Twenty-five years after they were established, the Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarships are a benchmark of an artist’s early success and an indicator of significant achievement.
We immediately associate the names of Shaun Gladwell, Callum Morton, Mikala Dwyer, Julie Gough, Nic Folland and many other established artists with the Samstag epithet. All have benefited from the chance to continue their studies through the beneficence of this scholarship. However, apart from their names, we know very little about the donors who generously provided this opportunity.
To mark this anniversary, the University Art Museum, named in their honour, at the University of South Australia, has published a substantial book to document the Anne and Gordon Samstag legacy.
The Samstags were a remarkable couple who arrived in Australia from America in 1961, after Gordon had accepted a teaching position, firstly at RMIT University and then at the South Australian School of Art. Already accomplished artists, he and his wife Anne arrived in Adelaide and eased themselves into the local community.
Gordon was born and grew up in New York City. After being awarded a Schepp Foundation Scholarship in 1926 to enable him to continue his studies, he went on to win numerous prizes on his graduation in 1928 from the National Academy of Design in New York. These included the Pulitzer Travelling Scholarship, which enabled him to study in Paris at the Académe Colarossi. After a period of study, he returned to the US in 1929, the year the stock market ruptured, and began to document the life around him with an incisive realism.
His remarkable paintings of this period, like Proletarian from 1934, display his accomplished technique and his deep empathy. As Lea Rosson Delong explains in her fascinating essay on the artist’s early career, “no longer a pejorative term, ‘proletarian’ becomes an appellation of honour, signifying the class that forms the base on which a democratic society rests and functions”.
Ross Wolfe takes up the narrative of Gordon Samstag’s artistic career when as a disillusioned artist whose realist sensibilities seemed adrift in the wake of Abstract Expressionism and Post-Painterly Abstraction, he and Anne came to Australia in search of a fresh start. With devastating precision, Wolfe tracks Samstag’s attempt to gain national recognition through exhibiting around the country. By the late 1960s, he concludes, he was forced to “reconcile himself to the unpalatable truth: essentially, his brand didn’t have legs”.
Few at that time in Australia were aware of Gordon’s reputation as a social realist painter who created impressive murals for the Works Project Administration, part of the Roosevelt administration’s New Deal programme during the Depression – or of Anne’s family connections to Benjamin Franklin. They kept their past a muffled secret and while Anne remained somewhat aloof, according to her neighbours, they loved their time in Adelaide. Gordon felt his experience as a teacher at the Adelaide School of Art was the happiest of his life.
As the chair of the Contemporary Art Society, Gordon proposed selling their Parkside Gallery to fund a grand international exhibition. The gallery, a suburban property, had been bought with funds provided by a group of artists to create a home for contemporary art in Adelaide.
Culture news in pictures
Culture news in pictures
1/14 9 October 2015
A huge art installation by painter and sculptor Sanatan Dinda made with mud, bamboo and fibre is on display ahead of Durga Puja festival in Calcutta India. Bengalis all over the world will be marking the festival representing the victory of good over evil and the celebration of female power. This year the festival will run from 18 to 23 October
2/14 8 October 2015
A visitor looks at 'On Your Wavelength', an art installation created by artist Marcus Lyall, which is powered by brain data donated via an EEG headset by visitors to the MERGE Bankside art festival, in Bankside, London. The installation is controlled in real time by the brain activity of participants. Their mental state is amplified to create a large-scale laser and musical piece, driven by how focused the participant is feeling, and has been made in collaboration with composer Rob Thomas and technologist Alex Anpilogov
3/14 7 October 2015
A curated wall of urban art at Moniker Art Fair, the Old Truman Brewery, where the Art of Patrón Cocktail Cantina will pop-up from the 15th – 18th October
Patrón/Moniker Art Fair
4/14 6 October 2015
People look at artworks during the "Picasso.Mania" exhibition at the Grand palais in Paris. The exhibition takes place from 7 October 2015 to February 29, 2016 and showcases some never exposed Picasso's artworks next to pieces by other renowned artists
5/14 5 October 2015
Three metre-high maquettes of the Kelpies, the rearing heads of two Clydesdale horses, on display at the start of a two month residency in the University of Edinburgh's Old College quadrangle
