Margaret Olley in her home studio which is being recreated in Murwillumbah.
Margaret Olley in her home studio which is being recreated in Murwillumbah. Ian Lloyd

Sneak peek inside Margaret Olley Centre's treasures

DAILY News readers are being granted a sneak preview of the Aladdin's Cave that was famed artist Margaret Olley's Sydney home.

It comes several weeks before a re-creation of Olley's home and art studio opens to the public in a new custom-built wing of the Tweed River Art Gallery, at Murwillumbah, costing more than $4 million.

The Margaret Olley Gallery, which will open in mid March, will feature 75,000 items from the Lismore-born artist and philanthropist's famously messy Duxford St, Paddington terrace.

The items will be painstakingly arranged to recreate Olley's home where she captured the scenes in the oil paintings she became renowned for featuring still lifes of carefully arranged domestic objects such as flowers, plates, fruit and jugs.

Gallery director Susi Muddiman, who met Olley several times, recalls being overwhelmed wandering around the strangely familiar home when she visited with a mutual friend in 2007.

"It's a treasure chest, an absolute treasure box everywhere you looked.

"She had a great sense of humour, which was on display in her home.

"One thing I do remember is the bowl of eyeballs which was quite disconcerting ... like those big glass googly eyeballs you find in novelty shops."

The gallery will honour the express wish of Olley, who spent a few years on a Tweed sugar cane farm growing up, that her artist's studio and elements of her home and collections be re-created in a suitable venue.

The sections of her home to be recreated to scale include the Hat-Factory, her dated kitchen and the Yellow Room.

Project co-ordinator Sally Watterson has the daunting task of ensuring each item is precisely placed guided by the thousands of pictures and hours of video shot in Olley's home after her death on July 26, 2011, aged 88.

It is said to be the biggest such recreation of an artist's studio ever attempted.

From February 10, Sally will be overseeing the transfer of Olley's belongings into the 537sq m wing from their current secret location in a local storage shed.

"It is literally bits of a house inside a white box. It's quite bizarre," says Susi.

The gallery has used all the original window and door frames from Olley's home to add authenticity.

"You can still smell the essence of Margaret because she famously was a busy smoker," Susi laughed.

The gallery opening is highly anticipated.

Mid last year Susi hosted a visit from satirist Barry Humphries, who has described Olley's home as like a "magpie's nest".

"He said to me very sweetly he was happy to know where his friend was going to be put," Susi recalls.

"No pressure whatsoever," she laughs nervously.

"It's very daunting and very exciting."

The Margaret Olley Trust kicked in $1 million for the gallery, while the council contributed $1.1 million, with the rest coming from the Federal and State Government and private donors.

The outgoing Governor General Quentin Bryce, who was also a friend of Olley's, will officially open the gallery.

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