Living Next Door to Ellis
Marian Ellis Rowan 1848 – 1922
For 124 years we have been living next door to the wilderness from which Ellis Rowan painted some of the most beautiful of Australia’s native flora.
In the early 1900’s Ellis, a petite woman known as the Flower Hunter, made adventurous trips into North Queensland and Papua New Guinea to paint native flora. Always immaculately dressed she braved the dust, dirt and humidity of the Australian outback to paint her precious wildflowers.
One of her collections is held at the Queensland Museum and this is the inspiration for my exhibition.
As Ellis held her own exhibitions, she came up against opposition from male peers. She was neither flower painter nor botanical artist and in this male dominated culture women were classified as painting pretty flowers rather than contributing to scientific botanical knowledge. Her commitment and dedication set her apart in the Aesthetic culture of the time. Art was mostly for decorative purposes at this time and Ellis excelled at decorative paintings, screens and ceramics ware.
She persevered in a male dominated elite art world and broke the glass ceiling as she continued to paint, stage her own exhibitions and through her when she managed to have her collection sold.
The areas where Ellis Rowan hunted for her native and exotic flowers included Far North Queensland and Papua New Guinea. Banksia’s were once an abundant sources of inspiration.
Far North Queensland is a different place today than it was during the early 1900’s when Ellis braved crocodiles and disease carrying mosquitoes to find abundant sources of wildflowers.
Many of the species she painted have had their natural environment overtaken by industrial development and some species are now endangered.
If too many of our Native Flora become extinct then the only record we will have of these species will be Ellis Rowan’s paintings and ceramic ware on which to serve up our explanations on what happened to our native flora. The candles we hold will be for our lost native flora.
And after droughts and environmental pollution our waterways will be dusty holes and the waterlilies and dragonflies that pleased Ellis so much will be sculptures that adorn our mantelpieces and remind us of a long lost wonderland of wildflowers and beautiful flora and fauna.