Ethel Spowers was born in South Yarra, Melbourne to a New Zealander father who owned a newspaper and an English mother. She trained at the Melbourne National Gallery Art School (1911-17) and gained a reputation for black and white children's story illustrations. A friend, Winifred Syme, introduced her to a book entitled 'Linocuts' by Claude Flight, who was linocut tutor and master of the technique at the Grosvenor School of Art in London. Ethel was captivated by this, so much so, that in 1928 she and Syme enrolled at the Grosvenor School to study the medium under Flight. Returning to her homeland, she mounted an exhibition of Australian linocuts in Melbourne in 1930 and in 1932, Ethel became a founder of the Contemporary Art Group, promoting modern art in Australia. She staunchly defended the modernist movement against its more conservative detractors. Suffering poor health, Ethel stopped practicing art in the late 1930s. She died, aged 56 in Melbourne on 5 May 1947.
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