic heritage buildings such as the Prison, Markets, Roundhouse and Arts Centre, and, interestingly, the Power Station and Dingo Mill. The artworks were on display at the Moores Building from June 26th till July 4th. 12

5 Fremantle History Centre, Biographical File: Ewens, Gwenyth
6 Trove newspapers.
7 Daily News, 8 May 1933.
8 The West Australian, 25 March 1952.
9 FHC Biographical File: Ewens, Gwenyth
10 Fremantle Herald, 21 December 1989.
11 Fremantle Herald, 25 March 1995.
12 John Geijsman, Fremantle City Library, email, 9 July 2021

References and Links

Republished by courtesy of the author, Kristi McNulty, from the FHS Newsletter of July 2021.

Image from The Daily News 29 Feb 1936.

Garry Gillard | New: 5 August, 2021 | Now: 13 February, 2022