Can Art Unravel the Fabric of Space and Time? Cultural Diffusion and Contemporary Sculpture

Charles Ray’s sculpture Hinoki was based on a California Cypress and carved in Japan by traditional woodworkers. Image: Flickr user Ed Bierman
Charles Ray’s sculpture Hinoki was based on a California Cypress and carved in Japan by traditional woodworkers. Image: Flickr user Ed Bierman

The MOMA recently staged an exhibition “Forever Now,” positing a detemporalized, post-internet narrative of art history through the lens of contemporary painting. The exhibition, however, is really just highlighting art’s long-standing tradition of historic appropriation. Sculptors from Aaron Curry, whose abstract figures fuse a “primitivist” linework sampled, Picasso to Charles Ray, whose work Hinoki crosses many geographic and ideological borders, have been inspired by cultures far removed from their own. As artists have increased access to the archives of space and time through the internet and international travel, how does contemporary figurative sculpture reflect international cultural diffusion? Understanding the depth of meaning that a single sculpture contains can deepen the meaning that an individual piece has for collectors.

Can Art Unravel the Fabric of Space and Time? (Seriously.)

Thoughts, personality, dreams, longings, and feeling—are these things all encoded into the material of our bodies, in our minds and our DNA? On a cultural level, our thoughts, dreams, longings, and feelings are encoded into art objects. Sculpture holds an individual artist’s thoughts and feelings, but it also functions as a vessel for the wider network of cultural information that influenced its making.

For the average person, that means we have incredible access to the annals of history in our local museums. We can see gold coins from Rome that tell the story of emperors, merchants, and the development of an empire. We can visit the Louvre and meet the gaze of European nobles throughout history. We can let our eyes unravel the lines of Guernica and imagine Picasso raising a thickly-laden paintbrush in his studio to condemn the senseless violence of war. Even if art can’t physically unravel the fabric of space-time per se, it certainly lets us trace our fingertips much more freely across its warp and weft, bringing to light the unexpected colors of its strands.

Aaron Curry
Aaron Curry’s almost cartoonish silhouettes evoke a both Picasso and a childhood of pop culture. Image Source: Flickr User See-ming Lee

A Cross-Cultural Web of References

Aaron Curry’s almost-figurative sculptures are some of the most blatantly atemporal forms I have seen in the contemporary art world. His free-flowing silhouettes evoke the bold looseness of Picasso’s cubist figures but freeze that motion in monumental-scale metal sculpture. These forms are often surfaced with brash neons and placed on silk-screened bases that seem definitively Pop or even cartoonish in a slime-ball way. They remind me of the characters on Adult Swim or Nickelodeon that always seem to be oozing some form of radiation or neon slime—maybe an extraterrestrial slug from Rick & Morty that wandered into the studio and posed just long enough to be sketched out and cast in bronze.

Charles Ray’s Hinoki contains an equal density of cross-cultural meaning as Aaron Curry’s figurative sculptures, though Hinoki feels much more at ease with its own complex cultural DNA. Hinoki is an elaborate recreation of a fallen Cypress tree that Ray found in a California meadow. The decomposing form was then re-carved by a team of skilled woodworkers in Osaka. When you hear Ray talk about the work, he focuses on the interior of the log, referencing the Japanese concept of pneuma, or “breath,” and the desire to transfer that breath of life from one living being to another through making sculpture. He also describes the different hands that have touched the material as it was recarved by several different artisans, each leaving a distinctive touch on the wood.

For me, Charles Ray’s Hinoki is a deeply meaningful allegory that can reveal how many, many minds go into one form. Although Hinoki is a “contemporary” sculpture that’s made “by” Charles Ray, it contains a density of cultural meaning that can only come from generations and generations of artists, poets, philosophers, and even trees that have lived and added meaning to our culture. When modern-day collectors are shopping for contemporary sculpture, they are actually accessing a much deeper and more sedimented body of thought than that of any individual artist.

Collectors Find Unexpected Stories in Figurative Sculpture

The meaning behind any one work of art can be deeply influenced by the culture of which it was born. Ray’s sculpture is innately Californian, and it holds the story of his walk through a meadow in his home state where he originally found the form. Likewise, when you hear Curry talk about his cartoonish neons and screenprint, he’ll tell you about the pulp culture and TV shows he absorbed as a kid.

I love the artistic and cultural term of “Dreamtime” that Australian Aboriginal culture uses because it beautifully encapsulates that cultural layering that goes into contemporary art-making. Dreamtime is the idea that an individual’s ancestry becomes one as ideas are passed down and sedimented over time into totemic patterns that guide our lives today. When an art-lover can unfurl the history in an object and read all the stories that went into making an individual piece, its meaning becomes exponentially richer.

The McLeod Studio: Building on Australian History

Aden and Karena McLeod are Australian bronze sculptors whose work builds on a vast international base of knowledge. Aden creates figurative sculptures that are as evocative of the muscularity of Rodin as they are of the elaborate natural forms of Gaudi’s cathedral, or of the gnarled and free-flowing patterns found in nature. Often, their figurative work even weaves in the story of Australia’s heritage, such as their Little Old Man sculpture that celebrates an early encounter between Europeans and the native Australians in Cooktown. The McLeods are available for public and private commissions. If you’re interested, contact them online for a consultation.

