Longford artist in brush with the past

Michael McWilliams with dogs Gus, Holly and Elizabeth . . . the artist is planning on restoring Longford's historic Jessen Lodge to its former glory.
Michael McWilliams with dogs Gus, Holly and Elizabeth . . . the artist is planning on restoring Longford's historic Jessen Lodge to its former glory.

ICONIC artist Michael McWilliams has bought a part of history in his hometown, Longford.

McWilliams and partner Robert Henley purchased one of the town's best known Georgian buildings, the former Jessen Lodge, in mid-December and have plans to restore it to its former grandeur.

McWilliams said Jessen Lodge was integral to Longford.

``I lived only a couple of blocks away when I was growing up,'' he said.

``It was just always there. I used to catch the bus to school every morning outside Jessen Lodge.''

McWilliams said he planned to remove the additions made to the house over the past 50 years and move his Longford Antiques store to the lodge after restoration.

The last thing many Tasmanians and visitors see when they're leaving the state is one of McWilliams's landmark paintings.

His Bandicoot on a Log hangs above the departure lounge at Launceston Airport.

The painting won him $35,000 for the inaugural Glover Art Prize, but it also says a lot about the artist.

It captures his love of the Tasmanian bush and his feel for the light and colours that are unique to the island.

The 2004 winner, McWilliams's popularity among art buyers on the mainland grows with every new work, but he remains as embedded in his native area as the animals he paints.

His Sydney and Melbourne exhibitions are frequently sold out and his works have fetched five-figure sums.

Despite his nationwide acceptance he has never strayed more than a few kilometres from where he was born in the late 1950s.

Longford is part of McWilliams's inspiration when he paints.

``I do love it, I grew up there. It's the heart of the central Midlands,'' McWilliams said.

``Because of its age, that area's quite a beautiful spot in Longford, and also the junction of the two rivers makes it a nice place to grow up as a kid.''

With animals a key feature of McWilliams's art, his passion for dogs is evident in his artwork as well as his home.

The proud owner of a number of pugs, McWilliams features them in many of his paintings.

The artist is starting work on a number of paintings for exhibition, as well as his entry for this year's John Glover Art prize.