A featured work in Australian Landmarks & Icons Group
The controversial ‘Wellington Gateway’ environmental sculpture and landmark, is located four hours by road northwest of Sydney, on Australia’s Mitchell Highway. (‘Controversial’ because observers find indifference to the work is impossible and some level of emotional response inevitable.)
Project artist: Frances (Fran) Ferguson 1962 – 2003. The project’s artistic team also included a regional landscape designer and two other talented Australian artists (specialising in glass and metalwork respectively).
The public artwork was constructed from 1993 – 1995 primarily by the project artist with the assistance of the Orana Aboriginal Corporation and the local Wellington Shire Council & community. It was officially opened in November 1996 by the NSW State Premier and Minister for the Arts.
Background: A prominent sight at the turnoff to the Wellington Caves, five miles outside of the small township of Wellington in New South Wales, the work announces to travellers their arrival in the Shire. Its centre piece or ‘pod’ was created from girders recovered from the dramatic 1989 collapse of the ‘Old Wellington Bridge’.
As the regular flow of visitors to the site discover, there are many highly original and interactive features to the sculpture – some not instantly apparent. Because of its capacity to play with light and shadow, the sculpture’s components also assume totally different moods at different times of the day. The weathered materials, deliberately used in its creation, seem to possess a parallel geological sense of age and time to that found in the fossil and skeleton forms so prevalent in the area’s nearby subterranean caves.
Innovative/Groundbreaking: That such an adventurous and imaginative sculpture – the first of its kind in rural Australia – was commissioned by the Shire of Wellington (in association with Arts Outwest) is remarkable for the era and pays tribute to the local Council’s leadership, flexibility and vision.
Missing highlight: The final artwork was intended to be crowned by a wonderful, suitably scaled sculpture of a sulphur-crested cockatoo (one of Australia’s most instantly recognizable and internationally famous birds), but early opposition from local farmers put an end to this idea. Sadly, to an extent, this compromised one of the most important components to the overall design. (It also would have balanced and given greater meaning & impact to the central, girdered tripod.)
This opposition stemmed from the cockatoo’s understandably unwelcome, but totally predictable habit of flocking and feasting upon the area’s annual harvest of agricultural crops. It would be wonderful even now, if that decision could be reversed and the original design re-created and installed where it originally belonged.
Spirit of Gaudi? To some observers, the use of welded rail anchors and many other decorative elements in the Gateway … and the way they grow out of its body … creates a feeling reminiscent of the somewhat bizarre (but totally fascinating) decorative elements found in the architectural designs of Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona. Similarly, the stonework brings to mind something of the environmental sculptures of artists such as Andy Goldsworthy (UK).
However, project artist Frances Ferguson’s designs were uniquely her own, forming part of a much wider and impressive body of work – extending over her entire artistic career. She was always a highly versatile artist, and besides regular exhibitions of paintings, her talents encompassed designs for theatre including stage sets and costumes; diverse craftworks; jewellery; wearable art; furniture decorations; festival effigies and articulated puppets.
Her skills and creations always amazed and touched the people and communities she worked and lived in. Her strong sense of commitment and perserverance being amply demonstrated in the three years of her life she devoted to completing her most demanding, intriguing and ‘timeless’ artwork, the ‘Wellington Gateway’.
[As is. For a wide-angle perspective on the sculpture: Click here ]
MOST VIEWED IMAGES of all works by Bruce Dickson.
(1,630 views – 7 June 2013)