Elaine Alys Haxton

Elaine Haxton Born:1909-Died: 1999

Painter, printmaker, designer and commercial artist, was born in Newmarket, Melbourne, on 26 September 1909, youngest of the three children of David Haxton, a stationery salesman and a talented amateur painter of Scottish descent, and Isobel, née Durham. She came to Sydney with her family as an infant. After leaving school at fourteen, she spent a year studying drawing and sculpture full-time with Rayner Hoff. In 1924-28 she studied at East Sydney Technical College and from 1925 also worked commercially, first in a city factory decorating pokerwork vases and breadboards with kookaburras and waratahs, then as a ‘fashion artist’ at David Jones’s department store illustrating advertisements {acc.Thomas}.

In 1929 she set up as a freelance designer and illustrator with four other advertising illustrators in a Bridge Street studio, continuing until 1931. She was also invited to join a sketch club run by Alison Rehfisch and George Duncan .

She went to London in 1932, as soon as she’d saved her fare, and worked full-time with J.Walter Thompson for three years. Then she remained on a retainer while also working for Harper’s Bazaar , Vogue and Strand Magazine . In the evenings she studied at the Grosvenor School under Iain McNab. She designed playing cards for the P&O Line amid other freelance commercial art commissions, and she also exhibited oil paintings in London (ROI 1937).

With the impending outbreak of World War II Haxton returned to Australia via the US and Mexico in 1939. In Mexico she became interested in architectural decoration.

After her return she became especially friendly with Tas (Russell) and Bonnie Drysdale . When the Drysdales moved to Albury in 1941, Haxton often worked in a nearby studio-barn with Tas and with Donald Friend who was stationed with the army at nearby Pukapunyal.

Back at Sydney she exhibited paintings {mainly at the Macquarie Galleries}. She began painting murals in restaurants and for the large stateroom of a visiting British aircraft carrier. She worked with Alistair Morrison on a vast mural for the entrance of the Great Hall at the Royal Easter Show c.1942. Her mural for Le Coq d’Or restaurant won the Sulman Prize in 1943. In 1944-45 she was director, stage manager and scene painter for a small company entertaining the troops in New Guinea.

During the war she also illustrated stories in Australia: National Journal and Australia Week-end Book . Vol. 1 (1942) of the latter contains her ‘Mrs Tabbie’s Teaparty’ (a drawing quite unrelated to the accompanying poem, ‘The Cat’); a fat lady eating eclairs in restaurant for ‘Eclair’ by Jean Stanger; ‘Georgie sat in the sun, shelling peas for lunch’ for ‘Mail Day’ by Alison McDougall (p.102), and circus man yelling ‘Ark’ beside lizards for Roger Welch’s ‘Lizards Aloft’ (p.193) – the best of them. Most are signed ‘Elaine’. She is also represented in vol.2 (1943), p.56; vol.3 (1944) has a small illustration; vol.4 (1945) decorations.

At the end of 1945 she went to New York where she later studied stage design at the summer school of the NY Theatre. She spent 8 months in London and several months touring Europe before returning to Australia in 1949. She spent the next 12 years in Australia mainly occupied with stage design but also involved in advertising, book illustration, painting, print-making and set and costume design for ballet and opera. (She also designed furnishing textiles for Marion Hall Best and Claudio Alcorso.) She travelled widely, notably as one of the members of the Australian Cultural Delegation visiting China in 1956.

In her later years she devoted most of her time to painting and printmaking. She studied the latter at Joyce Ewart ‘s Willoughby Art Centre in Sydney in 1965, where she was taught various techniques by Elizabeth Rooney and became especially interested in etching. Her long-time interest in Japanese culture took her to Japan in 1961. In 1969 she spent three months at Hayter’s Atelier 17 in Paris, then revisited Japan later that year to study woodcut printing techniques in Kyoto. Her prints include Ju-Jitsu 1981 (2 figures in b/w, quite lively), TMAG edn 6/20 (#3532).

In 1986 she was awarded the AM ‘particularly for printmaking’. After a long illness {dementia} – she was cared for by her niece and husband in Adelaide from 1989 – Haxton died in Adelaide on 6 July 1999, aged 89. She was predeceased by her husband, Brigadier Richard Foot, whose third wife she had become in 1954.

She is well represented in state and regional public collections throughout Australia. Didn’t approve of women’s art exhibitions; ‘In 1982 she told Barbara Chapman, “I want to be judged by all my peers, not half of them”.