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Sam back where he belongs

Friday, 23rd June, 2017

Mayor Darriea Turley with Gallery and Museum Manager, Tara Callaghan, with the  Sam Byrne painting that popped in the post from Europe. Mayor Darriea Turley with Gallery and Museum Manager, Tara Callaghan, with the Sam Byrne painting that popped in the post from Europe.

By Emily Roberts

You never know what you’re going to get in the post and that was the case for Mayor Darriea Turley and City Council.

A piece of Broken Hill’s history was returned home thanks to a surprise donation of a Sam Byrne painting from Carla Shir-Beck in the Czech Republic.

Ms Shir-Beck, who lives in Ostrava, sent “Mining By Electric Light” to Council in a post bag. 

Byrne had no formal art training but his works are worth a small fortune. 

For 51 years he worked in the mines, as an underground labourer and surface engine driver, until he retired in 1949 and took up painting.

Gallery and Museum Manager, Tara Callaghan said the painting needed quite a bit of conservation work but “that’s what makes it interesting”.

“Sam Byrne made his own frames from recycled pieces of timber. This artwork looks like it has lead-ore sprinkled into it.”

Mayor Turley said it was a surprise to receive the valuable work in the mail.

“It has travelled across the world and made its way back home,” she said.

“It just goes to show, you don’t know what will come in the post.

In a letter to the mayor, Ms Shir-Beck explained that she had bought the painting more than 40 years ago and now wished to see it returned to the Silver City.

“I bought this precious art work in 1974/1975 in Sydney, and later when I moved from place to place, it travelled with me worldwide,” she said.

“As I am getting on with age and have no direct descendants and am now residing in far-away place in Europe... I don’t want it to vanish.

“It belongs to Broken Hill, to Australia. It will give me a great pleasure and satisfaction to know that Sam Byrne has returned home.”

Mayor Turley said she was delighted with the prospect of adding another Sam Byrne piece to the city’s collection, and thanked Ms Shir-Beck for her generosity.

“It’s an incredibly generous and selfless gesture by Ms Shir-Beck. We estimate this artwork would be worth in excess of $5,000,” she said. “It captures the changes in mining, it is an incredible piece.

“Sam’s works tell of Broken Hill’s mining history and this one shows the transition of the industry during the 70s.

“But I believe the work’s relevance to Broken Hill and the story behind it is of greater value than any monetary figure.

“To have a painting created by Sam Byrne taken across Europe as a prized possession, only to finally return to Broken Hill again - it’s a great journey and really highlights the international reach of our local artists.

“On behalf of Council and the people of Broken Hill, I wish to thank Ms Shir-Beck for her donation.”

The work is thought to have been painted around 1970.

The Regional Art Gallery and Council will now look to host a retrospective exhibition of Sam Byrne’s works. There are four held in the local collection.

Sam was partly guided by May Harding, an art teacher at Broken Hill Technical College, in the 1950s. 

He won prizes at local art shows and was encouraged by the Melbourne painter Leonard French who introduced him to a number of gallery owners. 

Some of his best-known works include ‘The Silver City’ (1960),’Tar and Feathering, 1892 Strike’ (1964), ‘Turks Fire on Picnic Train, Jan 1st 1915’ (1964) and ‘Waltzing Matilda’ (1962).

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