Jacqui Henwood painting of Bellingen Shire for sale

'even the cows are smiling' by Jacqueline Henwood
'even the cows are smiling' by Jacqueline Henwood

A painting that divided Bellingen Shire councillors 14 years ago has come onto the market again.

Called 'even the cows are smiling', the triptych depicting our plateau, valley and seaboard areas was offered to council at a bargain price of $2500 by the artist in 2005, but a vote on the acquisition split 4-3 against.

Four of the councillors and Courier-Sun editor Greg McLagan then offered to chip in $200 each to buy it, but failed to raise the shortfall of $1500 from local businesses.

At the time, Jacqui Henwood's paintings commanded prices in the vicinity of $4000 to $6000, but councillors were wary of the investment and expressed concern that the purchase might set a "dangerous precedent" given the high number of noted artists in the shire.

Jacqui Henwood, who died in 2013, was moving to Sydney and wanted the painting to remain here.

The newspaper ran a front page story about council's decision that included a quote from Jacqui describing what she set out to achieve in the art work.

"In the two metre wide painting, I have tried to depict almost everything that makes this shire so special, including serious farming and agriculture, the heritage of its architecture, its cultural activities and social life and the fishing and boating at the river mouth, including the birdlife and a couple of rare short-necked Bellinger River turtles," she said.

"However, the third panel is a sad reminder of the demise of eight of the historic riverside cabins that were demolished in 2001 by the previous council."

Urunga residents Vernette McLean and her ex-husband purchased the painting for $4000 after reading the story in the paper.

They had arrived from Sydney in 2004 and bought a property across the river from the Atherton Drive boathouses.

"When I saw that painting in the paper, it was just ideal," Vernette said. "We'd come into a little windfall of money and I was looking for a painting that depicted the area. It was exactly what we wanted."

As well as the panel featuring boathouses and pelicans in Urunga, there is a panel with cows and potato fields in Dorrigo and one of the river and a cafe scene in Bellingen.

Vernette said the middle panel depicting Bellingen was painted from the perspective of someone enjoying a coffee at Lodge 241, which is now the Japanese restaurant Qudo.

"Jacqui and her partner ran Lodge 241, and in the painting you can see they're looking out the window from there and reading the Bellingen Courier-Sun."

Vernette McLean will be downsizing and moving out of Bellingen Shire at the end of June, and although she's very fond of 'even the cows are smiling', like Jacqui she believes it should stay behind.

"Perhaps the council may be interested in purchasing for their foyer, or even a local business person for their office," she said.

Vernette can be contacted on 0409 274 680 or by emailing verninurunga@yahoo.com.au