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The Campbells


11th September, 2014
Lucy Feagins
Thursday 11th September 2014


Cressida Campbell (left) and Sally Campbell (right) in Sally's Sydney home. Photo - Eve Wilson. Production - Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

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Sally Campbell shows us some of her latest beautiful textiles. Photo - Eve Wilson. Production - Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

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Sally Campbell Textiles. Photo - Eve Wilson. Production - Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

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Beautiful quilts, cushions and soft furnishings by Sally Campbell Textiles. Photo - Eve Wilson. Production - Lucy Feagins/The Design Files.

Ok we've featured a number of inspiring Australian creative families over the past few months since launching our 'Family Portrait' series... but I have to say, this one is special.  Listening to the history of the extraordinary Campbell family in Sydney, you really begin to understand how creativity travels through family lines. From textile design to science, fine art and the performing arts, this is one seriously prolific and wildly successful gene pool, who have certainly made their mark on the world in more ways than one - and they're not done yet!

I should start by saying that there are actually four amazing siblings in the Campbell Family, only two of whom we're featuring in detail today.  (Sadly not all the family were available for our shoot, although I did get to chat to my two favourites!).

First, there is Sally.  Sally is a remarkable businesswoman and an incredible textile designer, who we have featured many times before.  Sally Campbell Textiles is her eponymous business, which sees Sally and her husband greg travel to India regularly to work with talented artisans and produce the most exquisite fabrics and soft furnishings.  Sally is the most tireless, passionate, optimistic and hardworking creative entrepreneur, I have admired her work and her business for such a long time.

After Sally, there is Patrick Campbell, a Solar Energy Scientist at NSW University, and the only son in the family. Then there is Nell Campbell, the second youngest sibling, also widely known as 'Little Nell'.  Nell is a well known actress, singer and entertainer, who also opened her own nightclub called 'Nell's' in New York in 1986!  There are endless stories about Nell... who is best known for her role in the original West End production of The Rocky Horror Show and the subsequent movie, filmed in 1975.

The youngest Campbell sibling is Cressida.  She is extraordinarily famous, if you ask me, a revered and highly collectible Australian artist, who we actually interviewed this time last year.  Despite her notoriety, she's very down to earth, and hilariously entertaining in often a quite self deprecating way - which is not what one necessarily expects from such a celebrated artist. Though not officially an Australian 'National Treasure', I did mention when we ran that interview that she certainly should be... and many of you agreed!  Cressida's woodblock paintings are painstakingly meticulous, it often takes many months to complete one work.  For this reason I should mention that Cressida has been working for some time on a new project that is finally launching very soon - her distinctive paintings have been turned into a beautiful limited edition set of 36 greeting cards for the first time ever, perfectly printed to Cressida's uncompromising standards!  They will be available from November on her website.

Today, we chat to Sally and Cressida, eldest and youngest siblings from the amazing Campbell family! They're incredibly close, and are also very fond of their crazy sister Nell, clever brother Patrick and much loved Mum, Ruth, who at 91 still very much rules the roost!  I'm not sure I can adequately summarise the brilliance of this amazing Australian family... instead I will handover to Sally and Cressy themselves now, for a first hand account!

Growing Up in The Campbell Family

Both parents were journalists and both very creative. They met in the newsroom of The Telegraph in London. It was Christmas during the war, and Dad arrived with a huge turkey, very badly wrapped in newspaper with its long limp neck hanging out. The rest is history. They had an amazing relationship and were perfect parents. Dad was very handsome, a brilliant humorist, writer and wonderful father. Mum, a dazzling beauty, amazing artist, writer, surfer and superb mother.

Our mother Ruth was born in 1923 at Murwillumbah, N.S.W. and is still alive at 91 years old today. She and her 4 brothers grew up living in old sandstone banks all over NSW. Her father was a bank manager and hated being a bank manager, instead he wanted to be an engineer and inventor. The Bathurst bank they lived in had a moat and bush ranger bullet holes in the window shutters. Mum was a tomboy and loved doing things like floating for miles down rivers on her back and riding horses. She went to boarding school and hated it, later going to Art School at East Sydney Tech. Her teacher was William Dobell. After Art School she became a journalist, and lived in London where she met our father Ross, after the 2nd World War.

