Category Archives: Public Sculpture

Victorian Architectural Ornamentation

I have been looking at all the ornamentation on Victorian buildings. The keystones with heads, the corbels scroll brackets, the flower shaped patraes and the plethora of other embellishments, like over decorated wedding cakes, on nineteenth century buildings. Now in the twenty-first century they are in varying states of repair, some crumbling away.


I am amazed that I haven’t heard about some concrete pineapple or other orb becoming dislodged and crashing onto a roof. Do have a metal armature supporting them? There is so much about these ornaments that I don’t know.

Given that I see these ornaments every day I am struggling to even to learn the vocabulary to describe them. They are so alien after the modernist world. Where John Ruskin might have endorsed ornamentation, the architect Alfred Loos declared decoration a crime.

Who made these things?

Some of these architectural ornaments were made by Colin Young Wardrop, who also taught modelling and woodcarving at Geelong College, and William C. Scurry. Both men were on the council of the Yarra Sculptors’ Society.

Ken Scarlett’s Australian Sculptors has details on William C. Scurry.

“Messrs Wardrop and Scurry, Sculptors, Modellers, and Fibrous Plaster Manufacturers, 48 and 69 Arden Street, North Melbourne. This business was established in 1892, and since that date has made rapid strides in advancement. Messrs. Wardrop and Scurry have been large contractors for the principal decorative work in the city and suburbs, the principal buildings entrusted to their care being the Princess Theatre, the Theatre Royal, Opera House, Federal Coffee Palace, the Queen’s Walk, and numerous other places of interest in Melbourne.”

“The firm also executed the group of Justice and the other ornament for the Bendigo Law Courts, also the group of figures for the Bendigo Art Gallery. They were the first to introduce fibrous plaster for decorative purposes in Victoria, and in this class of work they certainly excel, as may be seen from the interior decoration of the Princess Theatre and Opera House” (p. 585)

It is uncertain when William Scurry’s father arrived in Melbourne but what is know is that in 1856 Scurry’s uncle, James Scurry was working with Charles Summers and John Simpson MacKennal. James Scurry was producing decorations for the interior of Parliament House on Spring Street including the two figures, Mercy and Justice, on the north side of the Legislative Council Chamber. Charles Summers went to create the Burke and Will Monument. John Simpson MacKennal was the father of Sir Bertram Mackennal, who became Australia’s first international superstar artist.


Federal Coffee Palace, Melbourne

Sculpture @ Showgrounds

Melbourne’s Showgrounds are an odd place to dump unwanted marble sculptures from the nineteenth century but it happened and they are still sitting there.


Outside the RASV (Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria) offices at Melbourne Showgrounds is Young Bull and Herdsman, the work of English sculptor Sir Joseph Boehm (1834-1890). The white marble sculpture of a young man leading a small bull by the bronze ring its nose is an appropriate theme for the Melbourne Showgrounds. The carved marble smocking on the herdsman is a fantastic display of technique.

It came to Melbourne for the Centennial Exhibition in 1888-89 and was acquired by the Melbourne Art Gallery and Museum before being gifted to the RASV. It was purchased by the Trustees of State Library at the Centennial Exhibition along with St. George and the Dragon outside the State Library of Victoria.

It makes me wonder how many sculptures did Sir Joseph Boehm send to Melbourne for the Centennial Exhibition? I should also note that  Boehm’s St. George and Dragon was an influence on a very young, Peter Corlett who went on to be one of Melbourne’s most prolific figurative sculptor. Corlett remembers thinking that someone made the sculpture for the first time.

The two sculptures of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert by Charles Summers are slightly less appropriate for the showground’s gardens; Victoria might have been amused. There were originally a set of four sculptures of the royal family, I don’t know where the other two sculptures of her children have gone. The sculptures of the royal family were commissioned by the Trustees of State Library from Charles Summers in 1876. Summers having finished his Burke and Wills Monument, decided that he was Melbourne’s answer to Michelangelo and moved, just like Michelangelo did, to Rome.

It is interesting to note that late nineteenth century sculptures, unlike most other antiques, are actually declining in value.


