VISION: Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery's Jayson Althofer in front of one of the Bolton exhibition paintings by five-time Archibald Prize winner John Longstaff (1861-1941) in 1912.
VISION: Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery's Jayson Althofer in front of one of the Bolton exhibition paintings by five-time Archibald Prize winner John Longstaff (1861-1941) in 1912. TOOWOOMBA REGIONAL ART GALLERY

Visionary art philanthropy celebrated

AT A time when rural and regional areas, along with Australian art and artists, were often considered second class, Toowoomba transport entrepreneur and philanthropist Bill Bolton was a maverick.

He and wife Marion not only saw the merits of Australian talent but staunchly believed their community deserved the best when it came to access to the arts, literature and history.

It was an incredibly forward-thinking attitude for the time, according to Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery Bolton Library services officer Jayson Althofer.

He is curator of the newly opened Bill Bolton's Vision - 60 Years On, running at the gallery until July 21.

While much of the publicity around the collection has understandably focused on Bill Bolton's friendship with the great Lionel Lindsay, with whom ideas of the gallery, a library, history room and museum (now Cobb+Co) sprang, Jayson said it goes well beyond.

"He was quite extraordinary," Jayson said.

"He wanted, particularly the youth of what was then seen as 'the backblocks', to have access to seriously great art that, as Prime Minister Robert Menzies said at the opening in 1959, would catch 'the divine fire of the imagination'."

The Bolton Collection was originally named The Lionel Lindsay Art Gallery and Library.

Lionel wrote in his autobiography that his friend had insisted on using his name, with the pair's friendship "cemented by their shared admiration" for JF Archibald's Bulletin, the bush poets, "for the Anzacs and the old traditional Australia".

The collection has been at the present Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery for 25 years and includes more than 400 works of art dating from the 1880s, primarily to the 1940s.

That includes the works of Australian Impressionists Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin, and Lionel's siblings Percy, Norman, Ruby and Daryl.

There are also outstanding pieces from the 1950s and '60s, including work by renowned South Australian war artist Ivor Hele.

These were commissioned by the transport operator to reflect more horsepower and action and illustrate the works of Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson, including The Lights of Cobb and Co (1959) and The Man from Snowy River (1957).

Coming from a history and literature background himself, Jayson is equally excited by the collection's rare books and maps from the early 1600s, first editions of Captain Cook's journals, volumes of Matthew Flinders and other explorers including letters from Ludwig Leichhardt.

There are also manuscript copies of poems and letters by Henry Lawson and hand-coloured prints by the father of Australian ornithology, John Gould and wife Elizabeth.

In his opening speech back in 1959, Prime Minister Menzies said, "I hope that for centuries to come people will come more and more to find in this place something of pride in their own country".

Jayson is running three specialist tours and talks on the exhibit. These comprise Bush Poetry in Motion: Bill Bolton and the Painter Ivor Hele on Sunday, May 12 (RSVP by May 9); A Collection of Geniuses: Bill Bolton and the Lindsay Family on Sunday, June 9 (RSVP by June 6); and a twilight tour From the Vault: Up Close and Personal with Lionel Lindsay's Prints (RSVP by July 16).

Access to library items and other collection materials not in the exhibition is by appointment. Phone 07 4688 6652 or email

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