Commissioning Figurative Sculpture: Where Personal and Cultural Histories Intersect

Commissioning figurative sculpture for your private art collection can weave your family’s stories into the fabric of our cultural history. Image Source: Flickr User gnuckx
Commissioning figurative sculpture for your private art collection can weave your family’s stories into the fabric of our cultural history. | Image Source: Flickr User gnuckx

The portrait has a storied history: from the elaborate gilded tombs of Tutankhamen to Roman busts to contemporary painting and sculpture, commissioned portraits have etched the stories of our relatives, political leaders, and heroes into stone for future generations of art lovers. Before commissioning figurative work for your collection, aspiring collectors can develop a social dialogue with the art world to hone their vision and to understand how different works in their collection play off each other to create a greater critical and aesthetic impact than a single piece can when considered alone. By developing a creative vision and working closely with the artists who they support, a collector’s personal history becomes woven into the fabric of our culture.

Developing a Dialogue for New Art Collectors

A collector new to the field might feel intimidated at first by the enormous array of artists, galleries, and dealers that are each championing a different aesthetic. The first step to curating an art collection is to do your research — there’s a lot more to art than what visitors see in museums and galleries. Industry magazines like Artforum and Frieze keep a thumb on the pulse of both contemporary and modern art, and reading these trade magazines can expose you to the differing perspectives of the art world. Both tend to focus on mainstream galleries and already-established artists, but they can help you build a foundation of knowledge.

To sort through the fray, it’s important to stay true to your own instincts even as you explore and learn about different art and artists. Follow your eye, follow your heart, and finally, don’t forget to follow your favorite galleries on Instagram! Social media has become an invaluable tool for collectors to learn about openings, and it has democratized which artists’ work gets seen by collectors. You can use that to your advantage to find out what’s happening in the scenes you find most interesting, whether that’s mid-century figurative paintings, contemporary bronze statuary, or abstract painting. By following your favorite art and art critics on social media, you’ll get a constant flow of ideas and inspiration.  How do your taste and your vision fit into this world? Which portraits are you drawn to from art history? Keep those questions in mind as you consider commissioning a piece.

Adele’s captivating gaze and rosebud pout intrigue art-lovers as much as Klimt’s formal innovations and glitzy ornamentation. | Image Source: Wikipedia
Adele’s captivating gaze and rosebud pout intrigue art-lovers as much as Klimt’s formal innovations and glitzy ornamentation. | Image Source: Neue Galerie New York via Wikipedia

Art Collecting Is an Art of its Own

One of my favorite commissioned portraits that became canonized as an art historical treasure is Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Klimt’s and Adele’s individual personalities come across so brightly, and Klimt’s ornamental abstraction feels so vital a step in the progression of art. As you begin to collect individual pieces, you’ll develop a sensitivity to how your individual personality comes across through the pieces you choose, and how a commissioned piece might work with the other art in your collection.

There’s a big difference between collecting art and developing an art collection. The Bloch-Bauer’s commissioned portraits from Klimt became a mutually beneficial patronage and allowed the Bloch-Bauers to express themselves artistically in conjunction with Klimt by modelling for his paintings and collecting his work. Ideally, the art collector doesn’t just buy pieces but can shape a painting’s destiny by highlighting the value of the work. The savviest art collectors, like the Bloch-Bauers, assemble works in a way that each plays off each other to make a whole greater than its parts. A great collection is both critical and celebratory, and the commissioned works become an intersection of the personal and the historical. Of course, even the most prolific collector starts small: to build a collection requires canny planning, a vivisecting eye, and a splash of serendipity.

Like Klimt’s Adele, the Mona Lisa holds her secrets. The mystery of her story and her personality eclipse even the life of DaVinci in the public imagination. Image: Wikipedia
Like Klimt’s Adele, the Mona Lisa holds her secrets. | Image Source: Public Domain via Wikipedia user Dcoetzee

Where Personal and Public Histories Intersect

For a collector who commissions a sculptural portrait, there’s a thrill to seeing the essence of a loved one’s personality become a vital part of our cultural history. The figure of Adele is so bewitching that anyone who sees the painting is drawn into the folds of her gaze. Who is she? What is her story? Like the Mona Lisa, she holds her secrets.

Sometimes the strength and charisma in portraits are almost impossible to articulate. Perhaps there’s no portrait that better captures that enigma than the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa has become part of something larger than her own life. We celebrate her glories and triumphs; we wonder why she smiles and what lies behind her smile. We even celebrate the life of the portrait as it has taken it’s own historic journey, stolen by the Nazi regime and recovered years later, finally coming to rest at its present home at Neue Galerie in New York. The story of the Mona Lisa shows how figurative portrait is truly the intersection of personal and cultural history.

Commissioning Figurative Sculpture for Your Collection

Once you’ve gotten a feel for the world of contemporary art and considered how your commissioned sculpture fits might fit in your personal story as well as the historical art framework, you can confidently a commission a piece that will have lasting value not only for you and your family but for art lovers for many generations to come.

