‘SPIRIT OF FREEDOM’ a Snap shot of Stella Dilger 1900 – 1992
In 1946 at the age of 46, Stella Dilger announced to her family and friends that she wanted to be an artist. Her 19 year old nephew, was studying under Danila Vassilieff. Stella felt that if Ken can be an artist why cant she.
Stella Whisson was born in London on 25 April 1900 and migrated to Australia with her family when she was 12. Her mother managed a guest house in Lilydale, Victoria, to support her family of eight children. In 1928, she married Lou Dilger and they lived in Lilydale until 1950s as Lou who worked for the railways was to posted to Warrigul.
Her decision to be an artist in 1946 started a period of prolific and compulsive production that lasted for the next three decades. “it really was a compelling force every minute I had to paint. I would find myself painting until 4 in the morning. I would get so dizzy that I could hardly stand, then I would sleep and start all over again. That is how I taught myself to paint.” (Stella Dilger Trust -papers)
Stella was accepted into The National Gallery School in 1946, she found the academic style of teaching too restrictive. “People would get me angry when they said you can’t do that and we can’t have that there. How can you get anything truly original if you are nailed down to a set of rules.” (Stella Dilger Trust -papers)
This spirit of freedom coupled with a lively intelligence, strong political and social consciousness enabled Stella to retain that balance between naivety and sophistication in her work.
She did join an informal painter’s group in Warrigul, centred around Ken Scarlett . Later, when she moved to Frankston she joined the McClelland Studio Group which held exhibitions in a studio in what was to become The McClelland Gallery.
During her 36 year period of prolific painting, Stella had a number of solo exhibitions and was included in as many group exhibitions. The Ewing and George Paton Gallery at Melbourne University Union held a major survey of her work in November 1975. She continued to paint up until her eightieth birthday exhibition at Pinacotheca Gallery in April 1980.
In the Australian National Gallery’s Bicentenary exhibition of Australian drawings, Stella’s work was hung next to her contemporaries, Joy Hester (my mother and Pauline McCarthys aunt) and Albert Tucker.
In November 1981, Stella, together with family members and friends set up a trust, The Dilger Art Trust to make provision for the care, preservation, and ultimate distribution of the paintings. Early in 1982 Stella became unwell and spent the last decade of her life in poor health. Two exhibitions of her work were held in 1987 and 1988 at 13 Verity Street. A 3rd exhibition was held at Verity Street shortly after her death in February 1992.
Proceeds from all 3 exhibitions set up an art prize for two second year students at The Victorian College of the Arts, The Stella Dilger Art Prize has been awarded annually to two Victorian College of the Arts students since 1992. That is nearly 60 artists who have been encouraged to date (2021)
Exhibitions 1950 – 1995
1950 First Show
1958 Group May Day Art Exhibition Melbourne Town Hall
1963 Solo exhibition Open House Frankston
1963 Group Show at The Studio – McCelland Gallery Group
1965 Solo Toorak Gallery
1966 Group Show at The Studio – McCelland Gallery Group
1966 Inez Hutchinson art award
1965 Solo Toorak Gallery
1968 Solo exhibition at Victorian Artists Society
1968 Group – Festival of the Arts, Mt Eliza Art Show
Solo Stella Dilger Lower Kominsky Gallery (date?)
1975 Ewing and George Paton Gallery Major exhibition of Stella’s work (Stephen McCarthy Stella papers)
1976 Group Clive Parry Gallery Beaumaris
1976 Solo Manyung Gallery Mt Eliza
1980 Solo exhibition Pinacotheca Gallery to celebrate her 80th birthday (Stephen McCarthy Stella papers)
1987 Solo Micheal Wardell 13 Verity Street
1988 Drawing in Australia: Drawings, Watercolours and Pastels from the 1770s to the 1980s (Micheal Wardell reference note – Stella Trust)
1988 Solo Micheal Wardell 13 Verity Street
1992 Solo Micheal Wardell 13 Verity Street
Artworks held in the Cuther’s women’s collection
Six artworks purchased by National Gallery 1988 (NGV online search)
1995 Nuclear ®Age group show Monash University Gallery
Odds and ends
Researched by Caroline Duree (she made slides of her work reference is a printed copy of works on slide and listed exhibitions)
Some of the many award winners of the Stella Dilger Award encouragement award
Judy Oakenfull: https://judyoakenfull.com/about-2/
Veronica Charmont https://veronicacharmont.com/CV
Further information contact the Stella Dilger Trust through the FernArtz website, Fern Smith is currently on the Trusts board since 2011.