RIGG, Rebecca c.1871 – 1958

Rebecca (Rebe) Rigg came to Australia from England, possibly via America, during the First World War, around 1916-17.  She is understood to have travelled throughout Japan and the East, and spent several years in the US where she designed windows for the Packer Institute (a Brooklyn Heights, New York girls’ college), figure medallions for a large jewel window in a church at Rochester (New York) and gained experience in opus sectile mosaic technique.[1]  She studied art at the School of Art, Manchester, England, and was one of the members of Newcastle Handicrafts Company: Miss Rigg exhibited ‘one or two items’ with them at the annual Artists of the North Countries exhibition at the Laing Gallery, Newcastle in 1912.[2]

She accompanied her brother Gilbert (d. 1944) to Australia and they lived in the Armadale/Malvern district before taking up residence in Finch Street, East Malvern in 1924 where their mother, Jane Charlotte Rigg joined them; she died in 1926.[3]  The pair continued to travel in the 1930s, visiting South Africa at least twice, in 1937 and 1938.[4]  Gilbert Rigg, a well-respected mining engineer and metallurgist, died in 1944, but the house remained as Rebe’s home and studio for another 14 years.[5]  In her will, Rebe bequeathed funds to establish a scholarship in her brother’s name at the University of Melbourne, to encourage post-graduate study in Mining and Metallurgy. The Gilbert Rigg Scholarship is still offered today.

The first known example of her Australian work was for St. John’s Anglican Church, East Malvern, a window designed as a memorial to Elizabeth Montgomery of Sale (Vic.) but made by Brooks, Robinson & Co in 1917.[6]  Although she worked for them as an artist, she was less than satisfied with the interpretation of her designs into glass.[7]  Henceforth she worked in the Arts & Crafts tradition, maintaining personal control over all aspects of the process from preliminary design to completion.

Fig. 1: Rebecca Rigg, fabricated by Brooks, Robinson & Co., Elizabeth Montgomery memorial window, (detail) 1917.  Photograph: Bronwyn Hughes

Fig. 2: Rebecca Rigg, The Angel of Mons, (detail) 1922, exhibited 1948.  Image: Age, 29 May 1948

Her studio was described in the Melbourne Herald as ‘full of interest’: its walls hung with cartoons, a long glass easel set in front of a window and a table littered with boxes of coloured glass pieces, brushes, palettes, etching tools and pigments.[8]  Starting with a scale drawing of the design, Rigg made a carefully measured full-sized cartoon, from which she was able to trace off the lead matrix pattern, and another tracing of all the glass pieces, each appropriately identified for the glass cutter to follow.[9]  Cutting the glass was the only process Rigg out-sourced, probably to a Brooks, Robinson & Co. employee.[10]

The cut glass pieces were waxed onto the glass easel as dictated by the cartoon, and Rigg painted the coloured sections, using sepia-coloured glass paint to delineate facial features, folds in garments and detailed effects of light and shade.  The results reflect a bold, free style of glass-painting that gave her figures strength and character.  Examples of her work can be seen in the Chapel of St. Peter, Melbourne Grammar School; All Soul’s Anglican Church, Sandringham and the Presbyterian Church, South Yarra.  A two-light window, The Saviour Preaching and Sister Anna and the Virgin, a memorial to Sister Esther, founder of the Mission to Streets and Lanes in Spring Street is believed lost.  A war commemorative window, The Angel of Mons, was awarded the Silver medal at the Adelaide Exhibition in 1922. [11]    A three-light window, Aquila and Priscilla was designed for St. John’s Anglican Church, Camberwell, and the only other occasion where Brooks, Robinson & Co. fabricated the very large window; sadly, it was lost when the church was destroyed by fire in 1955.

Rigg002       Rigg001

Fig. 2a and 2b: Rebecca Rigg, Thomas James Finlay memorial window, [Joshua 24:15], Presbyterian Church, South Yarra (Vic).   The detail (lower left) shows the freshness of Rigg’s glass-painting technique.

