15. 08. 2019
When tales are long and often turn corners
By Kerry Rochford
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Nurse Bertha Emilie Schmidtke opening the Ambleside Hospital (now the Hahndorf Academy), Deborah Twining has created a powerful exhibition which speaks as much about storytelling as it does of the silences woven through stories, both of which hold equal power.
Time, space, art and commemoration combine in the exhibition cocooned within the walls of the former birthing room of the hospital Nurse Bertha Schmidtke established in 1919. One hundred years later the echoes can be felt upon entering the room. This small but significant exhibition adds to the body of contemporary exhibitions revealing, celebrating and commemorating women who have gone about their daily work quietly shaping everything from communities to social and cultural change.
Twining’s fascination with and artistic commitment to paying homage to Schmidtke is evident from the moment you enter the room. Its worn floor boards, undulating walls and low doorways speak quietly of over a hundred years of human stories beautifully complemented by the ghostly image of Nurse Schmidtke which floats in front of the 565 names of babies (there were over 1000) born in the room. Each name was written in charcoal by Twining which took eight days, in itself an act of tribute and respect.
The digitally printed image of Schmidtke shows a young woman in uniform, serious and unadorned, an image suggesting purpose and practicality as she guards the babies behind her, their mothers absent but remembered by those who come to view the names.
Further along the wall the viewer is met by a series of intaglio prints. Each print shares a continual centre line perhaps marking the long thread and importance of Schmidkte’s nursing career. The line is embraced by tree like forms; dark and intriguing, suggesting there are more stories waiting to be told.
Deborah Twining’s expertise is abundantly validated in her exquisite drawings of the medical paraphernalia and baby bottles the Academy has in its museum collection. Her piece titled Moments Between 3 captures the tenderness and practicality of a midwife, a baby held firmly yet with care against the mapped background of place. The missing piece in the centre of the map is intriguing and evocative of untold tales in Schmidkte’s life.
The delicate large charcoal drawing; The Moments Between 2 amplifies the sense of mystery at work in the exhibition juxtaposed against the practicality of the focus of the work; uniform, and shoes resting in a ring of golden wattle and cornflowers.
The absence of women’s work both paid and unpaid in the annals of art and history, has a long and fraught history. Bertha Schmidkte’s story is part of that history, unrecognised and uncelebrated until now. When tales are long and often turn corner’s is a rich addition to the telling of women’s stories and a worthy tribute to a woman of great strength and determination.
This piece of writing was commissioned by Country Arts SA as part of the inaugural Arts Writing Hot House – a program supporting emerging regional South Australian writers. You can read more about the Hot House here.