During WW2, Ethleen Palmer taught remedial art practice to returned soldiers. She then founded an art school, the Double Bay Studio, that ran from 1945-1951. Palmer's work was always evolving and she developed a technique in linocut printing which allowed for subtle tonal gradation, a breakthrough that certainly boosted the profile of her art.
painter and printmaker, was born on 1 August 1906 in Yeoville, Johannesburg – well beyond Australia’s shores, despite her adult delight in this country’s landscape and flora and fauna. She lived in South Africa, France and England before coming to Sydney in 1921 with her mother and sister. In 1924-27 she studied art at East Sydney Technical College under Rayner Hoff and Phyllis Shillito; she also took architectural drawing classes under Myles Dunphy at Sydney Technical College.
After an unsatisfying two years working as a commercial artist with the firm of Stott & Underwood, illness forced a long period of recuperation (1929-33) and Palmer began to experiment with relief printing techniques. The period coincided with an emerging interest in modernist design concepts in Sydney and – notably – with the production and exhibition of relief prints by a number of local women, including Margaret Preston , Thea Proctor and Dorrit Black . Palmer was particularly influenced by the work of the Austrian artist Norbertine von Bresslern-Roth, shown at Sydney’s Grosvenor Galleries in 1926-28. She would also have been well acquainted with the English artist Claude Flight’s influential Lino-cuts (London 1927) and the work of the Melbourne artists Eveline Syme and Ethel Spowers , former students of Flight.
Although exhibiting watercolour landscapes in 1929 (with the Society of Women Painters and the Australian Art Society) and pyrography in 1932 (Society of Arts and Crafts of NSW), it was not until 1933 that Palmer showed her first linocuts, at the Society of Arts and Crafts. Throughout the remainder of the ’30s she continued to experiment with various printing mediums, developing a complex linocut printing technique which allowed for the subtle gradation and overlay of colour. While the inspiration of Japanese prints is evident in this, and in her pictorial composition and choice of subject matter, Palmer always stressed her individual interpretation of Japanese art. Palmer exhibited widely throughout the 1930s, holding solo shows at the Margaret MacLean Gallery, Melbourne (1936), Bayly’s Gallery, Adelaide (1938), and Sydney’s Macquarie Galleries (1939). This marked the pinnacle of her artistic career, both in terms of recognition – by 1939 she was represented in all major state gallery collections – and in technical and aesthetic accomplishment.
During the war Palmer became involved in teaching remedial craftwork to repatriated soldiers, being in charge of 10 members of the Society of Arts & Crafts who visited Concord. She also founded a craft school, the Double Bay Studio (1945-51). This occasioned a complete break with linocut printing. In the late 1940s she concentrated on the production of screen-printed (serigraph) works – one of the first local artists to use the technique in a wholly artistic context. Exhibiting regularly with the Society of Arts and Crafts up to 1954, she produced a range of screen-printed fabrics, cards and domestic items which were sold through various outlets. After a short illness, Ethleen Palmer died on 8 April 1958.