'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 21 November 2013

Bookish Places: May Gibbs' Nutcote

Playing dress-ups at May Gibbs' Nutcote
The Kids' Book Review Bookish Places posts are a chance to celebrate museums, galleries and other places with a connection to children’s literature and reading. The posts are compiled by KBR's Consultant Librarian, Sarah Steed.

Nutcote is the historic house and garden of May Gibbs, who is recognised as Australia's first full-time, professionally-trained children's book illustrator.

May Gibbs was born in England in 1877, and migrated to Australia with her family at the age of four. She returned to England in 1901 to study art, and after several trips back and forth, remained in Australia from 1913. Along with her iconically Australian Gumnut Babies and other characters, May wrote and illustrated many stories and comic strips, and designed postcards for soldiers in World War One.

Nutcote, described as Mediterranean in style, with “early English/Baronial character” inside, is now a museum celebrating May’s life and work, and decorated as it would have been in the 1920s and 1930s. Scenes recognisable in May’s illustrations can be found in the garden, which has views of Sydney Harbour.

Read on to learn more - thanks to Stephanie for answering our questions. Hopefully you will feel inspired to visit and discover this piece of Australian history for yourself. Nutcote can be found at 5 Wallaringa Avenue, Neutral Bay, in Sydney.

When and how did Nutcote begin?
May Gibbs and her husband built Nutcote in 1925.  May left the property to a children’s charity on her death in 1969. It was sold to developers, however in 1987 a group formed to save Nutcote from development. North Sydney Council bought the property in 1990 and it opened to the public in 1994.

Harbour views
Tell us in ten words or less, why kids will love Nutcote?
The garden and harbour view. Seeing how May lived in the 1930s.

What will visitors find in the house? In the gardens?
The house was the house that May lived in from 1925 until her death in 1969. It contains her easel and other items belonging to her including her sewing machine. Children love to see her ice chest, telephone, pianola and gramophone and hear her social history.

Underneath the house is a gallery with different exhibitions plus a film to watch about her life. There is also dressing up to do (gumnut fairy/banksia man) and a colouring-in page to do.

Her garden was a very English Garden with gorgeous old fashioned roses, lavender etc. There are also lovely little statues and a very large caterpillar hedge that children love to discover!

Must see features of the Nutcote experience?
•    The house and garden.
•    The interview with May Gibbs.
•    Having scones and ice cream in the Bib and Bub Tea Room.
•    Dressing up as a Gumnut Baby or evil Banksia Man.

Can you tell us about the role Nutcote's gardens played in May's work?
May would visit the native Australian bush and draw, but she also took inspiration from her own garden which featured in her cartoon strips.

Nutcote Caterpillar Hedge
What is the oldest book at Nutcote?
May wrote and illustrated her version of the nursery rhyme Jack and Jill at age twelve in 1889.

What do people find most surprising or exciting when they visit?
That May Gibbs was a versatile artist who painted portraits, landscapes, and cartoons before inventing the Gumnut Babies.

Special activities at Nutcote for kids, families, adults?
Come and join in all the celebrations of our famous Scotty Day at Nutcote to celebrate May’s birthday! May Gibbs’ birthday is celebrated at Nutcote each year on the Sunday closest to 17 January. There are also school holiday workshops (make your own Banksia Men or decorate a Gumnut Baby fairy cake), Nutcote Christmas Carols and other events. More details are on our website.

If you could only recommend one May Gibbs book to read, which one would it be?
The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.

Three things everyone should know about May Gibbs?
1.    She is part of our cultural heritage.
2.    She invented the Gumnut Babies.
3.    Her home Nutcote at Neutral Bay is a museum.

Can’t wait to explore May Gibbs’ work? Click on over to the May Gibbs Discover Collection, an amazing online exhibition of digitised copies of May’s unpublished and published work, newspaper cartoons, gumnut-inspired merchandise, and much more. All the originals are preserved in the Mitchell Library.

Interested in taking a Bookish Places trip around the world? Enjoy this sensational map, also created by Sarah, and check out our other Bookish Places posts here.

Do you know of another a wonderful bookish place you think others would enjoy? You can contact KBR’s Consultant Librarian, Sarah Steed, with any suggestions. Email Sarah at sarahATkids-bookreviewDOTcom.