'OUT of the ASHES' : Amanda Willams

The recent bushfires, and now Covid-19, have brought a major impact to the South East. From the ashes of the fires that destroyed so much of our region there has also come warmth, generosity and a collective community spirit that comes from so many sharing the same traumas and emotions. Denise Straty was one of the many recovery personnel called into the region after the fires. She saw for herself the impact and she learnt of the lives of those affected. By way of a meeting with Amanda, of Amanda's at Mogo, Denise learnt of the impact to the many South East artists and of their responses by way of art to the bushfires. Wanting to do what she could for those she met she returned to Sydney with an idea. To hold an ‘Out of the Ashes’ exhibition next month at The Wellington Gallery – a stunningly chic warehouse space in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Waterloo.

Gallery owners Mark and Ray had generously offered the use of their exquisite venue and kindly waived any commission so that the full proceeds of each art sale would flow through to the participating South Coast artists.

Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, they have had to put the dream of a physical exhibition on hold for the moment, but the good news is they’ve created the exhibition as a Facebook e-gallery where they invite visitors to read artists’ posts describing their individual tales of survival during the unprecedented deadly fire season and view their spectacular artworks. The artists profiled in this Beagle series is Amanda Willams

Amanda Willams is the much loved owner of Amanda's of Mogo. I met Amanda when I visited her store a few weeks after the fires, at the time I was in Bateman's Bay offering volunteer work. When, back in Sydney, the inspiration came to host an exhibition in Sydney with artists from the South Coast impacted by the fires, Amanda was the first person I called, without her none of this would have been possible. I'm so grateful, I know it's been a bumpy ride for her, but she's hung in there with me.

I asked Amanda to share her experience with us. I grew up in Batemans Bay and after finishing school moved to Sydney where I attained a diploma in fine arts from the National Art School (East Sydney), majoring in painting. Drawing and other crafts have been a great love of mine also. I moved back to the South Coast in '96 and not so surprisingly purchased an art and crafts supply store with my mother Stephanie. We became ‘Amandas of Mogo’ in 1999. Through this time I taught a lot of craft and mixed media, and twice a year for 12 years we held craft getaways at 'The original gold rush colony' in Mogo. Unfortunately it burnt down on NYE so that has put an end to these retreats for now. We didn't celebrate our store’s 20th birthday last year as mum was in hospital, but we planned to mark our 21st birthday this February. That was until the New Year's Eve bushfires hit our lovely little village, wreaking havoc on all our lives. My boyfriend of 20 years, artist John Sharman, lost his beautiful home and art studio-gallery that morning, along with hundreds of others. John evacuated to my home in Malua Bay but within an hour we were evacuated to the local beach where we watched in horror as the fires came towards us, along with thousands of others and a menagerie of horses, birds, dogs, cats and other caged animals. My brother and his family were visiting that week from England and he hugged me as I voiced that there was no way my house would still be standing – such was the enormity and ferocity of the fire. To my great relief and astonishment, it was unmarked by the fire but as there had been no power or phone reception since 9am that day we could not contact family and friends. While checking on a friend’s house we found the fences, garden, retaining walls and verandah post all on fire. John and I spent an hour hosing to stop the fire getting up into the house. All this time we could only guess at what had happened in Mogo and when we were allowed out the next morning we were amazed to see the shop still standing. I had a glimmer of hope at that stage for John’s home, but it was sadly just a pile of rubble. Mogo had more than a dozen businesses destroyed that day and about 30 homes. Powerlines were everywhere and blackened trees, both fallen and standing, surrounded us. The ground was scorched – it looked like a war zone. How was Mogo going to survive this? Our season had already been greatly effected in December with major road closures due to the fires just north of Batemans Bay and our emotions were on high alert as we came to terms with what had happened to our community and lives. The ramifications were enormous and the fires were still burning around Moruya and further down the coast. Then those beautiful rains came in mid-February and so did the people. There were workers, volunteers, supporters and shoppers from all over the country wanting to help. The community was hurting but we felt the love from the nation. I met Denise in January when she was volunteering with Red Cross in Batemans Bay. She rang me a week later with this fabulous idea about an exhibition in Sydney for South Coast artists. Many had their homes and studios destroyed, while others had exhibitions cancelled. Then the covid-19 hit, galleries closed, workshops closed down and the artists have been disrupted once again. On a personal note, we are trying to run our store with the doors basically shut. Wow, what a year! It’s been very harrowing but I'm excited that we can still have this opportunity to showcase our work, albeit not in the flesh. It has helped me refocus, somewhat, away from my own problems. I truly hope everyone gets on board and buys a piece of art they love from one or more of the artists.

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