Friday, May 13, 2016

Portraits and Personalities of Townsville: Ralph Martin, art lover and pharmacist

Miscellanea from the Ralph Martin Archive
In July 1972, behind a pharmacy in Flinders Street, Ralph Martin and his wife Margaret opened a small gallery: Martin Gallery. While being described as “spartan” and “intimate” in size, it was nevertheless suggested that it potentially had “a stature that belies its modest dimensions.”

There was certainly nothing modest about the courage needed to start the venture. Potentially, given the track record for art galleries in Townsville, it had a good chance of folding. Within three years of the establishment of the Martin Gallery, three other galleries in Townsville opened and closed. The Martin Gallery, however, persevered until 1988, guided by Ralph’s unerring eye for beauty and talent, and his appreciation of the emotional responses that art evokes.

 Fired by a love of art that grew from his school days and nurtured by self-taught skills, Ralph’s deep appreciation of art works in all their forms led him to open his modest gallery. There, not only paintings and prints, but pen and ink sketches, ceramics, leather work, metalwork and woodwork, by local, national and international artists were displayed. Ralph never expected that his gallery would be a money making venture. He hoped, rather, that people would “just look”, and perhaps buy, and thereby encourage a novice artist’s belief in their own creative worth.

Detail from a letter written to Ralph
by sculptor Benn Trupperbaumer
When Martin gallery closed in 1988, its stature was such that one habituĂ© mournfully wrote to the Townsville Bulletin that the Gallery had represented “the beginnings, the murmurings of the sophistication of a big city that was in Townsville and nowhere else in North Australia”.

For 16 all too short years, Martin Gallery embodied an artistic flowering and enthusiasm in Townsville that was the richer for being championed by the pharmacist, Ralph Martin.

Sources:
“Mixing pharmacy and art…Ralph Martin wishes more of his Flinders Street pharmacy could be an art gallery.” Undated newspaper clipping from the Ralph Martin archive, awaiting processing. Possibly from the Townsville Bulletin, 1978.

“New Gallery in Townsville.” Undated newspaper clipping from the Ralph Martin archive, awaiting processing. Possibly from the Townsville Bulletin, July 1972.

Vance, Ainsby. “End of an era as gallery closes” [letter to the editor]. Undated newspaper clipping from the Ralph Martin archive, awaiting processing. Possibly from the Townsville Bulletin, 1988.

Bianka Vidonja Balanzategui
JCU PhD History Candidate

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