The one sculpture that appears to have been intended to have been installed at the Showgrounds is a life size equestrian statue The Australian Stockman. It is by Tasmanian based sculptor, Stephen Walker who has numerous public sculptures around Hobart. The bronze plaque says that it is “in memory of David Knox 4 Dec 1916 – 8 April 1995” not that any of the people at the show would know anything about Captain David Knox.

I am surprised that there are any sculptures at the Melbourne Showgrounds.

Some Union Art Connections

Under the portico of Trades Hall is bronze base-relief of John Dias by William Leslie Bowles. I am more familiar with the sculptor for his several public sculptures around Melbourne, including the equestrian statue of General Monash  than the subject. The glass or ceramic eyes are a strange addition to the otherwise unremarkable portrait plaque.


William Leslie Bowles, John Dias Memorial at Trades Hall

The effusive praise of the inscription on the plaque is unilluminating and almost vacuous: “John Dias – Born May 11 1861 – Died August 13 1924 – A man whose every endeavour was in the cause of the worker and to uplift humanity – a token of respect from those who knew him.” Yes, I can tell he is a man from his moustache and the fact that he has a memorial on the front of Trades Hall would strongly indicate the rest. The shield and motto Credo Sed Caveo (believe, but take heed) reveal that he was a member of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners.

Further along the block is Steps Gallery is a large, square, well-lit, white walled room on the ground floor of 62 Lygon Street in Carlton South. Established in 1992 one side of the gallery opens onto Artee Cafe, with its glass roof. Unusually for a Melbourne gallery it is owned by the Meat Industry Employees’ Superannuation Fund. It is not a bad investment, the gallery is a rental exhibition space, two artists had rented it for an exhibition when I was there.

You wouldn’t immediately associate the meat worker’s union with artist ceramics but in the foyer of 62 Lygon Street is the Melbourne Meat Workers Union Ceramics Collection. Three large cabinets house a spectacular collection of around 30 high quality artist ceramics. They were collected by Wally Curran, the union secretary between 1983-1997.

There are many connections between Melbourne’s unions and art as this brief exploration has shown but many are also a bit ernest, worthy and boring, like these examples.

Man Lifting Cow in Sunshine

John Kelly’s 4.5 metre bronze sculpture, Man lifting cow was been unveiled today in front of the Brimbank City Council’s offices on W Street in Sunshine. The sculpture is part of Hampshire Road Precinct upgrades and the opening of the Brimbank Community and Civic Centre in 2016. It was made at Fundêre Foundry in Sunshine, see my blog post Progress on Man Lifting Cow.


John Kelly, Man Lifting Cow, 2016, (photo from Vicinity Centre’s Facebook post)


What does John Kelly’s sculptures mean?

In 1994 Kelly painted his first Man Lifting Cow I. It was an oil on linen 182.5 x 152 cm. In the middle is a man in overalls, lifting something that roughly resembles a cow. In the background there is wide brown land with low hills and a wind sock to indicate the legendary airstrip. It is a reference to a story about the artist’s William Dobell’s WWII experience.

‘When World War II broke out. Bill [Dobell] served first as a camouflage labourer, later as an artist recording the work of the Civil Construction Corps, which built airfields and other defence projects. As a camouflagist, he was one of a group of several, later famous, artists who had been ordered to make papier-mache cows and move them around the base in the hope of fooling Japanese pilots. (said Bill, “I think the authorities underestimated the eyesight of Japanese airmen”.) For almost a year he shared a hut with fellow-artist Joshua Smith.’ (Extract from Dr Edward McMahon, Unforgettable “Sir Bill” Dobell, [first proof])

Kelly has created many paintings riffing on the story of Dobell making camouflage cows. It is only a story and there is no proof that Dobell ever actually made a camouflage cow. Kelly said about the idea of camouflage. “Art is never really about … what it’s about.” What is art trying to hide? The intersecting history of abstract art and camouflage in World War Two is underrated in the story of modern art. Kelly’s ludic monumental sculptures are an absurd commentary on Melbourne’s many war memorials.

