Verna Nichols is a Tasmanian Aboriginal artist who is also a descendant of the Bunurong people of Victoria. She works in the medium of painting, silkscreen printmaking, ceramics, drawing, weaving and kelp work. Nichols was born on Flinders Island, Tasmania and spent the next seven years on the island before moving to Hobart with her family. She has lived in Melbourne and Strahan before returning to Hobart in 1997 where she still resides.
Nichols, a qualified Mothercraft Nurse, has worked as a deckhand on a fishing boat, employed as an Office Administrator, a Trainee Curator in the Anthropology Department at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery as well as a Coordinator at the Hobart based Women’s Karadi Aboriginal Corporation and the Palawa Aboriginal Corporation. She has only shown her work professionally since 1991 in an exhibition organised by herself and a friend Jeanymaree Caville at a Strahan Gallery. For this first untitled exhibition Nichols submitted works that included paintings, drawings and painted shells. Nichols has drawn (pen and pencil) and painted (acrylic on bought and found objects and canvas) images inspired by petroglyphs (rock carvings), marine life, dreams and personal and cultural memories since 1975 but it is for her kelp work that she has gained national attention.
In May of 2006 the tayenebe project began. tayenebe is a partnership project with Arts Tasmania, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and the National Museum of Australia. A series of workshops were conducted over more than two years across Tasmania including Bruny and Flinders Islands in which the participants including Nichols were to exchange knowledge of and learn to identify the native plants used in the traditional Tasmanian Aboriginal baskets. Some women who participated were learning the weaving technique known to Tasmanian Aboriginal women for the first time. These workshops provided the participants with a solid understanding of Tasmanian basketry and its place in Tasmanian history. The workshops will culminate in an exhibition curated by Julie Gough, at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in NAIDOC week 2009 followed by a two-year tour to South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.
Whilst Nichols has achieved national and international recognition she has not been neglected in her home state where she has worked in the Aboriginal Affairs sector most of her life. She has taught arts and crafts at numerous schools, Aboriginal school camps and festivals. She has taught basket making for the Summer Ranger (National Parks) course at Mount Wellington, Hobart and has been the commissioned muralist for many schools throughout Tasmania. She has participated in the Moonah Arts Centre NAIDOC exhibitions organised and curated by Jennie Gorringe from 1996 to 1999. All this work (paid and voluntary) was recognised in 2001 when she was presented with a Local Hero Award from the City of Glenorchy Council, Hobart.
Nichols is represented in the permanent collections of National Gallery of Australia, the National Museum of Australia, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Living History Museum of Aboriginal Culture, Nicholls Rivulet, the Women’s Karadi Aboriginal Corporation and the South East Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation.
Artist photo: Verna Nichols (left), Tayenebe, 2017 by George Serras NMA
Verna is exhibiting her kelp work at Despard Gallery, alongside the Tjanpi Dessert Weavers sculptures, in May 2019. More images of Verna’s works coming soon, contact the gallery for more info.