The McLeods are Australian bronze artists specializing in commissioned figurative work. If you’re ready to get started on your commissioned portrait, contact them today for a consultation!


How Cities and Communities Can Develop a Criteria for Successful Public Art

public art
Cloud Gate in Chicago — better known by many as “the Bean” — creates an interactive photographic experience, making it one of the most popular public sculptures in the United States. Image: Flickr User: Giuseppe Milo

We often think of monuments in generic terms — a spire, perhaps, or a bust of a public figure with an inscription. Sculptures like these are vital and important in the effort to preserve our cultural memory, but they also can easily be passed up by the average pedestrian not interested in art history. So what makes for a successful, contemporary public sculpture? The value of a public work of art is subjective, so it can be difficult for cities and arts organizations to develop concrete criteria for commissioning public works.

The success of a public art piece will always hinge on the strength of the artist’s vision and the effective execution of the piece, but there are traits across art history and geopolitical lines that make for consistently successful works of public art. Chicago’s “the Bean,” as well as Chris Burden’s light installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) are two stand-out examples of public artworks that use theatricality and photography to engage the public for a memorable experience. Even on a smaller scale, cities and communities can borrow lessons from these public art installations when considering commissioning a piece of art for their home town.

The Magic of the Bean — Why It’s So Thrilling to See Yourself in Cloud Gate

As a newly-settled resident in Chicagoland, I have to admit that the Bean has played a not-insignificant role in my romance with Chicago. It piqued my interest the first time I was in town, and as I snapped a photo of myself refracted in its wondrous curves, I couldn’t help but think alright, this city’s got something going on. When I came back a year later to move into my apartment, I immediately revisited the Bean and was hit with the same wave of sheer delight — the deal was done.

That sense of the personal is what gives the Bean its unique allure — the Bean is my Bean when I’m in it, the Bean is me-in-Chicago. It welcomes you into a space larger than yourself while intimately capturing your figure. And isn’t that the point of public sculpture — to invite the individual into a collective wonder at our human achievements?

LACMA’s light installation by Chris Burden has become a beloved public sculpture and a popular destination for photographs. Image: Flickr User Michael
LACMA’s light installation by Chris Burden has become a beloved public sculpture and a popular destination for photographs. Image: Flickr User Michael

The Importance of Theatricality in Public Art

A touch of theatrical flair can turn a work of public art into an immersive experience. Chris Burden’s Urban Light installation on the steps of LACMA intrigues visitors with a flair of mystery and showmanship. At night, the lights truly illuminate the steps of the museum into a ghostly, stage-like setting, where the lamps of past and future co-mingle in a surreal environment that tourists flock to like moths.

Today, the act of seeing something is hardly complete without documenting it on Instagram so your friends can see you seeing it. That means that a monument exists as much (or more) through personal photography as it does in physical space. Public art that can capitalize on its own photographability is more likely to become a cultural asset in your city and attract a consistent stream of visitors. Like it or not, the selfie is a way of making public space personal. And like the surface of the Bean, the selfie is the intersection of the personal and the public — it’s a way to exercise collective ownership over public space and public art.

How to Make Your Town’s Public Art a Beacon, Not a Stump

Where public art fails, it becomes what I like to call a “stump.” When you’re walking through your neighborhood and you pass an old tree stump, you may jump up on it for a second as you walk by, or notice it without really thinking about why it’s there. It becomes this non-descript relic, something you may vaguely consider as you pass by but don’t necessarily feel connected to. When cities commission generic and unapproachable public works, the public reacts to it much like a stump.

In contrast, truly great public art becomes a beacon for your city. Even if your city or town cannot endeavor public art on the scale of the Bean or Urban Lights, a public art installation can be your vision of your community manifested in material, an affirmation of the possibilities in a place. For long-time natives and new resident alike, it says — this is your town and you will find what you seek here. By taking lessons from these successful public works and incorporating a touch of interactive theatricality into their public space, cities can avoid building “stumps.” When it comes to public art, people want to feel that they belong and that they’re part of a larger picture — it’s what being a community is all about.

The McLeods are Australian bronze sculptors whose work brings a whimsical and theatrical flair to figurative sculpture and public artwork. If you’re interested in commissioning a piece, feel free to contact us today to talk over the possibilities.

Preserving Memory in Fleeting Times: The Importance of Portrait Sculpture in the Selfie Era

Image Source: Public Domain via Wikiart
Some portraits — like Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer — not only honor the subject but seem to take on a life of their own in the imaginations of art lovers. Image Source: Public Domain via Wikiart

According to Google, 93 million selfies are taken every day.1 That’s a pretty major leap since the Victorian era, to say the least, when the only way to make a lasting picture of someone was to commission an artist to make a sculpture or painting of them. It was a time-honored ritual then, conceiving masterworks like Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer and Henry Weeke’s expressive portrait sculpture of Francis Bacon. In a world where we can snap photos with the flick of an iPhone, those traditional methods of portraiture are no longer necessary to capture a person’s image.

