Leanne Barrett: Susie Beaver: gallery owner and inspirational role model

Monday 4 September 2017

Susie Beaver: gallery owner and inspirational role model

On a cold winter's Sunday, in July, an audience of over 50 people came to the National Library of Australia to hear a winter's tale from Susie Beaver, co-owner of Beaver Galleries in Deakin.

Susie Beaver is descended from a long line of  family members that have left their mark on Australian history and culture.

Susie's maternal third great-grandfather, Alfred Barker was a seaman on the ship Rapid that arrived at Nepean Bay, Kangaroo Island in 1836. He later became a cattle and sheep farmer in South Australia. Alfred Barker married Priscilla Chambers in 1842, she arrived in Australia on the John Renwick in 1837 to Holdfast Bay, Adelaide. Priscilla's contribution to the St Andrew's School in Walkerville, SA was recognised with a room being named after her in 1901, for more information see here.

One of the many inspirational women in Susie's family was her second great grandmother, Sophie Jane Brown nee Torr, who married Alfred Edward Barker. Sophie is most notably known in the family, for giving birth to around 16 children and then continuing to grow the family further by fostering and adopting orphans.

Susie's grandfather,  Dean Walter Berry, was a distinguished architect in South Australia, becoming the second registered architect in South Australia in 1939. Dean's sister, Maragret Maude Berry, was the first South Australian woman to sign an enlistment form to join the army. Margaret was in charge of the first  Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) at Mt. Lofty. Her diaries from 1932 to 1958 show that she was present at Cowra, NSW on the night of the breakout of the Japanese prisoners of war in 1944. She gained the rank of major in 1947 in the AWAS. Later she joined the Women's Royal Army Corps and obtained the rank of lieutenant-colonel where she commanded a battalion of women in Egypt. Margaret died aged 94 in the year 2000.

Closer to home Susie's parents, Murray and Anne Gordon (John Murray Gordon and Catherine Anne nee Berry), influenced their children by exposing them to travel, art, books, theatre, architecture, wine and education. Living in a family consisting of  her two parents and two sisters, Susie never questioned her value of being a woman or her equality in society, until the age of 12. At this age where girls are leaving childhood behind and entering womanhood, Susie experienced gender inequality for the first time. On the first night of visiting cousins the girls were expected to help clean up after dinner, while the boys got to watch television. Susie made it clear that this was very unfair.

In general, Susie and her sisters were exposed to many strong women role models, like great aunt Margaret and others scattered throughout their family tree. Through her family, Susie gained the strong values; of justice, dignity, hope, equality, collaboration, tenacity, empathy, respect and forgiveness. Many of these values are also the values of International Women's Day. Susie said that her parents gave her the belief that "...life is what you make of it..."

Susie has definitely made something of her life. She obtained an an arts degree at university, giving her the vital education needed for her careers. One of her first jobs was working for the Australia Council in Sydney. As a project officer she meet artists and arts organisations, worked with boards and travelled around Australia. This job also gave Susie the flexibility to take leave to travel to London and Edinburgh, to work at art festivals. It was while in London she met her future husband, Martin Beaver.

Susie and her husband, Martin are now making their mark on the cultural history of Canberra. Susie and Martin are the second generation owners of Beaver Galleries, Canberra which is Australia's longest running commercial gallery. The gallery was established by Martin's parents Ron and Betty Beaver in 1975, at its original location at Investigator Street, Red Hill. In 1984 the gallery moved to its present location, purposely built, at 81 Denison Street, Deakin.

In 1992 Susie and Martin brought the gallery. With their backgrounds in the arts, administration and commerce it is not surprising that they have been able to run a viable commercial gallery for over 25 years. Essentially, Beaver Galleries showcase artists that the Beaver's admire and want to exhibit. The gallery exhibits a range of mediums; paintings, prints, sculpture, glass, ceramics and jewellery.

Susie talked about the need to have trust in your own opinions and sometimes to take a punt on an unknown artist. She told the audience a story about a time that Martin was travelling in Tasmania. One day Martin a came across an artist's work in a little art show. Martin tracked the artist, Lucienne Rickard, to a cafe she was working at. This meeting resulted in her work being shown in a group exhibition at Beaver Galleries. All of her works sold at this exhibition. Susie and Martin then decided to give Rickard a solo show and again her art sales were great. The gallery took four of Rickard's artworks to the inaugural Sydney Contemporary Art Fair and sold all of the pieces. Since then Rickard has shown her work at other exhibitions and is now working as a full-time artist.

Susie's influence on the Canberra arts culture does not end at the gallery's doors. Susie has been involved in the arts and the broader community by serving on numerous boards over the years, including; Capital Arts Patrons Organisation (CAPO), Canberra Museum and Art Gallery, Tourism ACT, Musica Viva, Affirm and the Reference Group for the Visual Arts and Crafts Board of the Australia Council.

To find out more about Susie Beaver see the transcript here of an interview from the 2014 Landmark Women Lecture series by the National Museum of Australia.

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