Phillip Island & District Historical Society

Local ceramic artist and charitable fundraiser Ina Davie

Last updated on 08-Jul-21

Speaker: June 2017


Julie Box gave a talk about local artist Ina Davie and she and Bob and Anne Davie brought examples of Ina’s work to share with members. Julie commenced her talk by telling us of how she went to a garage sale at Bimbadeen because she and her husband Allan ran a second hand book shop in Warley Ave at that stage and they knew there would be some valuable old books at the sale. Julie arrived at 7.55 a.m. and another lady arrived at the same time. There they saw 12 flower paintings for sale, by Bob’s mother Ina Davie. Julie told the lady that as a 16 year old student she had interviewed Ina. It turned out the lady was a lecturer in art history.


In the end, Julie spent all of the old book money on the 12 paintings, 2 figurines and a plate painted with flowers, all by Ina. Further, Bob gave her another plate.


Driving back to the book store, Julie thought “I’ve spent all the money on art, and Al is going to be very annoyed”. She was concerned, as Al could be stern and give you a ‘dressing down’. However, when she returned to the bookstore it transpired that a man had just been in and spent $100 on Phillip Island history books, so Al said he would go straight back to Bimbadeen to buy the books, which he did. Bob and Anne, running the garage sale, must have been thrilled that Julie and Al had turned up that day!


So why did Julie buy so much of Ina’s flower art? Firstly, Julie has always loved flowers as she finds them so relaxing. She has Ina’s flower paintings all the way up the passageway at home and they always give her a lift to see them. Secondly, because she had interviewed Ina all those years ago. As a year 11 art student she needed to write a paper about a Phillip Island artist by interviewing one. She was not allowed to do a sculptor. She was tossing up between Hector Goodall and Ina Davie, but her mother said “You’re a 16 year old girl, and Hector’s a bit wild and he’s a drinker”. So Ina it was.


Since Julie did not know Ina and Stan Davie, her father rang them and organised for the interview with Ina on a Saturday afternoon. There were set questions to ask, and the paper had to be about 3-4 pages long. Julie was a bit in awe of Ina, who was sophisticated, spoke well and dressed fashionably. Stan answered the doorbell.


Julie had known Stan from her childhood when she was in Wonthaggi Hospital with scarlet fever and he was in a room nearby. Julie was put in a ward with four older boys from St Paul’s Home, who immediately they were all alone, stole Julie’s dolls, including her special porcelain doll “Sally” (which she still has) and started tossing them around between them. Julie was calling out to the boys to be careful, which made them worse! 


Suddenly Stan appeared in his dressing gown and slippers, with raised voice, saying “What’s going on here? Who’s throwing these dolls?” The boys were very scared and meekly gave up the dolls. Stan told Julie that if she ever needed him, to knock on his door. He told the boys: “I don’t want to have to tell sister about you boys”. That really scared them into behaving properly as the sister was very strict and harsh with the boys, smacking them each morning for wetting their beds.


When Stan answered the door all those years later, he said to Julie: “You’re the scarlet fever girl, aren’t you?” He introduced her to Ina, who was more than happy to talk to someone interested int her art. She showed Julie her studio. She used no easel, but a drawing board. She said she had been interested in art from an early age, and it was her best subject at school. After her family were adults and they no longer had the guest house, she was able to get back to her art.


A lady at Ina’s church took china painting classes on white plates, and Ina found she had a taste and talent for china painting. She said “What I love about art is this...when you’re concentrated on what you do you’re totally relaxed and it gives you great joy.”


As I was going out she asked me if I was going on to study art at university. I told her I couldn’t because I was the sixth child in my family, who were only chicory farmers. However, seeing her studio was an eye-opener to Julie, as it made her see just how artists worked, which was something to aspire to. Her previous experience with artists was the Figuerola sisters, a Melbourne family who were very eccentric and avant garde. They came down on the ferry. They owned a big bluestone mansion in Kew. Alma Figuerola had a big artist’s carpet bag from Florence – not to be found in Phil West’s Cowes store! They influenced Julie to study art, but not after year 11, as she was neat, but not really talented.


Later in life Julie became involved in exhibitions and actually got into a Fine Arts course in 1981, but Al got the opportunity of a good job in Gippsland writing curriculum. Julie was unable to do Fine Arts by distance education and had to drop the opportunity. She did buy art books and continued to attend exhibitions.


After Julie got home with the paintings from the sale they sat unframed in the study until Al got the hydrangeas painting framed to encourage Julie to have the whole lot framed, which she did 15 years ago.


Julie then discussed each painting and each figurine, pointing out the good qualities of each, including the fine detail on the faces and flower features of the figurines. Ina obviously had a very steady hand, as attested to by the fine quality of her detailed work, such as the buttons on the coat of one of the figurines. Many of the flowers are painted in such a way as to ‘jump out’ at you with their liveliness. 


Of the china plates, Julie bought the green one because it so reminds her of the green grass of her childhood home. The magnolia painting is in her bedroom, and she wakes up to see it each morning, with light streaming in through the window. In former years she collected landscapes, and Al preferred military and historic paintings. However, Julie has long been a fan of Ellis Rowan, who had stayed with the McHaffies, and has some of her botanical prints on the wall.


Julie pointed out the signature on Ina’s flower paintings, where she signed her name by placing a dot above the “I” in most of them. Some just used “C I D” – Clarice Ina Davie – and a few were not signed, indicating that perhaps they had not been finished. Some are painted with thick application of paint, others not, indicating that Ina was happy to experiment with her style.


Ina actually contributed many thousands of dollars to charity through donations for sale of her china paintings. One exhibition of hers held over 200 pieces. Bob said how his mother’s eye sight was failing as she got older, but she continued to paint and fired all her own work.


Vote of thanks:

Graeme gave the vote of thanks saying that Ina’s work was another interesting aspect to the history of the island and that Julie was very lucky to have such a lovely collection of Ina’s work. He thanked Anne and Bob for also bringing in samples of her work which they own.