But this tradition remains firmly rooted in our culture — in fact, with the advent of technology, it’s taken on an even greater symbolic role than ever and has evolved into a gesture of deep respect and affection. The material durability, larger-than-life scale, and social function of honoring a hero make portrait sculpture an artistic tradition as vital now as it was in ancient times.

Statue of Zeus Enthroned at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California | Image Source: Getty Open Content
Statue of Zeus Enthroned at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California | Image Source: Getty Open Content

If Memory Were a Material, Would It Be Dust or Marble?

If memory were a material, I imagine it would be geological: sands that settle in small moments and condense to legibility over the millennia. The passage of time warps the original form of the rock formations, and only over time do we understand their meaning and importance. Don’t get me wrong, selfies can be a great and fun way to create personal memories, but if a digital photo is a material memory, I imagine it would be more like dandelion tops fluttering off by the thousands on the breeze, lovely but fleeting.

A portrait sculpture is certainly a material memory — one that mimics contemporary human opinion but holds its own as geopolitical winds shift and time passes. One of my favorite portrait sculptures is one of Zeus at the Getty Villa in Malibu, California, because of its ability to viscerally evoke the materiality of memory. This marble statuette — sculpted by an unknown Greek artist around 100 BC — lay submerged in water for much of its life, so half of Zeus’ body is covered with marine incrustations. The other half was likely submerged in sand, meaning that Zeus’ left side remained impervious to the destructive forces of the water.2

The Meaning of Scale

The larger-than-life scale of a portrait sculpture gives viewers the feeling of being in the presence of a larger-than-life personality. When an image is discerned through the glowing 4-inch space of your iPhone screen, it loses its lasting value. Monumental-scale sculpture has the opposite effect — it imbues the space around it with the personality and charisma of the person it depicts.

Nasser Azam’s monumental-scale portrait of Malala Yousafzai — the young Pakistani activist best known for advocating for education for girls in the Middle East — maximizes the impact of scale to express the honor and respect that we have for Malala and her unwavering pursuit of social justice in Pakistan. At three meters tall, the portrait has an impressive presence, and although I’ve never had the privilege of meeting Malala, I’m sure that it can only mimic the monumentality of her personality and strength of spirit. According to The Guardian, the scale of the sculpture is “intended to reflect the huge impact Yousafzai has had on the world.”3

For Malala, the painting connoted solidarity and support from the public:

“It’s more than a painting for me. It’s the support that it gives to the education campaign that I stand for. That’s why it means so much to me. It shows that people are standing with me to make sure no child is out of school. It is that support that strengthens me – we are together.”4

What’s in an Image?

Even the masters of social media have been calling out the frivolity and fakeness of the selfie era. Eighteen-year-old Instagram celebrity Essina O’Neill recently made international headlines by deleting her popular photo-reel, pointing out that the entire venture had “served no real purpose other than self-promotion.”5 As easily as we can snap a photo these days, it’s clear that our heroes and loved ones deserve to be represented with a spiritual and material depth that exceeds the thickness of an LCD screen. Some art forms become obsolete, but as we navigate a technological world, other forms like portrait sculpture shift and become more vital than ever as they find a new niche of importance in our culture.

The McLeods are Australian bronze artists with experience creating sculptures that celebrate culture and history. If you’re interested in commission a sculpture to honor a public figure or loved one, contact us today for a consultation.


  1. “You’re So Vain: 93 Million Selfies Are Taken Per Day.” WCBSFM 1011. Accessed December 14, 2015.
  2. “Statue of Zeus Enthroned,” The J. Paul Getty Museum, accessed December 22, 2015,
  3. “New Portrait of Malala Yousafzai to Go on Show in Birmingham.” The Guardian. Accessed December 14, 2015.
  4. ibid
  5. “Social Media Star Essina O’Neill Deletes Instagram Account.” The Guardian. Accessed December 14, 2015.

The Lilies, How They Grow: How Religious Sculptures Can Share Natural Symbolism Across International Borders

The roof of the Nave at Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Spain was designed to mimic the complex structure of tree trunks as they branch out into the heavens. | Image Source: Wikipedia
The roof of the Nave at Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Spain was designed to mimic the complex structure of tree trunks as they branch out into the heavens. | Image Source: Wikipedia user Stevo1000

“The ocean of the characteristics of the various colors appeared over an infinite extent. There were banners of precious stones, constantly emitting shining light and emitting beautiful sounds. Nets of myriad gems and garlands of exquisitely scented flowers hung all around. The finest jewels appeared spontaneously, raining inexhaustible quantities of gems and beautiful flowers all over the earth. There were rows of jewel trees, their branches and foliage lustrous and luxuriant.”

-Avatamaska Sutra, from the Flower Ornament Scripture

The unrestrained rapture of the Buddhist Flower Ornament Scripture articulates all that is beautiful in the terrestrial world — like the best art, it brings us just one iota closer to comprehending that glorious realm called enlightenment. In Antoni Gaudí’s famous Sagrada Familia cathedral in Spain, the architecture shares a similar, wholly unrestrained rapture that expresses all the exuberance of the natural world. It reminds us that, even in the smallest facet of the smallest flower, the universe is reflected. The lettuce edges of Sagrada Familia scroll outward from the moulding with a lushness that renders even the most cynical and restrained of architectural critics child-like with delight.

