It was nearly four years ago that David Usher was approached about becoming Studio Manager (Visual Arts) at the University of Southern Queensland.

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His connection with the university had begun in 2001 when he enrolled to study part time for a Masters Degree in Arts. In 2005 – the year he secured his degree – David had started working at the Royal Brisbane Hospital as a private occupational therapist involved in a diversional arts program for health patients.

By late in 2010, when the offer came from USQ, he was emotionally empty. “I needed a break from what I’d been doing, because I’d been working in locked mental health wards at hospital for six years,” he says. “In that time I had worked patients in a wide range of art activities such as painting, ceramics and leatherwork, to provide a meaningful distraction from whatever health issues they were going through. The team of doctors, nurses and occupational therapists was highly professional and the patient care was outstanding but it takes a toll on you because it is very demanding. I was drained and needed a break when the invitation to join USQ came along, so it was very timely.”

Since then, David has found living and working in Toowoomba an uplifting experience. “I love being in Toowoomba,” he says. “It is a great town and although relatively small, there is a thriving arts community here. There have been some very talented young artists coming through the system at USQ, who have continued onto promising careers in the industry. That’s very rewarding for everyone involved on the teaching staff at the university.” David has also been able to continue his own practice in painting and ceramics with solo shows and “three or four group shows” each year.

Even after more than 30 years of involvement, David is not sure why he chose to follow a career in the arts. “I think it was a compulsion,” he says. “I don’t think you can define the reason.” In fact, he was doing an apprenticeship as a plumber before he began studying, in night classes, at the Queensland College of Art. “Within a month, I knew plumbing wasn’t for me but I was determined to finish my apprenticeship, which I did in 1986,” he says.

By then, David had met his wife-to-be Monica, whose mother Kitty Breardon was “well known around Brisbane in ceramic circles”. That introduction led to him taking up a traineeship with master potter Errol Barnes at Springbrook in the Gold Coast hinterland.

“Monica and I went to Southbrook, into the rainforest, in 1987, and I learned about linking painting to ceramics, which was a life-changing experience for me,” he says.

They returned to Brisbane in 1990. The following year, David played an active part in the establishment of the Monte Lupo Disability Enterprise, which provides career paths in artistic expression for people with disabilities.

He had his first exhibition in 1994 and has held at least one solo show, in painting or ceramics, each year since.

Words by Graeme Kelly