ACU (Australian Catholic University)


Issue 6, Spring 2012

Gentlemen prefer bronze


Louis Laumen’s preference for bronze is about much more than aesthetic beauty. Sara Coen visited the world-renowned sculptor’s workshop to find out just what makes his statues tick.

If Louis Laumen were a novelist, he would write historical fiction. But he’s not. He’s a sculptor, who makes his larger-than-life-size characters out of bronze.

For more than 17 years, the Dutch-born artist has made statues for a living, and they keep popping up in significant public places all over Australia. War heroes, sporting legends and saints, are the types of people 53-year-old Louis immortalises in his Melbourne workshop on a daily basis. 

Don Bradman, Shane Warne and Dennis Lillee in full flight at the MCG, Saint Thomas More at Sydney’s Parliament House, and Sir Albert Coates in Ballarat, are just a few of his statues that spring to mind.

Louis is not dealing with myths and legends here. As a traditionalist sculptor, with an interest in realism, his task is to recreate real people with real histories. 

“It’s a bit like being an actor,” Louis said, “I need to get to know my characters really well, so I can bring them to life.”

 His latest fixation is Mary MacKillop, but this is not the first time she’s been on Louis’ mind – or on his workbench. 

Mary first appeared in Louis Laumen’s shed in 2005, as Blessed Mary MacKillop – a statue he did for Penola College in Victoria. Then in 2010, she was back again as St Mary of the Cross – a commission for St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney.

“It’s different this time,” Louis said. “She’s going to look much younger which is exactly what makes the ACU project so unique.” 

Louis is currently tinkering away at what’s destined to become – to his knowledge – the first-ever bronze statue to depict Mary MacKillop as a young girl.

The statue will take pride of place in ACU’s new St Mary of the Cross Square – a public square with a 50-metre frontage onto Brunswick Street in Melbourne. 

Sitting just metres from her original birthplace, and her childhood home, it’s fitting that the statue will portray Mary MacKillop in her youth.

For Louis, this project has involved a great deal of research into the life of Mary as a young girl. 

“I had to become really familiar with aspects of her character that I believe would have been in place at a young age,” he said. “I wanted things like her feistiness, seriousness, determination, sense of focus, intelligence and compassion, to come through in the work. 

“I am a traditionalist in all my methods, so every piece I make starts out as a clay model – I resolve the form in clay first because of the freedom it gives – and then it’s cast in bronze.”

Finding a realistic life model for the young Mary MacKillop was an important part of this process. 

“I had to find a girl, who I believed was the right height, weight, and build, to act as a stand-in model for the statue’s clay form. All the tweaking and adjusting is done with a clay model first, before the bronze cast is actually made.”

An important aspect of the design for the young Mary MacKillop was an historically appropriate costume for the life model to wear. 

Louis conducted extensive research into costumes of the late 1850’s and early 1860’s, which involved trawling through stacks of old photographs and books.

“Most of the old photographs tended to show people in their finest clothes – lots of frills, bows, buttons and flounces – none of which I felt were right for this piece,” he said. 

Eventually, an antique dress on the internet caught his eye. The period was spot on, and the plain, everyday nature of this dress made it just about perfect – so he got his dressmaker to replicate it to fit the life model exactly.

“She also designed a corset for the model to wear under the dress – which is what gives this piece a real edge.” 

The corset was crucial for authenticity of detail – giving a true profile of the ripples and folds of the dress – and a good indication of exactly how a young woman of the era would look in a seated pose.

“Bronze is my preferred medium. Obviously, it’s incredibly beautiful, but it also gives so much freedom in being able to compose a human figure – and it’s extremely durable. 

“Fingers don’t snap off and noses remain in place, which is great – unlike marble, so there are very few constraints in terms of delicacy of detail.

“Greek bronzes dropped into the sea more than 2,000 years ago have been pulled out of the water still intact – so you could say it’s pretty trustworthy. 

I have lost count of the bronze statutes I have made, but I’m pretty sure they will all outlive me.”

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