David Helfgott Portrait Unveiling at the BMH Donated by Cherry Hood

Published on 02 May 2024

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The Bellingen Memorial Hall has proudly unveiled a magnificent portrait of David Helfgott, graciously donated by renowned Australian artist Cherry Hood. The wall length feature was crafted in 2009 and now finds its rightful place within the Hall's walls as a symbol of both artistic brilliance and creative community inspiration.

Cherry Hood, a Sydney-born artist, is best-known for winning the Archibald Prize in 2002. The portrait of David Helfgott from 2009 was her fourth entry to the Archibald Prize. The artwork is embedded with emotion and realism, drawing inspiration from her personal connection to David Helfgott, a tribute to his warm nature, extensive career and his musical genius.

The unveiling ceremony on Thursday 2 May at Bellingen Memorial Hall, was graced by esteemed guests including David Helfgott and Ann Phelan – Artistic Director & Co-Founder Bellingen Youth Orchestra. Mayor Cr Steve Allan eloquently recounted the journey of the artwork to its new home, describing it as "a lovely vignette of life in a small town with a close and connected community."

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It all began with Camp Creative, a Bellingen institution that for many years benefited from the involvement of the late Gillian Helfgott, David’s beloved wife. Gillian was a Tour de Force of determination and drive in her commitment to the ongoing success of Camp Creative.

Marion Hughes, a Camp Creative tutor who teaches painting with watercolours, is a friend of the artist Cherry Hood and was aware of her intention to find permanent homes for her paintings including this portrait of David Helfgott.

Upon learning about Cherry’s intentions, the Camp Creative committee met to discuss suitable sites for the portrait and subsequently contacted Council with their suggestion of displaying the painting at the newly refurbished Memorial Hall. Mayor Cr Steve Allan remarked “Given the association the Bellingen Youth Orchestra have with David and the Memorial Hall, our Councillors had no hesitation accepting the gracious donation of the portrait, and with David’s blessings, having it on display in our beloved community Hall.”

Mayor Cr Steve Allan lauded Cherry Hood's remarkable generosity and the enduring legacy of David Helfgott, emphasising the portrait's significance as a source of inspiration for generations to come: “David has on numerous occasions shared his moving and lingering musical gift with us as the audience here at the Hall, but also with the members of the Bellingen Youth Orchestra. For them it is a gift of encouragement, inspiration, and incredible performance experience.”

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Following the unveiling, attendees were invited to partake in a screening of "The Musical Mind: A Portrait in Process" as part of the inaugural Bellingen Film Lovers Festival, with the movie offering a compelling exploration of the creative process behind musical luminaries such as David Helfgott, Ben Folds, Daniel Johns and Simon Tedeschi.

Mayor Steve Allan added, “the portrait’s forever home creates a new note in counterpoint to the Van der Kolk sculpture just across the road in Maam Gaduying. Together they celebrate the inspirational life of David Helfgott and will serve as a source of inspiration for all artistic endeavours in our community.

“On behalf of the Bellingen Shire Council and the community of Bellingen, I would like to thank Cherry Hood for her amazingly generous donation of this painting and to thank David for his blessings in having it displayed here.”