Guest post: Dunja Rmandić, Former Curator of Collections, Devonport Regional Gallery.
A few years ago when I came to Devonport for my second interview for the position of Curator of Collections, I was greeted at the airport by a small curly haired woman, Ellie Ray, driving a huge white van. The contrast was stark but I quickly came to realise that Ellie’s task at the Gallery was, like the van, huge. She needed a Curator to help her relocate the whole collection to a brand new facility. Ellie had lobbied for this new facility and ran the whole process steadily and diligently for a number of years, because she knew that the Devonport collection was a special one, and it needed to stay that way. When I saw the facility I knew Devonport Regional Gallery was going to be the envy of Tasmanian and other regional galleries. And so it was.
Ellie went part time to get a curator dedicated to this relocation project. I think she was the only part time director in Australia, and was still doing her job in the same exceptional way as before. She knew how important it was to do the relocation with a dedicated focus and it is because of her foresight and determination that Devonport’s collection is in the best possible facility for us and for future generations.
Ellie didn’t stop there and in amongst securing excellent exhibitions from the mainland and generating exceptional ones herself (Felt Presence was both stunning and important, as were many others), she kept thinking about the longer-term future for the Gallery. And she did that on her first day at work when she pulled down the hessian walls all those years ago!
I have worked in quite a few places but Ellie is the best Director I have worked under. Her genuine dedication to the local community, above and beyond all else, above and beyond ego, made our jobs easier, better focused and deeply meaningful. You knew why you were coming to work every morning but most of all you knew that everything you do, be that installing exhibitions, putting on a Friends’ lunch or printing invitations, must be done with the utmost professionalism and highest of standards. When you did turn up to work, you would hear Ellie signing in the kitchen or in her office or while changing the lights on the giant ladder. This is what I love the most, this combination of professionalism and warmth with Ellie, and though she may occasionally lose a piece of jewelry or leave her phone at home, don’t let that fool you, she’s sharp, energetic and determined; know that the Gallery is losing one of the best arts professionals in Tasmania.
In my mind Ellie had long ago joined the Devonport greats Jean and Daniel Thomas; her knowledge and deep engagement with ideas and art are infectious and her deep love for the collection and Tasmanian art are inspirational, the testament to that are the annual Robinson Collection shows. How great have they been?
I am sorry I can’t be there to celebrate this moment with you Ellie, but I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing you all the best to you for the next chapter of your creative endeavour, and from the bottom of my heart thank you for the best two years of my professional life.