A few weeks ago, at the Muddi Markets in Wagga, we talked to a woman (Trish) at a booth advertising the Spirit of the Land Festival in Lockhart. One of her best friends lives in Canada, so we had a good chat. The festival looked very interesting, and when we realized it was only an hour’s drive from Wagga we immediately put it into our calendar. And today, we went; and yes, we saw Trish there. And every year from here on in, we will go again: it was spectacular!
The Spirit of the Land Festival is a festival of farm art – and not just any art, but specifically farm sculpture. Up for grabs is a $10,000 National Farm Art Sculpture Award prize. The festival admission is $5 per person, which gets you into the sculpture garden at the caravan park (what a fitting venue!) and two halls with some Aboriginal painting, some basic landscape painting, a bit of small sculpture, some wonderful cardboard box art from kids in schools in the Riverina, that type of thing. There is a street market for free all weekend. And there was the Doris Golder Gallery…more about that at the end of the post, but for now we will say that the additional $5 each to get in (museum, not part of the festival, and one of Lockhart’s only year-round attractions) was money well spent on the trip.
It started to rain just as we got to Lockhart, so we looked at the indoor exhibits and the street market, which was mostly covered as are most sidewalks (sorry MO…footpaths…) in this part of the country because of the sun. The market didn’t have much, but we did buy 6 grapefruit for 10 cents each and 6 of the biggest lemons we’ve ever seen (they are bigger than the grapefruit) for $1. And we thought we had gotten a good deal at the Wagga farmers market the day before when grapefruit were 3 for $1. Then, just as we left the Doris Golder Gallery (where we were given 6 oranges, for free!) the sun came out and we had perfect weather for the sculpture exhibit.
The sculpture exhibit was beyond description. There was a huge range of sizes, of styles, and of materials. Pretty much the only common element was that it was made of junk. Old sheet metal, corrugated tin, lawn mowers, wrenches, gears, some wood, rope…you name, if you can find it laying around somewhere on a farm or, as one guy pointed out, the side of the road, it was incorporated into the art. In the artists’ bios, there was also a theme of this being a therapeutic art quite often: with the drought in the Riverina for the past decade, a lot of farmers were destitute. To provide support for them, many of the towns opened a ‘men’s shed’ – literally a shed where farmers could get together and talk and just have a bit of camaraderie. It was at these sheds that many of them learned to weld and got creative with the junk around them. The themes, however, ranged from rural to mythological to whimsical. Some of it was absolutely amazing, some of less so, but all of it interesting if not aesthetically then just for an insight into a part of Australia that very few people see. But, oddly, a part of it that is pretty big in its own right.
And the 2012 Spirit of the Land Festival is on October 13 & 14 – anyone thinking about coming to visit next fall (Canada) or spring (Australia), try to work those dates into it. You won’t be disappointed.
We took a whole lot of photos of the sculptures (and more of the kids totems); they are at the bottom of this page.
But first, back to Doris Golder. Doris Golder is a portrait and landscape artist from Lockhart who works in wool. Yes, wool. Not watercolour, not acrylic, not ink…wool. Here’s what she does: She starts with a photo (not taken by her; often, something that has inspired her in the newspaper). Then she glues a layer of pure white (not dyed, but natural) wool onto a board, and draws an exact replica of that photo onto the wool in pencil, shading it in grey scale. Then, here’s where it gets both wacky and amazing, she lays bits of wool of various shades (again, all natural, no dyes) onto that sketch to make a version of it in wool. This top layer isn’t glued on; it is just held in place by the glass in the frame. It is…it is beyond belief.
Sure, it is cheesy, but it is fascinating. Subject-wise, there are portraits of everyone from Rupert Murdoch to Greg Norman to local politicians; there are pet portraits; there are landscapes. And then, because Lockhart is in the middle of sheep country (the area was settled as a 480,000 acre sheep station), she also did pictures of sheep. You can’t help but laugh at a woolen picture of a sheep, then laugh harder at the picture beside it of a sheep being sheared.
So, along with the sculpture and totem photos, there are a few of Doris Golder’s pictures too. Please click on them to see enlarged versions.