Life Sentences - Public Art at the ANU

Life Sentences - Public Art at the ANU
Gerald Lewers, Relaxation, outside of University House, ANU

Barbara Dawson takes a walk around the ANU campus to look at the public art, from ANU Reporter, Winter, 2009, p 7

Take a walk around the ANU campus and you’re likely to be struck by the vast number of art works. Plaques usually accompany the pieces, but how many ANU Reporter readers know the stories behind the objects?

It’s no accident that ANU has a rich collection of outdoor sculpture. Since its founding in 1946, the University has deliberately planned its architecture and landscape design to create an integrated environment.

Many of the commissioned sculptures are by well-known artists, such as Gerald Lewers (1905-1962).

Two of Lewers’s sculptures, Relaxation (1953) and the Lady Theaden Hancock memorial fountain: Swans in flight (1961), stand near University House. Michael Crayford’s biography of the artist is in the ADB Online.

Lewers was born on 1 July 1905 in Hobart to Quaker parents. Soon after the family moved to Sydney. Lewers grew up on the North Shore, where he developed an interest in the Australian bush. He later enjoyed carving animals and birds in wood and stone, including penguins, ants, numbats, kangaroos, giraffes, dolphins and fish. His ‘love and understanding for the wood and stone of his own land, coupled with his sensitivity for the inner life of wild animals and birds … led to some of his finest and most distinguished works’, Crayford writes.

The recipient of over 15 major commissions, Lewers studied art in Sydney, Vienna and London.

Relaxation, a reclining sandstone figure of heroic size, is recognisably human, but also has a ‘satisfying fluid abstract shape’. The ANU sculpture walk booklet suggests that the ‘sunset laminated sandstone almost looks as if it could have been carved by those age-old shapers of stone, wind, water and time’.

Swans in flight was commissioned by historian Sir Keith Hancock in memory of his wife and her love of swans. The sculpture booklet describes the bronze sculpture as: ‘[f]luid as a splash of molten metal, this folding arabesque of birds expresses the collective motion of a flock, yet also evokes the complex mechanism of feathers overlapping scale-like on a single wing’.

While holidaying in Queensland, Lewers was thrown from a horse and fractured his skull. He died of a brain haemorrhage on 9 August 1962.

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