The natural symbolism in religious sculpture is a theme that transcends geopolitical boundaries and continues to hold an uplifting, inspirational quality that unites congregations and communities. When considering commissioning a statue for their chapels, contemporary churches can draw on this aesthetic history, from the florid ornamentation of Buddhist poetry and Gaudi’s architecture to the geometric floral mandalas of Islamic mosaic work and the roses of Spanish Madonnas.

This Safavid watercolor and ink painting by Iranian artist Shayk Abbāsī depicts Jesus and Mary framed by an illuminated, scrolling floral motif. Image: The Walters Museum
This Safavid painting by Iranian artist Shayk Abbāsī depicts Jesus and Mary framed by an illuminated, scrolling floral motif. Image Source: The Walters Museum

Floral Symbolism Abounds in Religious Texts

The word “paradise” originates from the ancient Persian word pairidaeza.1

This won’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with Islamic art — the theme of the garden of paradise frequently appears throughout Islamic art and texts. The Iranian watercolor Jesus and Mary by eleventh-century Iranian artist Shayk Abbāsī exemplifies the decorative potential that Islamic artists found in abstracted, geometric florals — this motif carried over into the mosaiced ornamentation of mosques and mausoleums such as the Ayyubid Sultan Qalawun in Cairo.2

The idea of finding paradisiacal beauty in the natural world also appears in the Bible in verses like Luke 12:27-28: “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.” In the characteristically straightforward language of the Christian Bible, this verse points to the natural beauty of the lily as a lesson in humility and trust. Though more plain-spoken than the elaborate poetics of the Flower Ornament Sutra, the verse from Luke teaches the same lesson: that the smallest bud in nature contains all the glory of the universe.

Matisse turned his abilities as a painter and sculptor toward designing the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence. The result was a chapel unlike any other, imbued with his unique sensibility and a feeling of humble joy. Image | Flickr user Monica Arellano Ongpin
Matisse turned his abilities as a painter and sculptor toward designing the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence. | Image Source: Flickr user Monica Arellano Ongpin

Natural Symbolism Has a Universal Appeal in Contemporary Religious Sculptures

The vivid imagination and rich metaphors that artists have historically found in natural forms still bring a universal appeal and sense of wonder to congregations. The Sagrada Familia attracts three million visitors to Barcelona every year, making it a favorite site for pilgrimage and Barcelona’s most popular attraction. When churches choose to work with an individual sculptor to make work specifically for their site, the sculptor can help to imbue a sense of life in the chapel that offers a new richness of meaning for the congregation as they worship. Toward the end of his life, Henri Matisse put both his painterly and sculptural abilities to the task of designing a chapel for the Dominican sisters of Vence. The result was the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence, a building that I find achingly beautiful in its simplicity and its joy. It is uniquely Matisse, with it’s humble joy and clean lines that capture the fleeting jubilance of life. In both the Familia Sagrada in Spain and Chapelle du Rosaire in Italy, Gaudi and Matisse’s artistic visions continue to inspire church members and visitors alike to this day.

Even for churches that can’t endeavor religious sculptures on such a large scale, one of the best ways that chapels can share the beauty of the natural world found in religious text is to commission a unique religious sculpture. By working with a sculptor to create a visionary and poignant piece of art, churches today can continue the proven tradition of using art to create inspiring spiritual spaces that reach their congregation and the community beyond.

The McLeods are Australian bronze sculptors, experienced in making custom religious sculptures for chapels and places of worship. The McLeods’ work is a celebration of natural beauty, and their international travels have given them the opportunity to engage with a wide range of religious traditions and religious sculptures. If your church is considering investing in custom sculpture to enliven your chapel, contact the McLeods today for a consultation.

  1. “Underneath Which Rivers Flow: The Symbolism of the Islamic Garden.” The Islamic Monthly. December 9, 2015. Accessed December 9, 2015.
  2. “Introduction to Islamic Art.” Introduction to Islamic Art. Accessed December 9, 2015.

The Muse Is in the Material: How a University Sculpture Garden Can Get Students Off Smartphones and Spark Conversation on Campus

Public spaces like this one at Jena University in Germany can provide an inspiring environment for students to exchange ideas. | Image Source: Flickr User arenamontanus
Public spaces like this one at Jena University in Germany can provide an inspiring environment for students to exchange ideas. | Image Source: Flickr User arenamontanus

Many of my best memories in college took place in our campus sculpture garden. I remember skateboarding barefoot over to my friends’ dorms at our SoCal campus to meet up, lay on the grass in the shade of a large metal sculpture, and talk. We would bring our books, talk about ideas we were learning in lectures — our friends were pursuing a variety of degrees, so the conversations were varied and exciting, ranging from the geological forces at play below the grass to the architecture of Gaudi’s Cathedral to the aesthetics merits of the sculptures around us. They say that very young children learn the most at recess, and I’d argue the same for college students —  some of your most intellectually stimulating conversations happen between lectures when you’re just hanging out in campus public spaces between classes.

