Bank Art Museum Moree and The Moree Gallery team up for joint exhibition featuring local dressmaker Melinda O'Donoghue and artist Jo White

Moree dressmaker Melinda O'Donoghue prepares one of her gorgeous gowns, ahead of her very first exhibition, which opens at BAMM this Friday. Photo: BAMM

Moree dressmaker Melinda O'Donoghue prepares one of her gorgeous gowns, ahead of her very first exhibition, which opens at BAMM this Friday. Photo: BAMM

It's not just the sweet smell of spring sending hearts aflutter throughout the streets of Moree, romance is in the air thanks to a unique exhibition featuring two of the region's most talented creatives.

Titled Unveiled: Love, lace and longing, the exhibition, opening this Friday, is a collaboration between Bank Art Museum Moree and The Moree Gallery, featuring acclaimed local dressmaker Melinda O'Donoghue and artist Jo White.

"It's very unique; it's something that you won't see anywhere else," BAMM interim director Kate Tuart said.


Showcased will be a curation of more than 70 couture wedding gowns Melinda has beautifully crafted, worn by brides from across Australia over the past 20 years.

First fashion exhibition honours O'Donoghue's bridal creations

It will be BAMM's first fashion exhibition and one that came about when BAMM director Vivien Clyne was getting her own wedding dress made by Melinda.

"She was just fabulous," Vivien said.

"Melinda went to so much extra effort - she even taught herself how to pleat to make my dress and taught me how to carry a bouquet."

It's not only her talent that has seen brides from all over Australia and even overseas approach Melinda (only through word of mouth - she has never had to advertise) to make their wedding dress, but the personal touch she offers, making every bride feel special.

Melinda will even travel to every wedding, "within reason", to be there to help her brides get dressed on their big day.

"I had four weddings on one day once - I'll never do that again," she said.

"But I have been to two on one day."

Melinda has made more than 300 wedding dresses over the past 25 years, with buttons her signature style, and while skirts and tops were all the rage 10 years ago she said now it's all about the dress.

"There was a time when it was all tight bodices and big, full skirts, but now there's full lace dresses and sleeves," she said.

"Some fabric is $1200 a metre. One dress I made, the fabric was 120 years old. I've also made some silk and linen dresses, but I've never done cotton."

And while she does have two favourites - a gorgeous A-line blush-coloured dress with a long-sleeved laced bodice and tulle skirt and a stunning capped-sleeve embellished top with a simple silk skirt number - Melinda said all her dresses are like children.

"I love them all," she said.

When she put the call out to her brides to see if they would lend their dresses for this exhibition - her first, and last, if she has her way - Melinda was inundated with dresses that have been sent from all over the country.

While most are dresses from local girls, some have come from Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and outback Queensland.

Melinda said it's been nice to reminisce on each dress and the story that goes with it.

She said it's easy to tell which dresses belonged to the country brides, based on how dirty the hems are and the rum stains.

"The dresses tell the story of the wedding," she said, wanting to remind potential exhibition-goers that the dresses have been worn and won't be in show-room condition.

"Country girls are the ones who have the fun," she laughed.

"City girls not so much."

It takes three months "from woe to go" to make a wedding dress, with a good six days straight on the sewing machine, from 9am to 11pm.

"Girls come in and out of my life for three months, but I always remember them," she said.

"It's a very intimate and intense relationship."

Although she's attempted to hang up her bridal dress-making hat this year, Melinda said she will never tire of making wedding dresses.

"I must be a romantic at heart," she said.

"I love the specialness of weddings - it's someone's most important dress that they'll ever wear. I love being involved in the special day."

Artworks explore romance in a bygone era

Perfectly complementing Melinda's stunning masterpieces, renowned artist Jo White will further explore themes of the heart through her latest body of work, which, whilst being exhibited at BAMM, will be available for sale through The Moree Gallery.

While a departure from her nostalgic rural and sporting scenes, this latest offering is further testament to Jo's range and talent, beautifully capturing the essence of romance in a series of heart-warming pieces.

However, Jo's penchant for capturing a bygone era and her signature style is instantly recognisable.

And with much of her work inspired by old photographs, she said romance was a theme she'd been keen to explore for some time.

'And they fell in love' is one of the paintings featured in Jo White's latest heart-warming collection, based on love and romance. Photo: supplied

'And they fell in love' is one of the paintings featured in Jo White's latest heart-warming collection, based on love and romance. Photo: supplied

"I work with a lot of old photos as a starting point for my works, and what I had noticed was a recurring theme of love and lovers - it was interesting how many photos were of lovers embracing, just in everyday activities and not necessarily as part of a special event or occasion," Jo said.

"There was a lovely innocence and sincerity to them which I thought would make for some beautiful works, so I started with a study of the kiss," she explained.

"Shortly after this BAMM approached me to be involved in the joint exhibition with Melinda O'Donoghue and her dresses, so the timing was perfect."

As a child, Jo said she spend many hours at BAMM - her mother often dropping her off to the gallery whilst she ran errands around town.

"I would sit and draw the paintings and sculptures, I particularly loved the marble sculpture upstairs."

"To be invited to exhibit there, and have my work hang on the walls where I spent so much time admiring so many amazing artists is really thrilling, and to be involved in such a special, feel-good exhibition is a great honour."

"When I'm painting I'm hoping to make that emotional connection to the viewer, so I'm extremely excited to be exhibiting with Melinda, whose dresses hold so much feeling and emotion, not to mention the craftsmanship and hours of work behind them."

Jo said she hoped her works may take visitors back to a time, or place, in their own lives - reliving those early feelings of euphoria when falling in love.

"There is a line in The Notebook that kept coming back to me during these works - 'the best love is the kind that awakens the soul; that makes us reach for more, that plants the fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds - that's what I hope to give you forever'."

"I hope that's the kind of feelings and memories that come to mind when they visit our exhibition," she said.

Highly anticipated exhibition

Unveiled: Love, lace and longing opens Friday, September 18 at 10am and runs through to Saturday, November 14 at Bank Art Museum Moree.

Cost of entry is $5 for adults, while under 18s are free.

While there can be no official opening event due to COVID-19 restrictions, BAMM will be hosting two exclusive Art After Dark events in October and November, with limited tickets available.

Ticket sales open online at www.trybooking.com/BLJQG on Thursday, September at 9am.

Tours with Melinda O'Donoghue will also be available throughout the exhibition with groups required to book. Booking sessions will be announced next week.

For further information, and for the exhibition catalogue, go to www.bamm.org.au or www.moreegallery.com.au.