ART lovers and nature enthusiasts have until this Sunday (May 26) to visit the once-in-a-lifetime blockbuster exhibition Annemieke Mein: A Life’s Work – A Retrospective at Gippsland Art Gallery.

Locals may be familiar with Annemieke’s works that already dot Wellington Shire, with credits including the bronze works on display at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sale, the steel gates of the Sale Botanic Gardens featuring her Eucalypt design and the Bluestone Migrant Memorial at West Sale Aerodrome also bearing her mark.

With gallery walls adorned with mayflies and moths, fanciful frogs, dancing dragonflies and open-eyed owls, it’s easy for patrons to get swept up in the whimsy of all the gorgeous creatures.

However, it’s the layers to each piece that ground you – the layers that begin with photographs and specimens, that build to sketches and paintings, fabric swatches, experimentation and failures, before you can fully appreciate the artistry that goes into just one of Annemieke’s 200 pieces on display.

Her familiarity with her subjects comes from the months and months she spends studying – “but I’m not in a hurry,” she shrugs, modestly.

“Sometimes I can only make one or two works a year if they’re humongous.”

About a year ago, Gippsland Art Gallery began the formidable task of coordinating pieces from private collectors and galleries based all over Australia and around the world to be shipped to Sale – some in climate-controlled trucks – in order to be photographed.

Earlier works span back to the 1960s, with early beginnings in crafty pieces such as silicone necklaces and crochet booties before unfurling into large scale, wall-hung textiles, fashion and sculptures. Some pieces Annemieke hasn’t seen since she sold them – an early hessian commission for a pork farmer’s wife, another for an Esso helicopter pilot. Then, a brief foray into portraiture of her loved ones, before the nature-themed works that catapulted her to international acclaim in the ’80s appear on the wall.

Getting braver and braver with each piece, attendees can visually follow the journey of how Annemieke spreads her wings in the art world. When asked how she could possibly stockpile so many clothes tags for a six-foot sculpture of a silverfish, which usually fit on a fingernail, she simply shrugs and says, “I’m a collector”.

“My husband thinks I’m a hoarder, but I know where everything is, so that makes you a collector, not a hoarder,” she laughs.

The Silverfish is impressive, and raises a wry smile: the very thing that gnaws away at fabric made out of clothing labels.

Tags are not the only thing Annemieke collects – marbles, shells, artefacts and insect specimens line the shelves of Annemieke’s mock-up studio. The studio is a spot-on recreation of the one in her attic in her Sale home, complete with her desk, chair and views of Sale Water Tower.

Glass cases brimming with bits and pieces; leftovers, experiments, drawings, insects, trial and error, detailed botanical illustrations, and watercolour mock-ups have been curated from Annemieke’s collections as educational tools, to show her painstakingly detailed process.

“You should see my record files, I’ve got a whole room of folders, and every work I’ve ever made is recorded in there,” she said.

Annemieke records every detail, and for good reason. The perfect example of why is her piece, Owlet Nightjar. Inspired by an owlet nesting in a hollow log at her bush block along Blackall Creek near Stratford, the piece was 30 years in the making.

“I designed it, and drew it, and then decided this is too hard – how can I make material look like bark?” Annemieke said.

“I have a drawer of unfinished things, and about five years later, I opened up the drawer and thought, ‘You know what? I’ll give it a go’. I painted a few bits of bark and I painted the face of an owl, which failed, because it’s cross-eyed, and then I made another one, and it was slightly better but still cross-eyed, whereas this [finished] one … the eyes follow you around the room.

“About 10 years later, I started it up again and did a bit more and did a bit more, and then during COVID, I thought this is it, I’m going to finish it.”

The finished result is captivating, with relief bark that peels and drapes from the layered applique as though the back canvas was cut from some sort of divine silky gum tree. Deliberate false tension stitching prompts the observer to recall running a finger over a bump on a Scribbly gum.

Tickets to the exhibition cost $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, $16 for concession card holders and $12 for Friends of the Gallery, while children under 12 are admitted for free.

Wellington Shire residents receive half price on all tickets (proof of residency required).

Tickets are available to buy via gippslandartgallery.com, however visitors can also buy tickets from Gippsland Art Gallery in Sale on the day of their visit.

Merchandise and copies of the newly-released Annemieke Mein: A Life’s Work are also available for purchase.

Annemieke Mein: A Life’s Work – A Retrospective will be on display until this Sunday at Gippsland Art Gallery.