With the advent of networked technology and mobile connectivity to distract today’s students from these vital exchanges on campuses, it’s more important than ever for university officials to maximize the potential of their public spaces. Sculpture gardens and public monuments spark dialogue and gather people together to exchange ideas.

Campus Public Spaces Bring Students Together

Campus architecture and university public spaces bring students together and inspire the kind of conversations that catalyze new ideas and inspire students to take ownership of their future. Early university architects developed the concept of the “quad” to serve exactly this purpose: schools were often built on the edge of wilderness areas where land was cheap and students were distanced from the usual distractions of urban life. The quad on campus served as a metaphor for seeking meaning in the wilderness and finding a paradisiacal garden where one’s mind could fully blossom.1

If you look at the quads and sculpture gardens of today, that vision seems to have largely been realized. Modern university public spaces strive to provide a place where young people can grow intellectually while experiencing a freedom to talk, learn, and play that can be hard to find at other times throughout adult life. The subcultures that blossom in the public spaces of a university often go on to have a widespread impact on our national culture and political dialogue, but technology has changed the architectural considerations that affect how these public exchanges unfold for today’s students.

More and More, Technology Makes Our Public Spaces Private

To design a public space is to design a stage for behavior. The atmosphere can direct people toward reflection or engagement, guiding visitors through a high-traffic area to encourage private relaxation in a clearing or nook. As Winston Churchill concisely phrased it: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” Public spaces such as university quads or sculpture gardens were originally designed to encourage relaxation and engagement but have become increasingly privatized with the advent of handheld screen technology. Students can bring their laptop or smartphone outdoors and completely leave the public space for the private worlds of their screens.

Researchers from the University of Aarhus in Denmark and Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden discuss our changing paradigm for what is acceptable in public space. In their work Reclaiming Public Space, the authors point out handheld technology’s aptitude for creating “private individual spaces in the public domain.”[Eriksson, Eva, Thomas Riisgaard Hansen, and Andreas Lykke-Olesen.2 There are benefits to this, of course, but the Danish architects also pointed out that “a large part of physical public space is experienced visually.” What may seem at first like an obvious truism actually offers a very real, applicable lesson for universities as they work to engage students buried in their private, techno-centric space and to reclaim public space as a place for engagement and conversation. These public spaces become more and more important in the digital age because they give people something to see and more importantly, to experience something physical, something real.

How Universities Can Maximize the Potential of Public Spaces on Campus

For university officials, helping their student body to grow intellectually and have a stimulating college experience goes beyond the administrative details — it means looking at your campus as a whole to see what brings students together. Some universities are fortunate to already have that space set aside as a sculpture garden, but for campuses that don’t, and for universities that don’t have major endowment funds to spend on renovation, starting small is a good approach. Creating smaller nooks and points of sculptural interest on campus can be a strong jumping-off point to stimulate student engagement and make the most of your existing space. The first step is to consult with an experienced artist whose work will have the visual impact to truly engage students.

Is the Sculpture Garden Our Last “Public” Public Space?

Thinking back on it now, the time I spent at my university sculpture garden was more important than I realized. It’s clear to me now that we would go there to talk because something about the environment actually inspired conversation. One friend told me of her grandmother who had been blacklisted as a screenwriter in Hollywood for her liberal views as we sat on a stone bench inscribed with the history of McCarthyism. Another friend and I would sketch in charcoal and pastel-pencils the roses that bloomed by the base of a large metallic sphere. We watched the blooms reflect into an infinite metallic kaleidoscope of roses on its enormous convex skin, debating Simulacra and Simulation and the poetic merits of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “The Bowl of Roses.”

If we met up in someone’s dorm room, our time was likely to (okay, more like always) devolve into a game of Nintendo 64 or someone flipping open their laptop for a long and aimless playlist of Youtube videos. But the sculpture garden had a remarkable propensity for generating substantive dialogue between us. And the principles that applied to me and my friends still hold true for students today — in fact, they may be even more poignant as technology increasingly distracts us from the people and spaces around us.  Public art on universities allows students to get out of the technological black hole for a moment and engage with one another, exchange ideas, and inspire the visions that will ultimately create the future.

The McLeods are Australian bronze artists with experience making large-scale public sculptures. Their sculptures often engage with historic and environmental issues to tell colorful stories from Australian history, bring people together, and spark public dialogue. If you’re looking to collaborate with an experienced sculptor to maximize the potential of your campus, contact them for a consultation — for the artist, there are few joys greater than knowing that your work will bring new ideas to light for young people and making a lasting impact on a student’s life.

  1. “From Granite to Green: The Quad’s Purpose.” St. Lawrence University. Accessed December 7, 2015.
  2. “Reclaiming Public Space- Designing for Public Interaction with Private Devices.” February 1, 2007. Accessed December 7, 2015.

