Following the sudden death on 22 January 1983 of the artist William Fletcher at his Church Point home, the first posthumous exhibition of the artist’s work was held at the Artarmon Galleries in November of that year. At that exhibition, Trevor Andersen, Fletcher’s partner and the executor of his estate, announced that he would devote the sales of the artist’s works to establish a visual arts trust in honour of the artist.
The William Fletcher Trust was formally established in May 1985 with the following original trustees: Kenneth Tribe AC (Chairman), Eula Guthrie, Terence Clarke, Paul Milton, Shane Simpson, Robin Wines (Treasurer) and Trevor Andersen (Executive Officer).
Over its twenty-year existence, the composition of the Board of the Trust changed with the retirement of Shane Simpson and his replacement by Neil Morrison (law) and enlargement of the Board to include more people with professional experience in the visual arts, such as Linda Slutzkin (Art Gallery of NSW), Dr Christopher Allen (art critic and National Art School lecturer), Elizabeth Gibson (Art Gallery of NSW), Brian Ladd (Art Gallery of NSW), Jann Simmonds (art teacher) and Michelle Hiscock (National Art School lecturer).
Significant donations from the founder, the trustees and other individuals, sales at exhibitions and art auctions, together with royalties, provided the original source of the Trust’s capital, enabled the promotion of Fletcher’s work and the introduction of grants to outstanding visual arts students.
In 1987, after consultations with the principals of tertiary institutions in Sydney and Newcastle that provided courses in the visual arts (especially painting, drawing and printmaking), the trustees decided to advertise the first grants for talented visual arts students.
The original institutions served were: Sydney College of the Arts, College of Fine Arts, Macarthur College of Advanced Education, Nepean College of Advanced Education and Hunter College of Advanced Education. Heads of art departments of the original five colleges were most co-operative in helping to design guidelines and procedures for the selection process. The first grants were awarded in 1988.
Between 1994 and 1998, the original five institutions were extended to ten by the addition of Southern Cross University, University of Wollongong, the National Art School, the National School of Dramatic Art (Design course), Charles Sturt University and the University of Newcastle (Natural History Illustration course).
Changes outside the Trust’s control caused some contraction of visual arts training in NSW. From 2002, the Trust provided assistance to eligible students from eight institutions annually.
In 2005–06 the William Fletcher Trust received an unexpected yet welcome bequest from the estate of Dr M Matheson Lines of Mosman. This guarantees the continued real value of the current awards.
In 2006 The William Fletcher Trust was formally terminated, following the establishment of William Fletcher Foundation, under the chairmanship of Miss Eula Guthrie. The first board of directors comprised the retiring trustees of the William Fletcher Trust.
In mid-2010, the Foundation announced an exciting new biennial residency of three months at the British School at Rome for an outstanding emerging artist, now worth $30 000. Two three-week terms at Bundanon have subsequently been awarded to the other finalists.
In addition, since 2009 the Foundation has provided support with prizes for costume and set design for the annual Theatre Critics Awards.
By 2017 the Foundation and the Trust had together distributed over $400 000 to over 500 students. In several cases the grants have enabled talented students, who would have dropped out because of financial hardship, to finish their studies.