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About Sylvia Jones

The $5,000 Sylvia Jones Prize for Women Artists is proudly supported by The Clem Jones Foundation

Sylvia Jones (1909-1999) performed many different roles and made a significant contribution to the City of Brisbane as Lady Mayoress during her husband Clem’s record term as Lord Mayor from 1961 to 1975.

Noted for modernising the city — especially its road, transport, water, sewerage, and community and sporting infrastructure — the administration led by Clem Jones also helped to develop and expand Brisbane’s cultural life with Sylvia as Lady Mayoress playing an active and leading role.

Clem and Sylvia Jones both took a personal interest in Brisbane’s cultural life and development.

As Lady Mayoress, Sylvia helped establish the Brisbane City Council’s historical and arts collection, and encouraged and lent her support to Brisbane artists and their exhibitions.

She also chaired numerous charity fundraising events including the Lord Mayor’s Charity Ball and the Lord Mayor’s Command Performance.

Sylvia Jones had a deserved reputation as a gracious and approachable woman who, as Lady Mayoress, entertained with diplomacy and style, and was a notable ambassador for the City of Brisbane wherever she went.

Remembering Sylvia Jones

Elegant, beautiful, and kind are the words most often used to describe Sylvia Jones by those who knew, met, or worked with her. As Lady Mayoress during her husband Clem’s record term as Lord Mayor of Brisbane from 1961 to 1975, Sylvia played a key role in promoting the arts.

A former teacher, she inherited a talent for drawing from her father, noted cartoonist and illustrator Ashton Murphy. She brought to her role a passion for the arts and while her husband is credited with helping transform Brisbane from “a big country town” to a modern world city, Sylvia was instrumental in developing its arts and cultural life.

She was a regular visitor and friend to the famous Johnstone Gallery which played a crucial role in expanding Brisbane’s art scene. For at least two decades from the early 1950s Marjorie and Brian Johnstone operated galleries showcasing local artists, first in Upper Edward Street, later in the basement of the Brisbane Arcade in Queen Street, and then at their own home in Cintra Road at Bowen Hills. The Johnstones regularly exhibited local artists – Margaret Olley, Irene Amos, Daphne Mayo, Lloyd Rees, John Rigby, Vida Lahey and Len and Kath Shillam – as well as artists from interstate such as Charles Blackman, Donald Friend, Sydney Nolan, Grace Cossington-Smith, Kenneth Jack and E Phillips-Fox.

At the time groups like the Royal Queensland Arts Society and the Half Dozen Group of Artists were also flourishing, offering support, workshops, social functions and exhibiting opportunities to artists. As Brisbane’s “First Lady” throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Sylvia encouraged local artists and contributed to the steady growth of the Brisbane City Council Art Collection, and the operation of the Brisbane City Council Gallery.

In addition to her passionate interest in and support for the arts, Sylvia was an astute businesswoman and a talented draftswoman, helping restructure and then grow her husband Clem’s surveying business in the 1940s and ’50s which he sold prior to entering politics. She was also a tireless worker for a wide range of charities, making the most of her position as Lady Mayoress to help others. Sylvia Jones was an activist Lady Mayoress, notably a woman who used her role at City Hall to expand Brisbane’s artistic assets and profile.

The Clem Jones Foundation supports the Sylvia Jones Prize for Women Artists in the Brisbane Portrait Prize as a way of honouring her legacy.