The Stories Behind the Stories: How Libraries Can Use Public Sculpture of Literary Figures to Bring Our Cultural Memory to Life

Gertrude Stein’s larger-than-life character, immortalized in bronze in New York City, continues to inspire new generations of readers.| Image Source: Flickr user K. Kendall
Gertrude Stein’s larger-than-life character, immortalized in bronze in New York City, continues to inspire new generations of readers.| Image Source: Flickr user K. Kendall

Gertrude Stein had a larger-than-life personality. As one of her biographers described her: “Gertrude was hearty. She used to roar with laughter, out loud. She had a laugh like beefsteak.”1 Reading her work, I feel like I almost share her memories of warm, clattering dinners in her home, gossipping with the members of her artsy supper club like Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway as they orbited around Gertrude and serving plates piled high with thickly-sliced beefsteak. For me, the public sculpture that captures her portrait in cast bronze in Bryant Park in New York City seems to perfectly contain her essence that I always longed to experience in real life. Spending time with this statue never fails to reignite my love for her oddball poetry and her razor-sharp art criticism.

At the heart of it, that’s what public sculpture is about — bringing our history and culture to life. Libraries, perhaps more than any other public institution, have a unique opportunity to give color to the collective memories we share as a culture. And some of our strongest cultural memories come from popular books and literary figures. What would American cultural history be without Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer? What would French cultural history be without Alexandre Dumas’ story of the Three Musketeers or Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame? By preserving our most beloved literary figures in sculpture, libraries can continue to connect modern-day readers with great works of art from our history.  

Libraries Must Tread the Line Between Lasting Value and Passing Fads

As libraries choose how to best allocate their precious funds to nurture literary passion through the generations, it’s easy to try to get ahead of the curve and invest in the latest digital trends. But before libraries jump on the digital bandwagon, decision makers should consider projects like the Library of Congress’ recent and arguably disastrous attempt to archive Twitter. This campaign, which was first announced in the spring of 2010, intended to siphon around 400 tweets per day from social media and archive them for later access. Instead, it spawned public ridicule and headlines like “Twitter Archive is a huge #FAIL” as the project lagged over the last five years. In the end, this attempt to connect to a contemporary audience did more to alienate potential library-goers than attract them, with critics citing it as a “waste of time and money” to archive “social media ephemera.”2

This makes a poignant remark about the unpredictability of the long-term value of media and contemporary communications. It begs the question: Should we try to preserve our cultural memory in 140-character snippets? Of course, we’d like to preserve everything, but with tight budgets and an ever-increasing amount of content, libraries have to make tough decisions about which initiatives will successfully connect today’s readers with our cultural history. Figurative sculpture is a long-standing tradition at libraries because it works: it teaches a biographical story in an immediate, engaging way and connects us to our collective cultural memory.

The Library — Where Our Cultural Memory Lives

The Library of Congress’ attempt to catalog our social media output was an admirable, if perhaps ultimately misguided, attempt to redefine the way we preserve cultural memory. Cultural memory, rather than an individual memory, is the collective memory that exists in the imagination of the public. It defines the stories we tell about ourselves and is comprised of the books, films, and artwork that we choose to immortalize in public institutions like libraries and museums. Why are libraries so important to the cultivation and preservation of cultural memory? The answer may best be summed up by the Canadian historians Jacques Mathieu and Jacques Lacoursière:

Collective memory is society’s knowledge about itself. It defines who we are in the light of who we no longer are. . . .Our collective and cultural memory is reflected in the knowledge we find about ourselves in the library — in any great library. Such knowledge serves to connect us to a point of self-recognition related to the greater whole of generations that have preceded us — part of something that has endured since the beginning of recorded history and will continue to endure as part of some future legacy.3

Our minds process information in a way that creates meaning, and we remember the things that we feel are significant and meaningful. Likewise, libraries, have the unique and vital role of curating collective memory, which they do by filtering through the vast quantities of content that our culture produces to determine which works are worth remembering.

In biology, this is called encoding: the process by which a memorable event causes your neurons to fire more rapidly, thus giving you a more intense experience than normal and increasing the brain’s ability to store it as a memory. As with literature, real-life events that trigger our emotions are more likely to be encoded to our memory.4 The books and authors that are able to activate our deepest, most complicated emotions — for me, the Romantic poets and the great adventure stories — are the ones that we treasure and remember.

Designing Libraries to Set the Stage for Learning

Considering the vital role that they play in preserving our cultural memory, libraries need to be conscious that their spaces are truly inviting and that they facilitate learning. With the internet and smartphones making it all-too-easy to be distracted from the spaces where we exist, it can be difficult to engage people long enough for them to sit down, relax with a book, and have a meaningful experience at a library.

As libraries address this challenge and consider how to allocate their funds to best engage future generations of readers, the ability for figurative sculpture to capture personality, aesthetically grab our attention, and draw us into a story is more vital than ever. When you look at the straightforward gaze and challenging stance of Gertrude Stein’s sculpture in Bryant Park, you can’t help but stop and think, who is this woman? There are so many ideas within her figure.

When selecting a literary figure to honor, authors whose works carry a great deal of personality within their pages — for example, Mark Twain’s colorful witticisms about American culture — are more likely to engage prospective readers. Once you’ve selected a literary figure you’d like to highlight in your library, it’s best to consult with an experienced artist who can deliver a piece that captures the charisma and character of the subject.