6/14 4 October 2015
An exhibit titled 'Blue Tears' is on display during the Beijing Design Week at 751D Park, in Beijing, China. The annual Beijing Design Week themed 'City of Design, Smart City, Industrial Integration' this year, showcasing both international and local designers, is held in various parts of the capital city and runs until 7 October
7/14 3 October 2015
"Monument Minimum", an art installation by Brazilian artist Néle Azevedo set up at the Canal St Martin as part of "Nuit Blanche" night-time arts festival in Paris
8/14 2 October 2015
A woman walks past an artwork by Nedko Solakov of Bulgaria inside the European Central Bank's headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany, October 2, 2015. The newest addition to the art display at the European Central Bank is a giant rock-like chunk of aluminium, but its Bulgarian creator has promised to replace it with a glorious masterpiece. There's just one catch. Before that can happen, Solakov says the Frankfurt-based institution must fulfil all its goals and all of its staff must be "completely satisfied" - a condition he has inscribed on a plaque on the side of the dark oval hulk
9/14 1 October 2015
The ghost ship is illuminated at the East harbour during a light rehearsal for the upcoming 'Berlin leuchtet' (Berlin lights up) in Berlin. Various places and buildings are lit up from 2 October until 18 October 2015
10/14 30 September 2015
Carey Mulligan has revealed that she hates the “strong woman” label in Hollywood because it suggests that female characters are “inherently weak”. “You don’t say to men, ‘You played another really strong man’. The idea that women are inherently weak and we’ve identified the few strong ones to tell stories about…is mad,” she told Elle for its feminism issue.
11/14 30 September 2015
The grisly death mask of Britain’s first train murderer Franz Muller among the previously unseen objects on display at the Museum of London. From next month the museum will display unlocked real-life case files revealing details of some of the UK’s most notorious crimes from Dr Crippen to the Krays, the Great Train Robbery to the Millennium Dome diamond heist
12/14 30 September 2015
Gabriele Finaldi, the new director of the National Gallery, has vowed to make the institution the “centre of cultural activity”. He announced National’s 2016 programme of exhibitions including ones on Delacroix and Caravaggio.
13/14 29 September 2015
The Great British Bake Off’s Tamal Ray has revealed that he is gay after being inundated with amorous offers from female viewers on Twitter. When asked by the Radio Times whether he was available, Tamal replied: “I wouldn't have a girlfriend, I would have a boyfriend."
14/14 29 September 2015
Simpson showrunner Al Jean said that it was likely the show would come to an end after its 30th season. It is currently on its 28 and Jean said: ' If you made me pick one, I’d say the likeliest is ending after 30'
Following a dispute with the local arts community over the prospect of selling it, he and Anne left Adelaide for Cairns in Queensland and five years later returned to the US.
That might have been the end of their involvement with Australia and the arts community, but on the sale of her family’s holdings in Kentenia Mining Corporation in 1977, Anne inherited a considerable fortune.
Gordon, remembering the impact of the Schepp Foundation scholarship, wondered if he could repay that debt. “I have decided to help some of the talented students who often arrive at a dead end after the most promising school years,” he wrote in 1977.
Although it took another 15 years before the first fellowships were awarded to ten young artists completing their studies at art schools located across Australia, the Anne & Gordon Samstag International Visual Arts Scholarships has launched many successful careers since then. One hundred and thirty-eight young Australian artists have been offered an extraordinary opportunity to work at some of the world’s major art schools.
This impressive book documents the Samstag’s life and their influence on Adelaide and Australia. It provides insight into the life and work of a skillful artist who felt out of place when his work was no longer fashionable but sought a new start, fuelled by the desire to pass on his knowledge to future generations of students.
The book also documents the creative work of Anne, a textile artist who embraced 1950s modernism to produce charming designs, many of which echo her professional activities as a dog trainer.
Their 16-year sojourn in Australia left a substantial legacy. As well as the scholarship they endowed, their name now graces one of the countries foremost University Art Museums. This lavishly illustrated and well-research volume acknowledges their formidable talents and their significant contribution to the visual culture of Australia.
The Samstag Legacy: An Artist’s Bequest (2016), edited by Ross Wolfe, is published by the University of South Australia and is available nowReuse content