Our father, Ross was born in 1911 at Kalgoorlie, WA, but his family moved to Melbourne when he was 1 year old. His parents of Scottish background met in Kalgoorlie while acting in an amateur theatre group. He had one sister and three brothers. Dad was an exceptional scholar, after studying at Melbourne University he then won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University, where he was taught by the writers Tolkien and C.S.Lewis. Unfortunately he didn't get on with either of them, they sadly lacked his sense of humour. Later he was a navigator in the air force in the 2nd world war flying Lancaster Bombers. Although always a classics scholar and linguist, he later found his true calling in his humorous writing for which he became famous.

Both parents encouraged and supported every creative whim. They were major readers and were on top of all current events. We all adored reading and playing scrabble together, plus entered endless poetry and painting competitions. Humour and stoicism always at the realm. It was a very secure and happy childhood. All wonderful ingredients to feed our creative spirits.

Our best memories are sitting in the family nook for meals. Always the six of us for every meal, speaking loudly and on top of each other, madly trying to get everyone's attention at once. Mum's cooking totally fabulous, and Dad had a tiny black book he would sneakily scribble our amusing comments in for his humorous column in The Telegraph, which was about our family growing up.

Sally on being Cressida's Sister

Well I am the eldest sister and she is the youngest. Cressy has always been very wise and able to diagnose all illnesses. She is extremely curious, broods a lot and is very funny. She thinks I am a bit of a pollyanna who thinks too much on the good side of things. I am incredibly proud and full of admiration for her as an artist and person. She certainly knows how to pick herself up, brush herself down and start all over again.

Cressy is a constant inspiration to me in many areas. Her subtle sense of colour is a major influence in my textile designs. Her love of ceramics has also made me an obsessive collector. The list is endless. Her extraordinary talent as an artist. Amazing colour sense and style. Famous for her remarkable speeches, brilliant memory and sense of humour. An imaginative chef, always giving marvellous dinners and a great little survivor in this difficult world.  The way she deals with the every day is an art form. Whether its entertaining, travelling, talking on the phone or gardening I am always riveted…. no detail is ever too small.

Cressida on being Sally's sister

It was wonderful, but as there is a 13 year gap between me and Sally (and 10 years between myself and our brother Patrick, and 7 years between me and Nell), I was very young when they were children.  I remember loving them and always being intrigued by their different lives, as an example when I was 2 years old Sally was a 15 year old Beatles fan, later when she worked in the city as a copy writer, at Easter she would spoil me by bringing me home an enormous bag of different sized Easter eggs. While I climbed trees in our garden Nell would be somewhere else in the garden playing theatrical dress ups, she kept an old trunk full of clothes under the Turpentine tree, meanwhile Patrick would be obsessively reading his Tin Tin comics in his room or attending to his Siamese Fighting Fish.

I am hugely privileged to have Sally as a sister. from when I was very young I remember her as being super stylish which she still is and always will be.  She has always involved me in her life, I hung out with her and her friends when she worked as a designer in the Film Industry in the late 70's and early 80's, and now we talk every day on the phone and have a lot in common regarding our love of all things visual, as well as family and mutual friends. She is very supportive creatively and emotionally to me, I am also close to her husband Greg.

I have always been inspired by Sally's very individual eye,whether it is in how she dresses, wraps a present, gardens or designs textiles. Her self expression reflects a great joy of life translated in her slightly eccentric manner. On a selfish level I also have been able to use her wonderful textiles in my Still Life and Interiors pictures.

She is very adventurous and fearless as a traveller (both of which I am not). She can be touching too and kind as well as being very funny. Although her optimism at times drives me crazy, I love and admire her urge to get the best out of life in whatever she is doing, no matter how challenging.


Cressida Campbell in her Sydney studio. Photo - Sean Fennessy, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.


Cressida at work.  Photo - Sean Fennessy, production – Lucy Feagins / The Design Files.

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

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