Painter, art teacher, occasional china painter, craft worker and co-owner with her mother Mary of the “Arts and Crafts” depot Studio of Arts and Crafts in 623 Hay Street, Perth above Book Lover’s Library “A centre for Buyers and Sellers”. She was born in Tasmania. Southern came to Western Australia in 1908 with her father, the science master at Guildford Grammar School and his English wife Mary.

Southern studied at Midland Technical School in 1910 under Flora Landells. She exhibited an embroidered portiere with the West Australian Society of Arts in 1911. In 1912 Southern exhibited again with the West Australian Society of Arts. The unidentified reviewer wrote, “A promising young student is Miss Southern, who in a still-life study shows that already she has a good eye for correct drawing and colour blending.” Southern later studied with Elioth Gruner at Julian Ashton Art School Sydney where she met Portia Bennett.

She taught art and design at Fremantle Technical School from about 1919 to about 1934 and at Guildford Grammar and St Mary’s in the 1920s. She painted wildflowers, easel paintings, china, drew posters and bookplates and engaged in leatherwork and Barbola work. Leather comb cases were painted with Sturt peas and leschenaultia. In 1920 the reviewer wrote “Miss Muriel Southern shows high artistic promise.” She had submitted oil paintings of Crawley, St George’s Terrace and paddlers and three watercolours.

Southern’s 1927 paintings exhibited with the Society of Arts were described as “attractive pictures, harmoniously coloured and broadly treated.” She was the Honorary Secretary of the West Australian Society of Arts in 1927-28. The shop was closed in 1930 and Southern advertised classes from her studio in Matheson Road, Applecross. In1933-34 she shared a studio in Irwin Street (part of the old university buildings) with F.V. Hall and Portia Bennett and in 1935 with Hall in the Western Australian Chambers. In 1935-36 the studio was at 104 St George’s Terrace in the same building as the Perth Arts and Crafts. According to art historian Helen Shervington, Southern and her friends:

associated craft with art. As well as easel painting, they worked on posters, bookplates, china, leather, and kitchen tiles: objects relevant to their domestic environment. Muriel Southern’s easel work was dominated by still-lifes depicting these handcrafted objects. ... in her soft impressionist style … Although constantly praised for her handling of paint and modelling of form, critics trivialised her work through constant reference to its limited subject matter.

In 1933 Southern exhibited four watercolours and two oil paintings with the West Australian Society of Arts. All were of domestic subjects such as A Sunny Corner. In 1934 she showed with the Perth Society of Artists. The critic Charles Lemon wrote of her exhibits, “Muriel Southern deserves praise for a watercolor study of Daffodils, and her astute handling of the Town Hall Perth.” In 1935 Muriel Southern organised the Perth Arts and Crafts Exhibition after which the West Australian Women Painters and Applied Arts Society was formed. It is presumed that the former had some connection with promoting interior design opportunities for women and the latter was a statement of support and solidarity to women artists. A stated aim was also “to demonstrate how materials available in Western Australia can be adapted to arts and crafts.”

In 1937 Southern exhibited tooled leatherwork as well as paintings in the Exhibition of Western Australian Painting from 1826-1937. Around 1938 Southern went to Adelaide to live and marry G. Meikle. She continued to exhibit in Perth. Charles Hamilton wrote of her exhibit in the Perth Society of Artists’ 1939 exhibition: “Muriel Southern shows a view of St Peter’s spires, done in her quiet style, and a nice little flower piece, which I think is one of the best she has done.”

Dr Dorothy Erickson
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