Arts & Culture

Sculptural artists reach out to regional areas

Edwina Mason9 December 2020
Clay creations by students at All Saints Primary School at Tumbarumba.

Clay creations by students at All Saints Primary School at Tumbarumba. Photo: Meghan Rauch.

If the children of the mountains could not make it to the ocean, the ocean sure swept into the mountains and imaginations of young people in Batlow and Tumbarumba last week.

Students from K3 to year 10 had the opportunity to hear and learn about something they had never seen, and they were able to experience what it’s like to create sculpture.

In fact, it’s sweeping around the state and asking young people to use their minds in ways they likely never have.

The next stop is the Shoalhaven with an artist who created a sculptural viewfinder. But more about that later.

Katie Stewart's 2019 Sculpture By the Sea installation, 'Split Imprint'.

Katie Stewart’s 2019 Sculpture By the Sea installation, Split Imprint. Photo: Sculpture By the Sea.

Up in the mountains, around 110 students at Batlow Technology School and All Saints Primary School at Tumbarumba played host to visiting educators from Sculpture By the Sea.

One of them was 2020 Macquarie Bank Emerging Artist Katie Stewart who was once in their shoes.

“I visited Sculpture by the Sea and a family friend was an exhibiting artist,” Katie told Region Media. “For me, that was the turning point when I decided I wanted to do art, attend art school and be in Sculpture by the Sea.”

Katie was living on the NSW Central Coast at that time.

In 2019, she was selected to create an installation for the popular art event, then in its 23rd year, in which around 110 different sculptures are displayed for a two-week period along the beach walk between Bondi Beach and Tamarama Beach in Sydney. Sculpture By the Sea attracts up to 500,000 visitors annually.

An avid surfer as well as an artist, Katie used her close affinity with the sea to create Split Imprint, which involved placement of wet-thrown bisque clay bowls into sea-eroded cliffs, creating a unique sculpture that effectively looks like it’s part of the landscape.

“That was a big goal for me to have exhibited in Sculpture By the Sea,” she said. “I couldn’t believe I got that opportunity.”

With the 2020 exhibition cancelled due to COVID-19, focus turned to taking the education program to bushfire-impacted communities through the Sculptors to Your School Outreach Program.

Education program director Meghan Rauch said it was geared to recognise the tough year experienced by people living in regional areas.

“We wanted to come out to give our support and acknowledge how hard it’s been,” she explained. “Also, it’s something else for teachers to provide for students, just for their enjoyment.”

Using Sculpture By the Sea as an example, students were involved in looking at what sculpture could be.

“We have chats about what it’s about, how it works and what it’s like to be part of Sculpture by the Sea,” said Katie. “Then I talk about how I approach artmaking and help them understand new concepts.”

Working with clay, students created a basic coil bowl and then learned how to expand the concept from there.

Later, seed pods were used as part of the creative process.

“It was pretty great, really,” explained Katie. “Trying to drill into them that they shouldn’t compare themselves to others or wonder whether what they have made is good or isn’t good, I try to teach them that art is anything you want it to be.”

Exposure to artists such as Katie also gives students an insight into the life of a professional working artist.

“At the high school workshops, you have everyone figuring out what to do with the rest of their lives,” she said. “I’m lucky I have been able to follow my dreams and prove it is possible to become an artist.”

Students then left the classroom and were encouraged to place their seed pods outside.

“Out there, the kids can interact with their work – for instance, put it in a place in a tree, in a flower garden or hide it so we had to go find it, which created an environment where everyone was keen to chat about their work and show support for their peers by communicating with each other,” said Katie.

“It’s been really fulfilling exposing kids to experiences where they can ask questions, play and enjoy themselves without the pressure of producing a polished outcome.”

Megan said the program’s greatest accomplishment is how it touches the lives of children who have never come across a professional working artist before.

“They might never have engaged in the arts because it has perhaps come across as something they have no interest in, have no access to or otherwise would never have interest or engagement in because they don’t really understand it,” she said.

“It’s mind-boggling to see them interact with a new medium, and through that, nature and each other. It’s so rewarding we can’t believe this is actually a job.”

Sculptors to Your School Outreach Program will be at Shoalhaven Heads Primary School and Shoalhaven High School in Nowra on Thursday, 10 December, and Friday, 11 December, respectively, this time with artist Joel Adler, who won the 2019 Sculpture By the Sea People’s Choice Award with Viewfinder.

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