Bronze Sculpture of MacKillop Statue Installed at Cathedral

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
8 Oct 2010

Crowds stood in awe as three bronze larger-than-life-size statues of Mary MacKillop and two young children were gently lowered by crane and placed in position on a large granite plinth beside the steps to the entrance of the Western Transept of St Mary's Cathedral this morning.

The installation began at 7.30 am today with an engineer on hand to oversee operations along with experts from the foundry where the superb three sculptures were cast. Then at world renowned sculptor, and creator of the spectacular artwork, Louis Laumen arrived from his home in Melbourne to oversee the final couple of hours of the intricate process.

Finally at almost 11.a.m. the statues were in place and the crowd broke out in spontaneous applause.

Commissioned by the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell in February this year as a permanent tribute to Australia's first saint, the three statues are unique not only for the life and vitality displayed in the figures, but the patina Laumen has managed to create which gives a sense of the statues being in colour. This is particularly apparent with the slate one child holds, as well as with the wonderful contrast between the white of Mary's coif, her skin tones and the rich brown of her habit.

The plinth on which the bronze sculpture stands was installed last week and as the installation of the statues neared completion, Louis Laumen admitted he had his heart in his mouth.
"You can't relax until the work is finally 'in' as there is really only one chance to get it right and you always worry something might go wrong," he said.

Now complete, the latest addition to the Cathedral's spectacular artworks will be officially unveiled this Sunday, 10 October and blessed by His Eminence, Cardinal Pell after the 10.30 Solemn Mass.

From the outset, the sculptor says, the Cardinal wanted the sculpture of Mary MacKillop to include children in recognition not only of her love of young people but of the many schools she founded throughout NSW, Qld, SA and Victoria, so that all children no matter how poor could receive an education.

Best-known for his exuberant action-packed bronze statues of sports icons created for Melbourne's MCG's Parade of Champions, which include remarkable likenesses of greats such as Golden Girl Betty Cuthbert, cricket legend Donald Bradman and fast bowler Dennis Lillee, Laumen says sculpting someone from the nineteenth century proved more difficult.

While he had no trouble creating the children, and used two 10 year olds as models, for Mary MacKillop, he was forced to rely on photographs and his own imagination.

"Photographs that exist of her were taken when she was in late middle to old age and all were formally posed, as was the custom of the time. Which meant you only saw her full face and amongst all I looked at there was only one giving a three-quarter view of her head and none showing the back of her head," he says.

But the back of a head is critical in a sculpture, he says and points out how easily we can recognise acquaintances as well as friends from behind.

The sculpture of Mary MacKillop and her two young pupils, is the second bronze of Mary MacKillop by the Melbourne-based sculptor to join St Mary's Cathedral's acclaimed collection of artworks.

Earlier this year a superb limited edition bronze bust of Mary MacKillop was purchased by the Cathedral where it sits in a niche beside St Joseph's Chapel inside the Cathedral.

Laumen says he first met Cardinal Pell in 2000 when he created a statue of St Peter the Fisherman for St Peter's Church in Toorak. At the time the Cardinal was Archbishop of Melbourne and impressed with the work, commissioned the artist to create statues of the patron saints of Italy, St Francis of Assisi and St Catherine of Siena to symbolise the rich contribution made to Melbourne by the Italian community.

"His Eminence is not someone who dictates to an artist and as a person with taste and a real knowledge of art, he gives the artist his trust and respect," Laumen says and adds that he regards the Cardinal as someone who is carrying on the tradition of the Church being a true patron of the arts.

"He enables an artist to give of his very best and gives you the freedom to come up with something from deep inside," he says.

The unveiling of the statue and blessing will occur at approximately 11.30-11.45 am, after the 10.30 Solemn Mass at St Mary's Cathedral on Sunday, 10 October.