Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria
[together with her sister Helena Creeth (Margaret Hellena) 1859-1941]
Wildflower painter, china painter, teacher, photographer and pyrographer.
She was the daughter of Quakers Margaret Grubb Beale from Mountmellick in county Laois Ireland and her husband William James Creeth. Margaret was apparently skilled in china painting and an activist on education and in the Women's Franchise League of which she was Bendigo President. William and Margaret migrated to Victoria in 1853 where her parents, Joseph and Margaret Beale, were by this time established.
May, Helen and her brothers William and Francis Beale were born in Victoria where the family became successful merchants in Melbourne until 1872, then mining entrepreneurs and prinipals of a building society in Bendigo. May was educated at the Sandhurst High School, matriculating in 1880, then trained in art at the Sandhurst School of Design and in 1897-8 at the National Art-Training School South Kensington (now Royal College of Art) in London and with Professor von Hier and Fraulein von Heddergam. May advertised in Western Australia that she was a prize medallist. The sisters both travelled from Sydney to Melbourne in 1881. She and her sister Helena ran an art school in Sandhurst (Bendigo). In 1893 they held and exhibition of their's and their students work in the Masonic Hall in Bendigo.
She came to Western Australia May 1898 to join her brother Francis Beale Creeth who arrived about 1896. She opened a studio in St Georges Chambers but confusingly a month later advertised "Hillcrest Ladies College, Emerald Hill Terrace. Classes will reassemble as usual Monday September 12. M. E. Creeth." So perhaps she had arrived earlier and taught there before.
May was soon exhibiting work. She had a display at the WA Wildflowers Seventh Annual Exhibition held in the Perth Town Hall in August 1898. An article in the West Australian August 24 1898, stated "Miss Creeth must indeed have been industrious as well as much travelled to produce so much and so varied work. . . . There are scenes from Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and New Zealand and Great Britain, France and Italy. Miss Creeth mentioned that she hoped soon to have some local views of the Swan, Guildford and other surrounding beauty spots which she much admires . . ." A reviewer of the 1898 exhibition held by the WA Society of Arts stated that "Violets by Miss M. E. Creeth was a most natural looking group of violets, just plucked, seemingly, and thrown carelessly on to the panel they adorned. 'Wildflowers' by the same author, was also very beautiful."
She was one of a number of award winners at the Coolgardie Exhibition of 1899 (Landscape), exhibited with the WA Society of Arts and with others in Bickfords Furniture Warehouse. By February 1899, advertisements in The West Australian read, "Drawing and Painting. Miss Creeth's classes meet daily at the studio. WA Chambers, St George's Terrace. Outdoor classes for Sketching. Terms at Wigg & Sons. Commissions for Painting executed." and the local press recorded "I was . . . very much struck with the beautifully painted panels of the wild flowers of the colony. Each flower is painted on a separate panel, and thus its beauties of flower and foliage are seen to a much better advantage than if a number of different sorts are grouped together. . . . over a hundred different specimens which Miss Creeth has collected, and of which she has made paintings so true to nature that it is very easy to imagine that the flower itself is flung carelessly on the canvas. . . . Miss Creeth gives lessons in painting, not only of flowers but of landscapes, of which she has several cleverly executed ones in her studio . . . She is in her studio every day and all day, except Monday mornings and Saturday afternoons."
Author Peter Cowan tells us she "painted a collection said to number some six hundred varieties of native flowers. She was assisted in naming them by the Government botanist Dr Alexander Morrison. . . In 1900 fourteen of her paintings were shown at the Paris Exhibition, and later sent to the Glasgow Exhibition. . . the native flowers even got onto ceramics, when Miss Creeth imported what was said to be the first studio kiln. The china was popular and distributed widely. Perth did have considerable activity and enthusiasm in the arts in those years, perhaps more widespread than could be found later."
May Creeth met Dr Morrison at the Royal Society where she was a councillor at a later date.
May Creeth has a plant named for her - a parakeelya, Calandrinia creethae, named by Dr Morrison in 1912. She is said to have collected the type at Laverton.
