It was called the Brown Room and it was just an ordinary sort of mid-20th century living room in a two-bedroom weatherboard house in Murrumbeena. Sometimes, though, in the 1940s and '50s, there would be up to 50 people there, dancing, singing, mucking about; when they were fewer in numbers ? but still large gatherings for such a small room ? they would talk. Ideas, creativity, spirituality and the essence of living ? this was their lifeblood, there by the hearth.
The house was on a large property known as Open Country, just near the disused Outer Circle railway line. It was populated by some of the country's great artists, most of them from the incredibly talented Boyd dynasty, which stretches back to the 1866 marriage of two people from Melbourne's upper crust: Arthur Merric Boyd and Minnie a Beckett.
In 1913 they bought their son, Merric, the plot of land in Murrumbeena, then an outer suburb. He named it Open Country and had the weatherboard house with the Brown Room built there.
Merric, who became a famed potter, was the father of one of Australia's most distinguished artists, Arthur Boyd ...
A family tree produced with the help of Polly Boyd ? Arthur's daughter ? shows the long and talented lineage that led to the Open Country inhabitants. Bunbury and Hurlston say that when Merric married Doris Gough in 1915, they lived and worked at Open Country for the rest of their lives, raising their children there ? Lucy, Arthur, Guy, David and Mary. They had a pottery studio and eventually extended the house and built other studios, all amid a wilderness where the children ran free.
"It was a very humble house but at the centre was the Brown Room where everyone would gather for readings and discussion," Hurlston says. This ranged from the Bible ? they were Christian Scientists ? to philosophical and artistic works, and there was also dancing, music performances and, in general, "a haven of constant encouragement and loving support, underpinned by humanist cultural values".
In the three main spaces of the exhibition, the fruits of all their labours are apparent, with work from various Boyds as well as John Perceval, whom Arthur and Guy met during war service. Perceval became enmeshed with Open Country, married Mary Boyd and moved in. Arthur Boyd met his own future wife, Yvonne Lennie, in 1942 ? she was an artist friend of Albert Tucker, Joy Hester, Sidney Nolan, John and Sunday Reed and other members of the Contemporary Art Society. Many of these people became close friends and regular visitors to Open Country.This is an extract from Boyd family's Murrumbeena gatherings a fount of inspiration for Australian artists
See also OUTER CIRCLE: THE BOYDS AND THE MURRUMBEENA ARTISTS By David Hurlston & Alisa Bunbury for the National Gallery of Victoria. 13 Oct 14