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April 19, 2021

Friends in need for art teacher Ian

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The original drawing for Bronte.

Eve Jeffery

Retired art teacher Ian Roberts became a friend in need for a young woman dealing with a childhood trauma and now he needs us to return the favour.

The young woman, Bronte, was just 21 and in the last month of her life when she approached Ian Roberts, a retired art teacher from Alstonville High School to do a special drawing for her.

Bronte’s mum Debra taught with Ian at Alstonville High. ‘Following a suicide attempt by Bronte a month before, we were looking on Facebook to pass the time in hospital,’ says Debra. ‘We came across one of Ian’s drawings. Bronte was an MC Escher fan and Ian’s style is similar.

Bronte asked her mum to take her to meet Ian with a view to commissioning him to draw all her happiest childhood memories. ‘We visited Ian as soon as she got out of hospital and she provided him with some objects and photos and spent a few hours talking to him.’

Debra says Ian set about working on the drawing. Ian knew Bronte was in a hard place and felt he wanted to help out. ‘It was a no brainer,’ says Ian. ‘I felt compelled to do it. I knew how unwell she had been and it was to be a present for Christmas for her parents, Deb and Phil, from Bronte to show them her happy times before the sadness.’

On December 13, 2017, Ian messaged her with a photo of the almost finished work. Bronte replied, ‘It is beautiful. My happiest childhood memories. ’

Debra says that Bronte ended her life soon after that. ‘I believe she wanted us to have a tangible memory to treasure. Bronte was a thoughtful caring young woman who loved her family dearly, so it’s no surprise that she decided on this as an act of love.’

Last year Ian approached Debra with the idea of creating a colour painting of Bronte’s original idea to be entered in the Hurford Art Prize in Lismore. ‘It made the finals and was on display for the duration of the exhibition in the Lismore Regional Gallery,’ says Debra. ‘It was called Beyond Bronte’s Blue.’

Cancer diagnoses

Sadly, Ian has recently been diagnosed with cancer. He underwent chemo with a view to shrinking the cancer to operate. It was discovered that the cancer had metastasized to Ian’s aorta. ‘The surgeons simply said there was nothing else they could do, except chemo to give him longer,’ said Debra.

‘Both Phil and I have an emotional connection to Ian,’ says Debra. ‘Given that Bronte choose him to portray her happiest memories before taking her life, we asked what was a dream he had. Ian said he wanted an art exhibition of his work before he passes.’

Debra says she and Phil have organised a show for Ian with the assistance of friends and previous colleagues from Alstonville High.

The exhibition will be held at Bingara private gallery. Owner Angela Parr has generously offered to remove her artwork to enable Ian to have his exhibition.

Ian will be donating 30% from all sales to Canteen, as he had been an art teacher for most of his life and wanted young people facing what he is facing to benefit from the exhibition.

‘We have to do something to help young people who are suffering like I have for the last six months,’ said Ian. ‘They need all the help they can get.’

The exhibition will include works from throughout Ian’s life. ‘MC Escher has been a great influence in his artwork and our Bronte was an Escher enthusiast,’ says Debra.

Ian will be present at the exhibition and will be doing some wildlife drawings through the week at the gallery which will be donated to Northern Rivers Wildlife Carers, of whom Bronte was one.

There will also be an auction on the opening night with all proceeds going to Canteen and a lucky door prize of an artwork to be drawn on August 25.

The exhibition will run for one week from this Saturday August 17 to Sunday August 25, from 10am to 5 pm daily at the Bingara Gallery (next to the Macadamia Castle).

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  1. I’m so looking forward to seeing your work. No Mona Lisa with a duck’s beak I guess. Yes I remember. Sorry just had to throw that in. I hope your exhibition is everything you wish it to be.

  2. Ian, meeting You, has had such a special impact on my life! I am looking forward to the exhibition, and Love You and Your work….always will.

  3. This is not only a story, this is Ian’s life how he lives it! He is doing wonderful drawings because he is a wonderful and amazing person! We are so thankful being allowed having Ian as our friend!
    Wishing him best of luck for this exhibition and of course for fighting against the cancer!!!

  4. What a wonderful article. It has captured the caring giving person so well. And he keeps on giving and caring. You have inspired so many Robbo. You are a legend!

  5. I heard this story on the abc and wish you and your supporters a grand opening and exhibition . Wish I could be there to view your works myself but live in drought stricken nsw. Good to see people doing good things for others as we walk through life. Good luck Natalie

  6. Definitely go and check this exhibition out.
    Ian’s a lovely and gentle guy too.

    The gallery is a little treasure, on the northern boundary of Macadamia Castle.

  7. Alstonville High School was very lucky to have such a patient, intelligent and talented teacher. Even following his retirement, it was not uncommon to see Mr Roberts wandering the halls in his animal face t-shirts. Thinking of you Ian, and planning on coming to see your exhibition this week.

  8. I’m looking forward to seeing your exhibition. I’m particularly interested in your earlier autobiographical works, for example:
    ‘Betrayal, ‘Broken Child’, ‘Mother’s Anguish, ‘Family Of Secrets’


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