Doris Golder, from the tiny New South Wales town of Lockhart, is thought to be the only person to create portraits from wool.

Story By Kathy Mexted

Doris Golder dives into her ‘paintbox’ – a suitcase full of washed, combed, undyed wool. She comes up with a chunk of fluffy white fleece, tears off a piece about the size of a 10-cent coin and rolls it between her palms. “To make the eyes, I take a bit like this and roll it, cut it to shape, and keep adding until it’s exact,” Doris says.
For years, Doris has worked from photographs to create portraits out of layered sheep fleece. She was thought to be the only person using this medium for portraits and her collection, which includes 16 portraits, was created between 1980 and 1992.
No stranger to wool, Doris was raised on a sheep and cropping property near Boree Creek in the Riverina, NSW. In 1945, after six years away at school and working, she came home to the family farm and later married Geoff Hopwood, a returned war pilot. Just before the birth of their only child in 1953, a tragic farm accident left her widowed. In 1960 Doris married local farmer George Golder and together they worked their sheep and cropping farm at Boree Creek for 36 years.
“I’ve always preferred to express myself using my hands, and at 46 decided to take oil-painting classes with Heather Bell in Wagga,” Doris says. Two rich 1975 oil paintings in her lounge room reflect farm life. One shows ochre earth, dry grass and tall gums dwarfing McKay gates on a neighbouring property. The other, painted in a similar style, is of Boree Creek. “These paintings were before the great wool invasion,” Doris laughs.
In 1980 Heather sent Doris a newspaper clipping about a woman in Queensland who created landscapes using wool. “I looked at the work and thought to myself, ‘Well, if that woman can do it, I’m pretty sure I can too’,” Doris says. She began with landscapes and animals, but it is her foray into portraiture that has left its mark.
“The first portrait I tried was of our local member for Farrer, Wal Fife,” Doris says. “During the 1983 election I saw a poster of Wal and decided to have a go at it in wool.” She continued with a portrait of former prime minister Bob Hawke. “I felt it was important to choose well-known people so the public could be critical as to whether or not I’d got the likeness right, and Hawke’s face lent itself to portraiture,” Doris says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #73

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2010