The Hunter Valley lost a valuable cultural icon at the weekend.
Maxwell "Max" Joseph Watters OAM, who was born in Muswellbrook in 1936, died on Saturday, February 1, aged 83.
He was best known not only for his artistic talent, but also his generous philanthropic nature.
In March 2004, Mr Watters signed over his collection to the Muswellbrook Shire - which appears in the Muswellbrook Regional Arts Centre - so residents and visitors alike could enjoy in perpetuity his vision.It features works from many of Australia's greatest contemporary artists including Robert Dickerson, Richard Larter, Euan McLeod, Tony Tuckson, John Perceval, Grace Cossington-Smith, Charles Blackman, Imants Tiller, Danila Vassilieff and Jon Plapp.
The "gift" provided art education for generations to come, to inspire visual awareness and curiosity, and promote culture as a tool for tourism in the region.
Over the years, Mr Watters had given more than 300 works, valued in excess of $4 million.
"It's fairly rare, especially in regional Australia," said the gallery's acting director, Elissa Emerson.
'So, Muswellbrook residents are very fortunate.
"The best works we have in the [arts centre] collection have come in Max's collection."
Incredibly, Mr Watters, the second of seven children born to Frank and Iris Watters, was self-taught.
However, his works are held in many private collections as well as the National Gallery of Australia and Art Gallery of NSW.
He established his subject matter early, specialising in buildings and environment of the Hunter Region, and focused on such settings most of his career.
Watters was encouraged in his art by his older brother Frank, who moved to Sydney and eventually opened a gallery with Geoffrey Legge that has been a leading outlet for new Australian art for more than 50 years.
"Frank took me out into the country to get used to the feeling of the environment," Watters says. "There wasn't a house in sight so I did a heap of crap. I came home and someone kept saying 'where's the river? you don't put a river in'. I'd say, 'the river's there, look behind you. It took me out there to get the feeling of the environment. I'd get sketches or photographs and decide whether I wanted to do it."
His working method evolved. At first he went on location with a photographer, with Watters drawing and the photographer taking images of the landscape. Later, the photographer would bring the images to Watters. "I set them out in my way," Watters said in an interview with Jim Kellar in 2016. "I draw it out first, to see how it looks, if it's in balance and it I'm happy with it. In my early work, it's just flat areas drafted out and coloured in, accidently things happen. And I'd look at it and say, 'hang on a minute, I can do something with that' ".
Retired director of the Maitland Regional Art Gallery Joe Eisenberg once extolled the virtues of the two-time former Muswellbrook Shire Citizen of the Year.
"Nobody else will leave such a legacy of what it looks like [in the Muswellbrook area]," he said.
Mr Watters undertook a butcher's apprenticeship at a meatworks in Aberdeen, before a spell of national service.
He ended up labouring in a St Heliers underground coal mine, leading a team of pit ponies.
Later, he worked for the electricity commission for 28 years at McCullys Gap and Liddell power stations.
Mr Watters began splashing the canvas in the late 1950s.
When he won the local art prize in 1964, he told the judge he was going to learn to paint.
In return, he was told "no, you just paint".
He did exactly that - and painted the loved landscapes of his home shire and surrounds.
He was also encouraged to collect art by his brother Frank of the Watters Gallery in Sydney.
And, for more than five decades, Mr Watters offered art classes locally, starting on Saturday mornings in Denman.
He taught at Strathearn Aged Care village in Scone, the Muswellbrook PCYC and Wybong Community Hall, too.
In December 2017, local residents honoured him at the annual Wybong Christmas party when he announced his retirement.
For 20 years, he had donated his time and knowledge every Monday night at the Upper Hunter village, keen to inspire the next generation of artists.
Muswellbrook Shire mayor Martin Rush labelled Mr Watters "a Muswellbrook treasure".
"His death is being deeply felt in our community and by the state's arts community," he said.
"We cannot imagine anyone who more aptly personified Muswellbrook.
"He loved Muswellbrook and had very blunt words for anyone who did not.
"Humble, generous and without any pretention, he was inspired by assisting young and emerging artists and others in the community.
"He loved being a part of their journey and unlocking their capacity and vision.
"And, as a community, we were inspired by him."
Council's spokesperson for the arts Jason Foy echoed the sentiments.
"Every piece of his art is itself now a rich part of our Muswellbrook heritage - and we will continue to treasure it," he said.
"Max Watters was the shire's Citizen of the Year in 1992 and 2000; the only resident to have received the honour twice.
"Max was often given to saying, 'art's been good to me'.
"Well today, collectively, Muswellbrook says Max, you've been good to us.
"Thank you for your most extraordinary life.
"You'll be greatly missed."
Freelance arts consultant Bruce Tindale has worked at several regional galleries in Australia. Asked about Max Watters, he said: "He is quite unusual. There's lot of individuals who donate a work here and there. He's a different kettle of fish. He's a bloke who time has lost."
"He's in his element. He's always given to the community since he was quite young."