10 March 2023

Walter Brecely back in stride from darkness

| John Thistleton
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Walter Brecely in his studio

A silversmithing log and blacksmith’s vice sit in the centre of Walter Brecely’s busy studio from where he conducted classes for his students. He now has a mobile workshop. Photo: John Thistleton.

When a wall collapsed in Walter Brecely’s little brick-and-iron cottage up the road from Goulburn’s wetlands in 2014 his insurer evicted the multitalented artist from his studio and home while it was repaired.

His income depended on classes he ran out of his studio where he’d polished the striking heads of his hammers with 3000 grit emery paper to a mirror finish for silverwork.

His day job had finished too. And he had a mortgage on the cottage which he bought in 2007. He loaded up 230 kilos of tools including the hammers, pliers, silversmithing anvils, gas torches and drills and travelled with his workshop to classes in Goulburn and the Southern Highlands. His students were surprised at all the equipment laid out in front of them, then discovered how much he loves problem-solving.

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He can work with all types of materials with his students: old cutlery, cabochon stones for lapidary students and 18 carat gold rings with diamonds set in them. All the while he soaks up inspiration from their ideas.

He continues seeing new retirees in his workshops who come to the same realisation time and again, after a lifetime working to provide for their families and paying off a mortgage: “Well, I wish I had done this before I retired.”

Aged 51, Walter will never wish or wonder like that. He did what he really wanted to do from the beginning of his working life: sculpturing, drawing and making jewellery. He has learned how to make a living creating beautiful objects people love and teaching other people how he does it.

A mining surveyor, Marcello Brecely and his wife Margaret raised Walter in the small mining town of Mount Goldsworthy near Port Headland, Western Australia. He followed them into art classes watching as they painted landscapes as a hobby. They encouraged him with canvasses, paints and charcoals. Marcello brought the family with him when appointed to Woodlawn Mine south of Goulburn. Walter attended Tarago Primary School and remembers a drawing in class that made him happy.

But a career as an artist had not entered his thinking when he completed the Higher School Certificate at St Pat’s College, Goulburn. “I thought I’d be a barman, or something like that all my life,” he said. “Then I met (artist) Mez Breeze who encouraged me to go to TAFE; it went from there, I loved it,” he said.

Man with sculpture

Walter with Bones created in 2018 from copper, stainless steel and recycled forks. Photo: Supplied.

He studied and worked around the clock getting an arts diploma and degree and a bunch of other qualifications in jewellery, sand casting, making bronze, stone setting and engraving and filled little suitcases with cutlery, stowed away along with a deeper knowledge in his head of what is achievable from different metals.

He experimented with many materials including recycled glass, acquiring skills commercial jewellers wouldn’t have a clue about. “I love working with the old lawn bowls, copper because I have refined a technique of making the copper red – a permanent red colouration – copper pipe, snooker balls, old vases and glass carving and a little bit of lapidary work as well, polishing stones,” he said.

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Staging solo exhibitions, entering competitions, winning awards and running classes for students of all ages in Goulburn, Bowral, Mittagong and Thirroul carved out a rising profile. He was nominated for one of Australia’s top sculpture honours, the Woollahra Small Sculpture Prize with The Walkers, a finely crafted piece he made from recycled cutlery, stainless steel and sterling silver.

Then his creativity stopped when his partner Penny was diagnosed with cancer. He kept up a few classes but most of his time was spent looking after Penny until she passed away 18 months ago.

Man with sculpture

The sculptor with Flowers From The Darkness crafted in 2022 from a recycled lawn bowl, recycled copper pipe and sterling silver. Photo: John Thistleton.

“It’s been a long break, it’s been about reacquainting myself with the studio,” he said. “When you are away for that long the focus is on a very different thing, I found it very hard to get back to being creative. It just didn’t feel like a good place to be.

“I have pushed myself to say yes to a lot of things, I have an exhibition at Sturt, (Sturt Gallery and Studios, Mittagong) a group show called Objects of Desire, then Gallery on Track, Goulburn in May doing ‘Artist of the Month’ and putting all my work on show and getting back into making new pieces and being comfortable in the studio,” he said.

“I’m on a good track to be getting back,” he said.

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