Rigg was a member and supporter of the Arts & Crafts Society of Victoria (est. 1908) throughout her life.  The organisation promoted the use of Australian motifs and materials and the rehabilitation of returned soldiers through art and craft skills.   Rigg exhibited with the society from 1917, when she showed a design suitable for a war memorial,[12] and contributed other designs to the society’s annual exhibition at Federal Government House, Melbourne that opened on Armistice Day, 1919.[13]  She was represented at the Arts and Crafts Society’s Centenary of Victoria Exhibition in 1934, and convened the special section on stained glass at the 1935 exhibition.[14]  As well as exhibiting with the society, she presented lectures on her knowledge of Asian culture; ‘Art in Java Bali and Bangkok’ at a monthly meeting in 1930 and ‘The Arts and Crafts in Kandy and Madras’ at the 1933 annual meeting.  The society became a limited company in 1931, with Rebe Rigg listed among the subscribers to the new entity.[15]

Sandringham All Souls Rigg

Fig. 3: Rebecca Rigg, St. John, All Souls’ Anglican Church, Sandringham (Vic).  Photograph: Bronwyn Hughes

In 1948 she held a solo show, with stained glass alongside many of her designs for the medium.  Believed to be the first of its kind in Melbourne, it was opened by sculptor Orlando Dutton in the Independent Church Hall, Collins Street.[16]  As well as designs for the commissions at the Mission to Streets & Lanes and Melbourne Grammar, Rigg’s interests in Australian history, literature and world cultures were given greater expression in autonomous panels, Tasman Unfurling the Dutch flag on Van Diemen’s Land and Salutation of the Dawn.  The text on Salutation was taken from the Sanskrit, ‘Yesterday is already a dream tomorrow is only a dream but today well lived makes yesterday a dream of happiness, of tomorrow a vision of hope’. The whereabouts of these panels are unknown.

Rigg Salutation of Dawn nd exh 1948

Fig. 4: Rebecca Rigg, Salutation of Dawn, n.d., exhibited 1948.     Image: Weekly Times, 18 August 1948.

Rebecca Rigg died at her home in East Malvern on 14 May 1958, aged 87.  In the 1980s there were still people in Finch Street who remembered her as an eccentric woman, who wore Edwardian dress throughout her life.  She had friends around the area, such as Grace, Bernard Hall’s wife in Bates Street, where she and Gilbert sometimes dined, and Rebe Rigg and Grace Hall played bridge at Mrs. (Penleigh) Boyd’s home, with Miss Bromley making up the second pair.[17] On 18 August 1931, the four bridge players went in Miss Rigg’s motor ‘to see Mrs. Waller’s windows’.[18]  She must have been in close touch with Susan Boyd for many years, as she opened an exhibition of watercolour sketches at the Boyd home in Tally-Ho, in May 1952.[19]

Fig. 5 a and 5b: Rebecca Rigg, David and Jonathan, St. peter’s Chapel, Melbourne Boys’ Grammar School, South Yarra, (Vic).              Photographs: Bronwyn Hughes

 

[1] Argus, 25 August 1922, p.10.

[2] Tony Peart, ‘The Lost Art-Workers of Tyneside – Richard George Hatton and the (Newcastle) Handicrafts Company, No. 17, The Enduring Tradition: Craft in the Inter-War Years, The Journal of the Decorative Arts Society 1850-the Present, Decorative Arts Society, 1993, pp. 13-22.

[3] In 1924 Gilbert Rigg was chief consulting metallurgist for the Associated Smelters and Electrolytic Zinc Company.  Barrier Miner, 23 February 1924, p. 8.

[4] Gilbert and Rebecca left Fremantle on RMS ‘Markunda’, 16 August 1932; shipping lists record their return from Capetown to Fremantle again, on SS ‘Nestor’, 5 September 1937 and SS ‘Iscanius’, 20 October 1938.  Information generously supplied by Ray Brown via email 15 April 2017.

[5] Argus, Monday 4 September 1944, p. 10.  House numbers changed in Finch Street as the suburb developed; the Rigg house was on the corner of Manning Street.

[6] Gippsland Mercury, 21 December 1917, p. 3.

[7] Argus, 25 August 1922, p.10.

[8] Herald, 30 July 1952, p. 13.

[9] Herald, 30 July 1952, p. 13.

[10] For some years, Christian and M Napier Waller’s glass was cut to their specifications by Samuel Williams, an employee at Brooks, Robinson & Co.

[11] Argus, 25 August 1922, p.10.

[12] Leader, 22 September 1917, p. 49.

[13] Catalogue of exhibition, William Montgomery Collection, MS 15414, Box 8/5, State Library of Victoria.

[14] Age, 19 September 1934, p. 1; Age, 8 October 1935, p. 6.

[15] Daily Commercial News & Shipping List, 16 May 1931, p. 4.

[16] Argus, 27 May 1948, p. 4; Daily News (Perth), 29 May 1948, p. 15.

[17] Grace Hall Diaries, 1931-1935.

[18] Grace Hall Diaries, 1931-1935.

[19] Argus, 24 May 1952, p. 8.

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