John Kelly was born in London in 1965, and grew up, part of a large family in Melbourne’s outer industrial suburb of Sunshine. His parents still live in the suburb. His father, an Irishman from Cork, worked in the quarry; John remembers him always wearing overalls, like the man lifting the cow. I can see a family resemblance between John and the man that he is sculpting, even if it is modelled from a different person, the nose and chin are similar. Now John Kelly has returned to Sunshine to install his sculpture.

This is the third sculpture in Kelly’s Cow trilogy. ”Three Cows in a Pile,” was shown at the 2002 Monte Carlo Sculpture Festival ‘Parade des Animaux’. Cow Up A Tree in Docklands and Man lifting cow is now in Sunshine.

John Kelly, “Cow Up a Tree”, bonze, 1999, Docklands

John Kelly, “Cow Up a Tree”, bonze, 1999, Docklands

Lost Wax Workshop @ Meridian

Although I have written a book about public sculpture I have never done any sculpting. Last weekend I went to Melbourne’s oldest sculpture foundry, Meridian for one of their workshops in the lost wax technique.


When the sculptor Peter Corlett first took me to see Meridian I was amazed that there was a sculpture foundry just off Johnston Street in Fitzroy. Looking around the foundry there are sculptures in progress and moulds for sculptures by notable sculptors including Peter Corlett, Robert Kippel, Lisa Roet, and Andrew Rogers.

The foundry has been located in a two story nineteenth century brick warehouse, since it was established in 1973 by Peter Morely. It is now in its second generation with Peter Morely’s son, Gareth working at the foundry.

Peter Morely still works part-time often doing his favourite job applying the surface colouring effect to the bronze, the patination on the sculptures. This ranges from traditional black and brown through to green, white or polished.

So Fitzroy hasn’t been completely gentrified, there is still some industry in the suburb. People are still melting down bronze in furnaces and pouring the molten metal into moulds to make sculptures, using techniques that have been developed over the last five millennia.

Although the lost wax casting has been around for millennia techniques in bronze casting have not stopped developing. New synthetic materials are being used from building industry rubber to 3D printing using potato starch. Anything that will cleanly burn away like wax leaving an empty space, the mould into which the bronze will be poured.

Even the traditional bees wax has also been replaced by a synthetic wax with a dark green pigment added. The wax as media is very forgiving because it can be both additive modelled and subtractive carved; so if you make a mistake you can easily stick something back on or cut it off.

I thought that I knew about lost wax technique before the workshop however there is so many steps in the process that you don’t realise until you start. One thing I did know it is a process where you don’t do it all yourself; that part of the job of a sculpture foundry is providing assistance and advice to the sculptor.

Darien Pullen conducted the workshop for three people and myself which allowed for plenty of one on one advice and assistance. Darien is a sculptor who has worked at Meridian since 1984 mostly making moulds and preparing waxes for casting; last year his winged victory statue was unveiled outside the Marrickville Town Hall. He also teaches in life drawing and that helped with my sculpture.

I thought that a small cat sculpture would be a good idea because I had a lot of sketches and photographs of my cats. Cats, like sculpture, are all about volume, the thin creature beneath the hair is a very different creature. Furthermore, I consoled myself, as many people like cats, so any cat sculpture however poor will have some admirers.

At the end of Sunday afternoon I took the wax model home; nobody is expected to complete a model in six hours. I plan to do some more work on it and sandpaper smooth out some of its curves. Eventually each of the workshop participants will have their wax model cast in bronze and a patina applied. None of the workshop participants will be involved in pouring the bronze as there are too many health and safety issues involved to even begin to list.

Black Mark did the workshop courtesy of Meridian.

Frog Pond

The thin frog looks so skinny that you can see its bones. It is not meant to be a particular frog but rather a generic Australian native frog leaping fully extended from the water. An amphibious athlete to match the near-by hammer thrower by John Robinson.


John Olsen, Frog, 2013 bronze

John Olsen’s Frog, 2013 is installed in the Children’s Pond in the Queen Victoria Gardens. The two metre tall bronze frog was unveiled on Wednesday 16 December 2016.

