Art Teacher Nurtured Local Talent

May the Mentor

Born in 1908 at Silverton, Florence May Harding was a well-known art teacher in Broken Hill. She was responsible for fostering the talent of some of the town’s most famous artists and was a founding member of the Willyama Art Society (WAS), based at Broken Hill.

It was in the capturing of nature that May excelled artistically, she loved natural history and was accomplished in botanical drawing and still lifes featuring native wildflowers. She was also a member of the Barrier Field Naturalist Club (BFNC), whose goal was to promote the protection and regeneration of native plants in the West Darling region. May’s creativity was at the forefront of her work with the BFNC, she designed their certificates and became a trailblazer in the realms of natural history photography in Australia.

May successfully combined her two passions and built a career as a part-time art and botany teacher at the Broken Hill Technical College in Argent Street. She also held weekly art lessons for the children of the town at her home during WWII – the classes were so popular that there was a waiting list to join them.

Her known artistic works are scant and she is better known as a teacher than an artist. May’s scientific mind enabled her to readily convey technical ideas such as perspective, depth and shadow shown in her hand-written notes.

May was committed to nurturing the unique painting style of each of her students and guided many local artists including members of the group known as the Brushmen of the Bush: Pro Hart and Eric Minchin; and renowned folk artist, Sam Byrne on their paths to success.

In 1961, along with Sam Byrne, Joyce Condon, John Gregory, Pro Hart, and Hugh Schultz, May was a founding member of the WAS. A testament to their goal of encouraging local artists, the Society exists to this day. Their shows were initially held outdoors and at local pubs The Pig and Whistle and the Newmarket Hotel, before being displayed in a gallery setting.

May was WAS’ founding Secretary, later becoming its Treasurer, a position she held until the year of her death in Broken Hill in 1971.