In 1906 she imported a kiln to be able to fire china painting and ccontinued decorating china with images of native flowers. In 1905 May exhibited in the Chamber of Manufactures Exhibition in Adelaide as did William Howitt. By 1906 she had moved down the Terrace to the Colonial Mutual Chambers advertising that she taught oils, watercolours, china painting, pyrography and photography. She exhibited china painting as well as oil paintings of wildflowers in the WA Society of Arts exhibition that year. The sisters regularly had exhibitions of theirs and their students work. That in the Perth Literary Institute in 1911 had 400 guests.
Quakers May and Helena were socially active at Govt House etc. She was President of the Women’s Prohibition Leaugue in 1928. She was a Council Member of the Town Planning Association in 1929. She also was a frequent public speaker giving papers at the Astronomical Society in 1915 on "Asteroids" and in 1924 "The Crater of Kualeaa", at the Organization of Labour Women, where in 1920 she spoke on "The State Bonus". About 1906 she was joined by her sister Helena who had been touring Europe in 1903-4 and previously been teaching in Bendigo. May and a Miss J.L. Young toured India together for two months in 1913. Their father died in 1902? and their mother in 1909. They lived in Subiaco and then c.1915 built in 38 Wilson Street/now Parliament Place West Perth. The house was described in 1918 as "They have built a beautiful home of their own, and their studio is great. The light is just perfect".
During WWI the sisters were active in providing tea entertainment for soldiers, mostly NZ on their way to or from the war. May was a councillor of the Royal Society in 1920-22 and gave one of the speeches at the tribute to Edith Cowan when she lost her seat in Parliament in 1924. She was a member of the Edith Cowan Memorial committee.
May travelled to USA and Canada for twelve months in Jan 1922.
By 1935 the Misses Creeth were semi retired in 27 Outram Street West Perth and the studio and artists’ supply shop was taken over by Helen Walker from Sydney to become the Haidi Studio. Helen and May moved to Churchhill Avenue Subiaco where they owned other property. Helen died April 8 1941. May died in 27 Outram Street, Sept. 22 1947 aged eighty-seven. They have been virtually forgotten as neither of the women married and their brothers predeceased them so there has been no one to promote their legacy.
Bendigo Australian Native's Association Hall Misses Creeth's students 1896.
WA Wildflowers Seventh Annual Exhibition Perth Town Hall 1898.
WA Society of Arts Annual Exhibition 1898, 1906.
Queens Hall Wildflower Show 1906.
Exhibition of Pictures at Bickfords Hay Street 1898.
Art Union Bickfords Furniture Warehouse 1899.
Coolgardie Industrial Exhibition 1899.
Mueller Botanic Society - Art Exhibition, Agricultural Bureau Museum, 1900.
Paris Exposition Universelle1900.
Federal Exhibition 1900.
Shop in Hay Street 1901.
Glasgow International Exhibition 1902.
Chamber of Manufactures Adelaide 1905.
Solo Zimpels 1906.
Kalgoorlie Old Council chambers 1909.
Perth Literary/Mechanics Institute - Misses Creeth and their students 1911.
Silver Chain Fete and Exhiobition 1913.
St George's Hall Exhibition of the Misses Creeth 1919.
Studio exhibition Wilson Street, West Perth, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1923, 1928, 1931.
Anderson's Stationery Depot Hay Street. 1924.
Centenary Exhibition of Women’s Handcraft, 1929.
Holmes a Court Collection, NGA, LISWA /Battye, WAM, J. Rogers Coll., Thomson Collection, Government House Perth.
Source: pers.com. Dorothy Erickson (10/4/2013)
Adelaide Advertiser March 22, 1905, p. 5.
Cowan, Peter. A Unique Position. Perth: UWA Press 1978, pp. 98-9.
Erickson, Dorothy, Australiana Nov 2010, pp. 36-43
Sydney Morning Herald March 3, 1905 p.8.
WA Society of Arts Catalogue 1898, 1906.
West Australian August 24, Oct. 6, Dec. 6, 1898, Feb. 8, April 22, Dec. 16, 1899.
Western Mail August 26, 1898, p.6, Christmas Number 1899, p. 87-88, article by E. J. Bickford illustrated by Miss Creeth et al.
RWAHS Photographic Collection L6 7185.
Portrait Photo: none known.