Daphne Mayo

Lilian Daphne Mayo (1895-1982), sculptor, was born on 1 October 1895 at Sydney, daughter of Lila Mary (born Jaxelby) and William McArthur Mayo, insurance executive. The family moved to Brisbane where Daphne attended the Eton High School, Hamilton, before studying for a Diploma in Art Craftsmanship at the Brisbane Central Technical College in 1911-13, specialising in modelling under L. J. Harvey. In 1914 she was awarded the Wattle Day travelling art scholarship. When her departure was delayed by the outbreak of war, she attended Julian Ashton's Sydney Art School and worked with Ipswich mason Frank Williams. Arriving in London in 1919, she worked as assistant to the sculptor John Angel before her admission to the Royal Academy's Sculpture School. Upon graduation in 1923 she was awarded the Academy's gold medal for sculpture and the Edward Stott travelling scholarship. For the following two years she toured France and Italy as Royal Academy travelling scholar, beginning her travels with fellow Brisbane student Lloyd Rees, to whom she was betrothed in 1923.

Mayo returned to Brisbane in 1925 at the call of her parents and resolved to pursue an independent career in her home city. She never married. She soon received large sculptural commissions which were carved in situ, including the Brisbane City Hall tympanum, 1927-30, the Queensland Women's War Memorial, Anzac Square, 1929-32, and relief panels for the original chapel at Mt Thompson Crematorium, 1934.

She performed equally monumental feats to promote art in Queensland, suspending her sculptural work for much of 1934-35. Her vision was shared with her friend, the painter Vida Lahey. In 1927 they founded the Queensland Art Fund which purchased contemporary British works for the Queensland Art Gallery and in 1936 established the state's first art reference library. In 1931 Mayo obtained for the Queensland Art Gallery its first major monetary bequest, the Godfrey Rivers Bequest, which acquired contemporary Australian works (including William Dobell's The Cypriot), initially through prize exhibitions. Her major feat for art in Queensland was in 1935, when she led a public appeal for the 10,000 pounds to secure the John Darnell Bequest. For her public service she was awarded the Society of Artists' medal in 1938 and MBE in 1959.

Mayo travelled in Europe, the United States and Canada in 1938-39 to observe modern developments in sculpture. Upon return she moved to Sydney in search of a more stimulating environment and to undertake bronze doors for the Public Library of New South Wales, 1940-42. In Sydney she also worked speculatively on small-scale sculpture and experimented with ceramics. She exhibited regularly with the Society of Artists until 1958 and, together with Lyndon Dadswell and Arthur Fleischmann, staged the Three Sculptors exhibition, 1946, Sydney's first sculpture exhibition for years. Her The Olympian was acquired in 1949 by the Felton Bequest of the National Gallery of Victoria, but she had to rely on portrait commissions as the mainstay of her later career.

Appointed the Queensland Art Gallery's first woman trustee in 1960, she resumed living in Brisbane and undertook her last large commission, a statue of Sir William Glasgow, 1961-64. Her public career of extraordinary tenacity and courage ended in 1967 when she resigned her post as Gallery trustee, voicing her disapproval of the Gallery administration. She stayed in Brisbane in her retirement whilst maintaining her Sydney studio. She died on 31 July 1982. A retrospective exhibition of Mayo's sculpture was held at the University Art Museum, Brisbane, in 1981. Her work is widely represented in Australian state and provincial galleries.

Judith McKay

Judith McKay Daphne Mayo: A Tribute to Her Work for Art in Queensland 1983.