The pond is named after two other sculptures, John Robinson’s Water Children (c.1970) is a bronze sculpture of two children, a boy and a girl, playing amongst the rocks at the source of the pond. It amongst some of the most sentimental sculpture in Melbourne. However, the source of the pond is now a damp bowl and the fountain has been turned off and this post is about Olsen’s Frog and not Robinson’s Water Children, which were modelled on his own children.

John Olsen is well know for his paintings of frogs but he is not widely know as a sculptor. When a major artist like him want to make a sculpture there are people who can help you produce a saleable work that would look attractive in a millionaire’s garden.

Olsen’s Frog is a gift from the property developer Eddie Kutner (Wonderment Walk) to the City of Melbourne in recognition of the work that the city has done in capturing, purifying and reusing stormwater. Water is a reoccurring theme in Melbourne’s sculptures with the first public sculpture Charles Summers, River God commissioned by the council to celebrate Melbourne’s water supply.

About a century earlier another businessmen, Theodore Fink donate two busts to Queen Victoria Gardens. Since then it has slowly been filling with mostly gift sculpture.

But thinking now about the frog; since I have been writing this blog I have been noticing many animals in contemporary art, from taxidermy specimens to drawings of animals. Taxidermy animals in particularly figure prominently in contemporary art. For more on this subject see my posts on taxidermy and contemporary art, and Why look at Dead Animals.

The answer to my question came in Janine Burke’s “The elephant in the room: Uses and misuses of animals in curatorial practice” Art Monthly Australia (Issue 280, June 2015) examines the nexus of animals and contemporary art attributing this to a massive shift in contemporary thinking that challenges the binary human and animal distinction. Burke attributes this to philosophers including: Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guttari, Jacques Derrida and Peter Singer.

Humans are feeling more comfortable accepting that they are another animal amongst many. The family of ducks inhabiting the ponds with the sculpture, watching the ducklings explore the pond. Contemporary art’s interest in the soft sciences, zoology and biology, as well as, the social sciences may be a reaction to the high modernist interested in the hard sciences like physics and chemistry.

Sculpture Walk and other public sculptures

Public sculpture in Melbourne has changed dramatically in style, materials, locations and numbers. Join me in a walk to view sculptures around the city from the 18th to the 21st centuries and learn about how the art of sculpture has evolved through the years. Ticket price includes morning tea at the Melbourne Writers Festival Club at ACMI at the conclusion of the walk. Book at the Festival’s website.

Sculpture tour photo

A sculpture tour takes shelter under Vault during a sudden shower.

While I am writing a post about public sculptures I thought that I could mention two small war memorials that didn’t mention in my book, Sculptures of Melbourne and won’t be on my sculpture walk.

WWII Nurses Memorial

Raymond Ewers, Memorial to WWII nurses

The memorial to WWII nurses outside Fawkner Towner on St. Kilda Road (431 St. Kilda Road) that was re-landscaped in 2012. The memorial consists of a bronze plaque on a stone and bronze bust in a niche. The bust is of a composite, idealised nurse. The memorial is by Raymond Ewers who created several of Melbourne’s memorials, including the Sir Thomas Blamey Memorial, 1958, in Kings Domain and the bronze bas-relief for the John F. Kennedy Memorial Fountain,1965. Although there is nothing now connecting the area to nurses, there was an earlier connection, as it was the site of the Nurses Memorial Centre. I have written about other of Ewers sculptures in my book but there are so many other war memorials in Melbourne that it would have made for a very dull read to write about all of them.

R. George Summers, Brunswick Beor War Memorial, 1903 2

R. George Summers, Boer War Memorial

Brunswick’s Boer War memorial by the sculptor, R. George Summers of Carlton (no relation to the Charles Summers who made the Burke and Wills Monument in the city square) was originally located in front of the Court House. The figure and the monument was originally intended for Private S.J. Barnard, however Chairman of the committee wanted it more inclusive, to honour both the 69 returned soldiers and the four dead from Brunswick. The memorial was then relocated to the Brunswick Town Hall, before it was moved to its current location, on the traffic island tram stop at the start of Sydney Road, around 1925.

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