Introducing Sally Dewar, award-winning VA Teacher


Visual Arts and Photographic and Digital Media Teacher Sally Dewar MA, BA, DipEd has been teaching at Santa Sabina for 30 years and has headed up Visual Arts for 28 of those years. In that time she has also written textbooks (About Art and More About Art), edited anthologies (Butterflies and Bomb Blasts) written HSC exams for the NSW government and been an HSC marker.

Recently she was recognised by the Professional Teachers’ Council NSW for her volunteer work for the Visual Arts and Design Educators Association. Her substantial contribution including overseeing the financial membership of 900 members, the program of professional learning and for implementing a new accounting system was acknowledged with an Outstanding Professional Service Award. The award was recognition of the depth of this role and systems that Ms Dewar was instrumental in developing to ensure the smooth running of finances.

We asked Ms Dewar a few questions about her career, her motivation and her passions:

You’ve been working here a long time – what is it that you most enjoy about working here?
The students are the centre and focus of why we are here as teachers and it’s our amazing students, who are so focused, genuinely interested and thoughtful, that keep me coming back every day and every year. I really enjoy working with our wonderful students – mentoring them in their journeys of self-discovery as they explore their creative potential, refine their skills in a wide range of materials and techniques and develop their artmaking practice as young artists. I also continue to have the privilege of working and collaborating with exceptional colleagues both within the Visual Arts and Drama department and amongst the other staff who are generous with their time and support.

What prompted you to become a teacher?
At school I was very interested in Visual Arts and both my parents had an avid interest in this field as hobbies. As a young woman, my mother did painting workshops with well-known Australian artist Clifton Pugh and continued to paint throughout her life. Both my parents participated in life drawing classes and my father was an exceptional photographer who owned professional photographic equipment that always came with us on our family travels. Friends with artists in the Melbourne art scene such as Arthur Boyd’s family, my parents understood the challenges of working as a practising artist. In addition, as a school student, I developed a strong interest in Art History, so in deciding what field of the Visual Arts I would like to work in, teaching presented itself as an opportunity to work in the field of Visual Arts in a profession with a regular income that combined artmaking practice with the study of art history.

If you could do any other job, what would it be?
Recently, during my long service leave, I travelled to Italy for a study tour. Although two weeks of my tour was on a self-planned individual itinerary in Florence and Rome, the first two weeks was based in Venice on a residential study tour entitled ‘Venice: City, Republic and Empire’ with Academy Travel. This type of study tour is an immersive one which focuses on the history, art history and culture of the particular region. The tour included a suggested pre-reading list and several evening lectures by our tour leader, Kathleen, who was exceptionally knowledgeable about the Veneto region. In addition to her role as tour leader and lecturer, part of her role is to do the research and write all the detailed study booklets that are produced for all Academy Travel tours. This would be a very rewarding job that combines my love of history, Visual Arts, travel and meeting new people.

What is your preferred art medium?
Currently my focus is on photographic digital media but I also really enjoy ceramics and painting.

Who are your favourite artists and why?
Although there are probably too many outstanding artists that I love, my recent travels to Italy have reacquainted me with two artists who are at the top of ‘must see’ list of artists – Fra Filippo Lippi and Sandro Botticelli, both 15th century Italian Renaissance painters. In recent years, I discovered TeamLab, a contemporary team of artists based in Japan who produce digital immersive installations. One of my travel goals is to visit the gallery in Japan in which their installations are permanent.

What are the standout moments in your teaching career? The student achievements of which you are most proud?
In such a long career there have been many great moments. I think I am most proud of the significant number of students I have taught that have made careers in the Visual Arts and Design including Visual Arts teaching.

How do you switch off?
My happy place is any activity associated with water – I love to be near it, on it sailing, in it swimming or under it snorkelling. I also share a love of reading, crime fiction in particular, with a small group of Santa Sabina staff with whom I share books and reading lists.

What’s one thing about you that would surprise people?
I was invited by Sr Judy to design the interior layout of the Visual Arts and Technology building which opened in 1994. The footprint of the building and its external form was determined by the architect but the interior needed to be efficient and functional for Visual Arts and Technology subjects (in consultation with the TAS Coordinator). I produced detailed plans for all three floors, right down to where the powerpoints were going to be positioned in relation to other components of the room. There were some minor changes to the location of sinks and plumbing in the ceramics room when it was decided to add a basement to the building and additional offices were added to the middle floor. The College also followed through on my suggestion to add two more teaching spaces attached to the Centenary Building (200s) on the first and second floors which is why those rooms are numbered as if they are part of the VAT building (Room 8110 and 828). Prior to this I designed the layout of the new Darkrooms (rooms 300 and 301) opened in 1992 that were located in what had once been the canteen. These rooms have since been decommissioned and are now used as photo studios with our professional lighting.

We are very proud of our award-winning and highly respected Visual Arts educator and all she continues to bring to Santa Sabina.