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Edie Watkins, 2016

by Nicholas Harding

gouache on three paper panels
Collection of Nicholas Harding and Lynne Watkins

Edie Watkins (b. 1933) is Harding’s mother-in-law. Born Edith Lee in Ulmarra, New South Wales, she spent her early childhood on a dairy farm near Grafton. Her father Clarence Lee, a veteran of the Somme and a man of several professions, surveyed the land for the village of Wooli. When she was twenty Edie married Keith Watkins, a fellow student at teachers’ college. He became principal of North Rocks School for blind and deaf children; he and Edie worked there for 25 years. Clarence Lee had built an ironbark house in Wooli in the 1920s and Keith and Edie used it on holidays, though it required constant maintenance and its facilities were minimal. From the time Harding met Lynne Watkins in the mid-1970s, he spent a lot of time there. Keith and Edie retired to a new house on the block in the 1990s. Around it Edie tended many of the thousands of flowers Harding has painted over the past fifteen years: roses, orchids, kangaroo paws, banksia, frangipani, paper daisies and lilies.

Paradoxically, tiny octogenarian Edie was the catalyst for a third sheet of paper in Harding’s large watercolour portraits. He’d painted her on two sheets, but her figure terminated at the ankles, which is undesirable in a portrait. Once he added another sheet, though, all he had to put on it were Edie’s fleece-lined scuffs. For compositional reasons, he placed some cut roses on the floor beside her and painted them. He found he liked the scale and proportions of the piece, and the way Edie’s roses spoke in a low-key way about her personality and interests.

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