The Overwintering Project at Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery


A beautiful example of art that reminds us of our place within a larger nature, Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery’s recent environmental exhibition The Overwintering Project highlighted the unique migratory shorebird habitats found around Australia. The national project was initiated by printmaker Kate Gorringe-Smith and comprised an exhibition of over 250 prints by printmakers from across Australia as a personal response to coastal environments and the sites that migratory shorebirds depend on in order to survive.

Presented from 6 December 2019 – 8 February 2020 the exhibition incorporated strong local content and programs developed by the gallery and local community highlighting the renowned bird habitats of the Coffs Coast. The Wall of Wings participatory art project was especially popular, involving 56 local artists and art groups, including workshops with Coffs Harbour, Sawtell, Big Fig Arts, Coffs Coast Printmakers and Gumma IPA.

Supported by M&G NSW’s Audience Development Fund the gallery also undertook a targeted school project with Year 9 & 10 students from Woolgoolga & Toormina High Schools to learn about shorebirds and create linocuts to exhibit as part of the exhibition.

In collaboration with teachers, National Parks & Wildlife education staff (including Gumbaynggirr elder Uncle Mark Flanders), artists and BirdLife volunteers (BirdLife is the nation’s largest bird conservation organisation) students undertook field days and learnt all about local and international migratory shorebirds. These outings were a highlight for the students, with interdisciplinary, inter-cultural and inter-generational benefits.

Back in the classroom students explored this new knowledge using printmaking techniques guided by local artists Sara Bowen, JP Willis and Jo Elliott. The resulting linocuts were then taken to a ‘Printmaking Theatre Day’ to be printed with a road roller, resulting in beautiful works that were exhibited alongside the larger exhibition. The Printmaking Theatre Day attracted much attention in both social and local media. “Most of all it was fun” says Gallery & Museum Curator Jo Besley “and the prints are beautiful! Each student received a print of their linocut on high quality paper, the schools each received a collective print of all the students’ linocuts on a fabric banner that can be displayed at school and the gallery has a collective print from each school accessioned into the gallery collection.”

The program, although challenging at times to coordinate with permission slips and timing with school activities etc, was a great success. As one teacher explained “the project gave public schools an opportunity to be a part of something greater” and another commented that “having professional artists in the classroom was of great benefit to the students and helped them refine their technique, giving students a better print outcome”. The artists involved loved it too: “A great collaborative effort, loved every minute!”

This program has developed and strengthened relationships between the gallery and the schools by engaging students in a meaningful but also really fun and different way. Of the 87 students who took part in this project, none had ever visited the regional gallery independently of a school visit (and only about 25 had done that) highlighting the need for this targeted program.

The Overwintering Project is continuing its life locally in Coffs Harbour, its themes have inspired a number of other community events planned throughout 2020. It also lives on through the development of a special ‘Overwintering in a Box’ available for loan by primary schools, containing learning resources and art activities based on this beautiful exhibition and extending the knowledge of native shorebirds to children throughout the community.

Read more about The Overwintering Project