WILL Wilson arrived at his career as a bronze sculptor of bird baths in a haphazard way, writes JOHANNA LEGGATT
There were no night-time sculpture courses, art classes or even a childhood affinity with drawing. But there was always wildlife.
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- See Will's sculptures at Tamie and Malcolm Fraser's garden at Thurulgoona
- Visit opengarden.org.au or williewildlifesculptures.com.au
Long before Will Wilson knew how to sculpt one of his signature bird baths or trout fountains, he was first and foremost a lover of wild animals.
“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do and I just fell in to this by accident,’’ he confesses.
“Wildlife is my thing so I just sculpted what I was passionate about.”
After a brief period in his early 20s working as a guide up north in Kakadu and on a private wildlife conservancy in Kenya, Will took a short trip to Europe that was pivotal in the development of his sculpting career.
“Some of it in Italy was in bronze and had been around forever, and I just thought, ‘How fantastic’,” he says.
“I remember thinking how it would be great to see more of that in Australia, of that quality, but in our style. I wasn’t aware of anyone making bird baths Australian-style. I wanted to bring blue wrens or cockatoos in to it.’’
So in 2001 Willie Wildlife Sculptures was born, and Will set up his studio at the back of his house in Ocean Grove, near Geelong.
He started off small – sculpting in clay or wax his tiny frogs and birds – before progressing to the complex snails, pears and bird baths that are his trademark today. He would make little bird taps for gardens and door knockers and take them to field days and open garden schemes to get feedback.
“I also started to make a few small things and take them to the local foundries,’’ he says.
“They started to give me their opinion about what I could and couldn’t do, so I really got taught by the foundries in the end.”
Will’s decade of experimentation and refinement is starting to pay dividends. His sculptures are on display at a range of notable addresses, including Singapore Botanic Gardens, Methodist Ladies College in Sydney, Canberra airport and the Australian Embassy.
In May, Will will head off to the esteemed Chelsea Flower Show in the UK for his fifth showing, and will display some of his bird baths at Tamie and (former prime minister) Malcolm Fraser’s gardens on the Mornington Peninsula this weekend as part of the open garden scheme.
If Will is starting to stand out in the crowded sculpture market, it is perhaps because he does things a little differently.
For starters, he doesn’t sell through shops or galleries, but relies on word-of-mouth promotion.
Will is also a champion of the 6000-year-old lost-wax process of casting which picks up the tiniest detail in the mould. “It is a fantastic process, you can have a fingerprint in the wax and it will come out in the casting,’’ he says.
Bronze, he says, is ideal to work with as it is an alloy that will last many lifetimes. “I wanted something that could become a family heirloom,’’ he says.
Will may not have come at his career in the most traditional of ways, but it is clear he has found something that gives him immense satisfaction.
“The biggest thrill I get really is when you see a sculpture, it doesn’t matter if it is a small garden or a bigger garden, and it changes that area of the garden and you get a real enjoyment out of that,’’ he says.
“Knowing that it’s going to be there forever, that it’s timeless, is satisfying.’’