Valerie Virginia (Baxter) McDonald was born in Rangoon in Burma in 1933 and with her brother and parents fled the Christmas 1941 bombing by the Japanese, eventually trekking through the jungle, accompanied by elephants and other evacuees, to safety in India. In 1947 they emigrated to Australia, eventually settling in Perth.
Valerie, along with her brother Cedric, attended Perth Tech where she studied art and then went on to work at the Red Cross teaching craft to rehabilitation patients.
As a state level Badminton player she toured many country towns and that is how she met and fell in love with a farmer who was to subsequently become an engineer and craftsman. They married and she left the city behind for a life in the Wheat belt. A decade later with four children in tow they moved back to Perth, settling in Gooseberry Hill where she lived until just prior to her death in 2016.
Valerie maintained her art practice throughout her life with many changes of themes and mediums. She had a strong sense of colour and form and her bold landscapes and naïve figures are recognisable through all her pastels, her textile works, her drawing and paintings.
Over her working life she exhibited in many of the important galleries of Western Australia including Skinner Galleries, Perth Galleries, New Collectables, Gunyulgup, Gomboc Gallery and the Mundaring Art Centre. She was a strong supporter of the ZigZag Art Gallery in Kalamunda and was a founding member of the Kalamunda Open studio group.
She won many awards over the years from 1950’s through to 2010’s including major regional prizes such as Albany Art Awards, Kalgoorlie Art Awards, Katanning Art Awards and many others as well as showing in many local shire and school exhibitions including winning the Bassendean Art Prize in 2008.
At the height of her career, from the late 70’s to the early 2000’s she moved through pastels to textile works and then oil painting on carved wood. She received many commissions to produce public art pieces for various St John of God buildings, schools, corporate, council and shire offices and churches, drawing often for her inspiration on her strong catholic faith as well as her love of the Australian landscape and abiding interest in the human form.
All of Valerie’s four children have become artists, diversifying through fine art; photography, painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpture into the performing arts of music, theatre, comedy, as well as writing and poetry. While it is not true to say she taught us everything we know – she probably knew more than we could ever learn from her and in our branching out we have mastered techniques and explored ideas which she may never have touched on, but it was her example which led us and her creativity which nurtured us and she was incredibly proud of all of us.
About 8 years ago Valerie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and one of the first signs was a decline in her fine art skills. Since that time I have been interested in gathering her work together to look back at a life of a dedicated artist, but caring for her during the last years made it difficult to find the time or the energy to put together a retrospective exhibition. Sadly Valerie died in July 2016 but the subsequent freeing up of my time and the clearing out of the family home has provided the ideal time and reason to gather together a lifetime’s worth of art. To honour her life and work and creativity in an exhibition of her work, in her favourite part of the world, surrounded by her family and friends, seems a fitting tribute to this amazing woman.