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Mervyn Horton

In their own words

Recorded 1972

Mervyn Horton
Audio: 2 minutes

I opened the first espresso coffee shop in Sydney and that was again a sort of almost a co-operative thing. It wasn’t co-operative because nobody got any money out of it practically but I had all art students working there, the boy that washed the dishes and the cook and all the waitresses and it became a tremendous centre. Everybody who came, Claudio Arrau and Margot Fonteyn, Sybil Thorndike and all the people to do with the arts who came to Australia, came to the Galleria on Rowe Street. And a lot of the artists went through the tech on the money they earned from being waitresses in the coffee shop.

We used to have pictures on the wall which were for sale, not that there were many sold, but they were there and Christmas and Easter, we used to have a competition. It wasn’t really a competition, of child art, I used to get children’s art from the Phillip Street free kindergarten and those sort of places, and the children would be asked to depict Christmas or Easter whatever it was and we used to cover the whole walls. Very exciting! And all the artists – Dobell, Drysdale – used to come in there and say if they could only get back to that simplicity of the children. But we never gave prizes because the Free Library Movement didn’t believe in prizes, which was quite right, so we used to give a donation to the library itself and not to the children, they just had the joy of having their things hung. Anyway, that was the coffee shop and that was one of the things I was meaning when there was much more community, as it were, of artists, because that place was full of all kinds of people to do with the arts, all the time, and it was a great meeting place all through about several years.

If you can – it’s a very precious sort of remark – but if you can live with good taste around you all the time, I think that’s terribly important to have the satisfaction of working or improving your  own judgement and taste. I think people like Wallace Thornton and Sid Ure Smith did an enormous amount for me in upgrading my judgement and taste about art and other things, too, and I think that’s a lot of what it is all about.

Acknowledgements

This oral history of Mervyn Horton is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

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Mervyn Horton

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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