Lorna Merle Chick was born 18 August 1922 in Wangandary, a small farming community in north-eastern Victoria lying between the Warby Ranges and the rural city of Wangaratta, a few kilometres to the east. Chick grew up on the family farm, often riding her horse through the Warby Ranges, a 400m high granitic outlier of the Great Dividing Range rich in bird and plant life (Fawcett 1986). The Warby Ranges entered the public imagination when the Kelly Gang passed through them soon after the infamous Stringy Bark Creek police murders in 1878. Chick knew gang member Steve Hart’s brother Dick as a child, as her grandmother’s property adjoined the Hart’s property (Ford 1986). The subject matter of most of Chick’s work was inspired and informed by local bushranger legend and the small agricultural landholdings containing orchards, crops and stock around Wangaratta, which is situated on a river plain surrounded by the peaks of the Great Dividing Range and the Warby Ranges.
Chick’s painting career began by chance around 1960 after she attended Dookie Agricultural College to pursue subjects for farmer’s wives such as book keeping and jam making. This endeavour was the result of her having to assume more responsibility for the everyday running of the farm, following her husband Bert’s serious and incapacitating tractor accident (Unknown 1986). The college also offered an art appreciation course, which, after she attended, led her sons Marcus and Louis to express an interest in taking up art. The only place locally that ran an art class was Wangaratta Technical School. Chick later recounted that as she sat in the car while her children were being taught, the art teacher, Jock Thomlinson, came up to her and told her to come inside and see what she could do, an idea she hadn’t considered (Adams 1978). Thomlinson did little more than show Chick how to mix and apply paint to canvas, later writing of her unique perception and intuitive understanding of her compositions that were underpinned by a strong determination and interest in technique (Thomlinson 1985).
While early in her painting career Chick painted the occasional seascape including Lakes Entrance (1964), the majority of her oeuvre depicted the agricultural lands of North-East Victoria in which she lived all her life. Often noted for their panoramic, aerial views, Chick’s landscape paintings revelled in the native wildflowers and birdlife of the surrounding hills and mountains, epitomised by Where Eagles Nest (1969), in the Wangaratta Art Gallery collection and Power’s Lookout (1975), a painting whose title is in keeping with her interest in local bushranger lore (Banfield 1979, Karovich 1985). Chick also delighted in the minutiae of floral displays such as Wildflowers of the Warby Ranges (1969) and Roses (1977). Water divining, an activity she learnt while accompanying her husband, led to her travelling around the district, suggesting landscapes to paint (Kaptein 2004). Chick was also taken to composing piano music to accompany many of her paintings (Adams 1978).
During the 1960s and 1970s painting was secondary to farm and family life as Chick raised her sons and managed their 40ha property. As a consequence, painting was only done at night after her daily chores were completed (Hart 2004). In the 1980s, when her sons had grown up and her father, whom she had also cared for, had died, she was able to devote more of her time to painting. She was assisted in this by several Visual Arts Board grants in the early 1980s. She would retire to her small galvanised shed near her farmhouse that she used for an art studio at 8:30 in the morning and finish at 5:30pm (Unknown 1986). Despite this work ethic, Chick’s output was slow. On average it would take three months to complete a work and her largest painting, Power’s Lookout, at over 3m in width, took up to eighteen months to complete. This work was acquired by the National Gallery of Australia in 1976 (Unknown July 1976, Unknown 1986). She would also rework the same painting over many years (Unknown 1986). By the mid 1980s Chick estimated that she had completed around forty paintings, while near the end of her life two decades later, she had completed about one hundred (Ford 1986, Author Pers. comm. 2006)
Throughout her career Chick was wary and suspicious of the motives of those involved in the art world (Fawcett 1986). She once claimed that an art dealer stole a painting and that she received phone calls from people demanding that she supply them with work otherwise they would duplicate her style and put her out of business (Unknown 1986). She shunned what she called the art worlds “cocktail party trappings”. Curators also incurred her wrath. She described one as a careerist who did not ask her permission to display works in an upcoming exhibition (Author Pers. comm. 2006). However, she formed a friendship with then Ballarat Art Gallery director Jim Mollison in the late 1960s which ultimately led to the acquisition of several of her paintings for the national collection soon after he become director of the new National Gallery in Canberra in October 1971 (Unknown March 1972, Unknown July 1976, Unknown December 1976). Visitors to her farmhouse were often greeted with refreshments and invariably invited to lunch (Fawcett 1986).
Besides Mollison’s interest in Chick, her paintings were eagerly sought by collectors. Despite favouring traditional style paintings, the Benalla based business man Laurie Ledger commissioned Chick to paint his family property. This resulted in the work Woolleen from a Helicopter (1975), one of five of her paintings he donated to the Benalla Art Gallery (Unknown December 1976). The aptly named Dr W.H. Orchard was a private collector of naive art in the 1960s and 1970s that actively sought her works and lent them to early, significant group exhibitions of Australian naive art; 'The Innocent Eye’ (Benalla Art Gallery 1975-76) and 'Wonderland- Some Naifs’ (Albury Regional Art Centre and touring 1983-4). With the purchase of four works for Canberra’s new Parliament House from her Glenrowan and Kelly Legend Country series in 1986, Chick’s paintings began to attract greater attention. Due mainly to her small output, her paintings rarely come up for auction (McPhee 2005).
Lorna Chick passed away in April 2007 and was buried in Wangaratta. Her biggest regret appears to have been that she did not begin painting sooner in life (Ford 1986). Wangaratta Art Gallery organised a retrospective of her work as part of their 25th Anniversary celebrations in 2012-13.