Rich history frames Stanwell Park building

John Vander, recognised among Australia's top artists, is about to celebrate 34 years at Articles Fine Art Gallery at Stanwell Park.

He and wife Frances moved there from Loftus after he decided to leave his previous career in finance and become a full-time professional artist a few years earlier.

He was travelling up to six months a year to find subject matter and wanted to find something he could use as a studio and gallery.

Since the Vanders bought the complex in 1980 it has become recognised as one of the most well established privately owned art galleries in Australia.

Articles Fine Art Gallery welcomes tens of thousands of visitors a year and about half of them come from Sydney.

But the building that houses the gallery has a colourful and culturally important history of its own.

"Stanwell House, a 22-room boarding house erected on the block in 1908, accommodated up to 50 visitors at a time, among them painters eager to capture the beauty of the Illawarra region," Mr Vander said.

"Guests included Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Norman Lindsay and William Lister, who revelled in the romantic surrounds of Stanwell Park.

"Many writers stayed at the boarding house as well. Banjo Paterson was among them.

"We only realised this later on. But we now have some copies of the paintings achieved by those artists."

Another interesting chapter in the building's life occurred when part of the building was destroyed by fire.

That was followed by what was arguably Australia's first motel being established on the site.

But by the time the Vanders purchased the property in 1980, it was run as a supermarket, takeaway food outlet and bottle shop.

They closed the business to start their dream and Articles was born.

Sections of the old home the Vanders have rebuilt retain their original character. When the Vanders found out about the history of the site, they felt it was always meant to become a gallery.

"From humble beginnings and with the support of many artists, craft people, the keen following of local people and art lovers, the gallery grew rapidly," Mr Vander said.

"Today it has developed almost a cult following among art connoisseurs from around Australia."

Over the years, Articles has cultivated an outstanding reputation for quality art.

Every year it holds a special exhibition, offering the opportunity to introduce people to the gallery, to new artists and old friends.

Features of the next exhibition on March 1 include a cartoon demonstration and exhibition by Paul Dorin and investment paintings by noted artist Max Mannix.

A band will also play outside for the 1500 people who attend the annual birthday celebration.

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