70 Years at Sturt (1941-2011) - A short history by Grace Cochrane

The year 2011 marked the 70th anniversary of the Sturt crafts workshops in Mittagong, in the Southern Highlands region of NSW. This remarkable centre is acknowledged as one of the most important models of practice for the continuing post-war studio crafts movement. Today, current Head of Sturt, Mark Viner, and a small staff of Dale Dryen (course co-ordinator) and Slavica Zivkovic (shop and gallery manager), operate a program that includes courses, residencies, workshops, exhibitions and summer and winter schools, primarily in furniture, ceramics, textiles and jewellery. Sturt's activities complement school curricula and local arts events, and at the same time maintain a notable profile within the wider crafts and design community.

Winifred West, 1941 Photo (details) by Olive McInerney (Cotton)Sturt was founded in 1941 by Winifred West (1881–1971) when she retired as headmistress from Frensham, the independent secondary school for girls which she had established in 1913. Interested in the value of relationships between individuals and communities, the links between hand and mind and 'the development of individual talents and personalities', Miss West's intent was to provide further education in crafts, music and drama for children who had left Mittagong Primary School, and for adults seeking useful and creative skills. She wrote to a friend in 1941:
… I do not know what it will turn into. That will depend upon the people who come and on changing conditions. I can foresee many possible developments. It might become a training school for teachers of arts and crafts. It might become an industrial concern. It might become a colony of artists and craftsmen, potters and printers …

Largely financed by Miss West herself, and through time and resources provided by friends, Sturt started with one building where, at weekends, six girls learned spinning and weaving, while two boys did woodwork nearby and adults came during the week. By 1949, 150 children were enrolled. Named after her mother, Fanny West (née Sturt), Sturt was located in the grounds and gardens of Miss West's cottage, built in 1947, and she established the Sturt Association in 1948 to set objectives and to manage the workshops.

John Moore's pergola in the Sturt garden, constructed in 1958For the duration of the war [Sturt's garden] was largely given over to the growing of vegetables, serving a dual purpose, helping with the food supply and supplying onion skins for dyeing. By 1947 the market garden look had vanished. Lawns and young trees were flourishing and Miss West was hard at work planning for the future… As each building was completed, new gardens were planted.

Formal workshops were set up for Wood (1947); Weaving (1951); Pottery (1954); Jewellery and metalwork (1965); Screenprinting (1973); and the Sturt School for Wood (1985). Winifred West Schools Ltd was formed in 1955, by then including the Gib Gate primary school as well as Frensham and Sturt. Until 1958, all buildings were designed by architect John Moore, who was a member of the Sturt Association. Don Gazzard designed the accommodation building, Ainsworth, in 1963, as well as its furniture which was made in the Wood workshop, and later an extension to the Weaving room.