Prominent Australian sculptor Ron Robertson-Swann was announced as the winner of the prestigious new Governor’s Prize at the opening of the Wollombi Valley Sculpture Festival on Saturday night.

Entitled Nijinsky, Ron’s bright yellow painted steel work references the celebrated Russian ballet dancer. ‘When he leaps in the air, there’s a point where he seems to be suspended,’ Ron said. ‘I thought that was a property sculpture could aspire to.’

This year is the 20th anniversary of the festival, and the Wollombi Valley community has come together to produce an exhibition that is bigger and better than ever, with a total prize money of over $40,000. This is even more of an achievement considering the area has been beset by both fire and flood in the last few years.

There are 155 sculptures on display throughout the lush green valley, in two vineyards, six indoor galleries, around Wollombi itself and in the neighbouring hamlet of Laguna. The works range from steel to stone, wood and mixed media in styles varying from serious to whimsical, with many taking advantage of their setting to create different experiences from each side.

The Governor, the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC KC, has long been a champion of NSW talent and produce, and had been considering how best to showcase NSW sculptors at Government House. ‘Whatever its form or shape, whether it sits in a public place, within a private space, within an urban landscape or in parkland, sculpture makes us aware of our environment and our space within it,’ Her Excellency said.

The Governor’s prize was initiated after Her Excellency visited the 2020 exhibition and subsequently accepted an invitation to become Patron of the festival. For the next year, Ron’s winning sculpture will join four other works by NSW artists proudly participating in Sculptures@theHouse in the grounds of Government House, offering valuable exposure and provenance.

This and the eight other winners were announced at a delightful early evening event in the grounds of the historic Gray’s Inn at Wollombi with compere Simon Marnie from ABC radio. The other winners are:

  • First prize: James Rogers for Turning Light (waxed steel)
  • Indoor Prize: David Ball for Percussion (steel)
  • Highly Commended: Koichi Ishimo for wind-stone (stainless steel and granite)
  • Emerging Artist: Ellie Buckley for Ode to Pachelbel (mild steel)
  • 2325 Local Artist Indoor: Paul Selwood for Sifnos Church (painted steel)
  • 2325 Local Artist Outdoor: Merryn Hull for Solar, 2021 (steel and timber)
  • Artist in Residency Prize: Akira Kamada
  • Young Sculptor Award: Jack Lang for Bonnie in the Ball Pit and Mini Huggies Surprise (air dry clay)

The festival is organised entirely by volunteers with the support of local businesses and Cessnock Council. It will run until Sunday 25 September, with many of the unsold larger outdoor works remaining in place until the following year.

Media contact:
Susan Leith-Miller – Festival Director
Phone: 0403 270 365

Photo above – Nijinsky by Ron Robertson-Swann. Photo courtesy Nick Glover.