Vale Sigmund Jorgensen
by SANDI MILLER
5th August 2019
Image: Where the blue shadow dances under the cream panama, SYD TUNN
THE ARTS COMMUNITY is in mourning for the passing of Sigmund Jorgensen OAM, a cornerstone of the arts in Nillumbik, aged 79.
He was the son of Montsalvat founder Justus Jorgensen and served as chief executive and artistic director of the historic artist colony from 1969 to 2005.
Justus and his partner, Lily Smith, established the beautiful artist’s colony in Eltham in 1934, naming it after the home of the legendary Holy Grail.
Originally built for Justus and his family, Montsalvat attracted many artists, artisans and intellectuals over the years, including Clifton Pugh, Betty Roland, Leonard French, Helen Lempriere and Albert Tucker.
Sigmund and his brother, Sebastian, are the children of Justus and colony member Helen Skipper.
Lily and Justus remained married and reportedly dined together with Skipper each night, much to the chagrin of the less liberal-minded.
Current Executive Director of Montsalvat, Jacqueline Ogeil expressed the sadness of the whole Montsalvat community at Sigmund’s passing.
“It is a very sad end of an era for us.
“His contribution and dedication to Montsalvat was all encompassing and his love for his heritage and artistic expression was ever present,” she said.
Sigmund, known lovingly as the Godfather of Eltham, is remembered for his significant and considerable contribution to the arts and the broader Nillumbik community.
He made Montsalvat a haven for local and international artists.
His contributions to art and culture were many, including the Melbourne culinary scene, running the award winning restaurant Clichy, being a judge at the Melbourne Asian Food Festival, food critic for the Melbourne Times and played host to, and support the formation of, the Montsalvat Jazz Festival, which has gone on to become one of the major Melbourne cultural events.
Sigmund was also a supporter of the acclaimed student orchestra, the Geminiani Chamber Orchestra.
Sigmund was a Nillumbik Shire Councillor from 1999 to 2002 and served as Mayor from 2000 to 2002.
Nillumbik Shire Council Mayor Karen Egan acknowledged his important involvement in Nillumbik’s arts and culture scene.
“We are deeply saddened to hear the news of Sigmund Jorgensen’s passing and offer our condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.
“Sigmund leaves an enduring legacy as a passionate advocate for the arts, and we are grateful for his tireless promotion of Nillumbik and Montsalvat as significant cultural centres,” she said.
Bend of Island’s artists Syd Tunn and Ona Henderson recalled fond memories working with Sigmund for several years on projects at Montsalvat.
The couple said they found Sigmund to be “a warm-hearted generous and honest supporter of so much in the cultural life of Eltham and beyond”.
“His passion was legendary, innovative and determined — for all art forms.”
They invited Sigmund to sit for them in their studio for an Archibald portrait, however Ona says initially he was shy.
“I said I’d make a gorgeous lunch, and Syd said (being a quick painter) that it would only take a couple of hours.
“Well it was memorable! And we dined in style with a classy vintage red to wash it down.
“Syd painted this portrait (above) in several hours, it sold at The Archibald Salon and Sigmund asked for a framed print of Syd’s acrylic on canvas,” recalled Ona.
In 2013 he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for service to the arts.
He is remembered as a friend and supporter of the arts and artists all his life.
Sigmund Jorgensen is survived by his partner Sue and brother Sebastian.
Montsalvat will be holding a public memorial service at 2pm on August 9 and will be closed to visitors that day.