Public Sculpture Helps Libraries to Connect with Readers of All Ages

Reaching young children through fun activities is a straightforward approach for libraries to connect with our youngest generations, and older, lifelong readers are already accustomed to regularly using libraries. But for that age group in between — those tricky millennials — it’s a common fear that young people aren’t interested in reading more than 140 characters at a time.  

It’s clear from initiatives like the Library of Congress’ failed Twitter project that libraries and other public institutions are worried about connecting with younger audiences who are given to modern-day digital communication. But more than ever, we need libraries to hold onto the deep and valuable works of literature that let us escape from the shallow world. The advent of Twitter, hashtags, and easily-digested snippets of information hasn’t brought an end to humanity’s love for literature that offers depth and meaning. Biographical statues at libraries will play a vital role in bringing our culture to life for many generations to come.

The McLeods are Australian bronze artists with experience creating public sculptures that celebrate Australia’s colorful history and invite people to learn our shared stories. If you’re considering investing in new artwork to make your library an engaging place for learning, contact us today for a consultation.

  1. Carson, Anne. Glass, Irony, and God. New York: New Directions Book, 1995. 121.
  2. “Library of Congress’ Twitter Archive Is a Huge #FAIL.” POLITICO. Accessed December 4, 2015.
  3. “The Library and Its Place in Cultural Memory: The Grande Bibliothèque du Québec in the Construction of Social and Cultural Identity,” Libraries & the Cultural Record, Vol. 42, No. 4 (Fall 2007): 349-386.
  4. “Memory Encoding – Memory Processes – The Human Memory.” Memory Encoding – Memory Processes – The Human Memory. Accessed December 4, 2015.

Feeling Stressed? A Water Sculpture Might Be Just the Solution to Creating a Peaceful Home

A water sculpture can provide a sense of calm and peace in your home or garden. | Image Source: Flickr User kristoffer m.c.
A water sculpture can provide a sense of calm and peace in your home or garden. | Image Source: Flickr User kristoffer m.c.

When I’m feeling stressed, even the simplest tasks start to feel difficult. Things as small as responding to an email or buying groceries can feel like insurmountable barriers to reaching some peace and quiet on the other side of a mountainous to-do list. And as our world grows ever more chaotic, interconnected, and demanding, our stress levels seem to be reaching a maximum.

We travel the world to relax and unwind on pristine beaches and at spas, but we often forget the potential to create relaxing environments in our own homes. When you’re battling stress, it becomes more important than ever that your home offers a peaceful respite from a chaotic world. One of the simplest ways to do this is by adding the element of water to your home. Water features are proven to alleviate the physical effects of stress and can improve your emotional state, and a home water sculpture can be a touchstone of peace that keeps you physically and emotionally healthy.

Maximize Your Well-Being by Harnessing the Healing Powers of Water

Two in five working Australians — or 45% — cite the workplace as a key stressor in their lives.1 Americans also report rising stress levels, with Carnegie-Mellon University researchers reporting that our self-reported levels of stress are up 10-30% in the last three decades.2 Considering that stress is a serious health concern known to aggravate anxiety, depression, heart disease, memory, and concentration, it’s far past time to take action. Developing a conscious space in your home to relax can reclaim your health and nurture the rich inner emotional landscape that grows when it’s given the space and clarity it needs.

The power of water in healing can seem mysterious, but it appears throughout history as a vital element in healing and cleansing. Our body has equally deep-rooted memories of water as a source of comfort and calm. “Our first relationship was with water,” says Sandra Ingerman, author of Medicine for the Earth: How to Transform Personal and Environmental Toxins. “Most of us receive comfort from water.”3

By accessing that emotional memory, water can take us away from the immediate, transient stressors that tend to latch onto the forefront of our consciousness. The sounds and sights of water are grounding and immediate as you become aware and present in the space around you. This unity can relax the body and separate you from your everyday anxieties, allowing you to enter a calm state that facilitates healing.

Negative Ionization May Be the Key to Water’s Healing Properties

Naturally, scientists have long been captivated by water and its healing properties. Through clinical studies, scientists like Dr. Alpert P. Krueger have found that flowing water releases negative ions that are shown to have positive, stress-reversing effects. Dr. Krueger, who studied the effects of negative ionization at the University of California, found that negative ions released by falling water kill airborne germs; research shows that flu patients recover more quickly when exposed to negative ions.4

The negatively charged particles in water positively affect your mood by raising serotonin levels, alleviating depression and stress, and boosting your daily energy. Considering the soothing effects of falling water on one’s brain chemistry, it comes as no surprise that poets like Rainer Maria Rilke and Mary Oliver have celebrated it throughout time as a well of the infinite and a mirror of internal calm.

How to Integrate a Water Sculpture into Your Home

There are some considerations to make before you decide to integrate a water sculpture into your home. Be cognizant of the different sounds and background noise around you home, and find a space in your home or garden where the sound of your water sculpture fits smoothly into the environment. By choosing an appropriate spot, the water feature can help create a new, more peaceful melody that fills your mind, allowing your brain to calm down from the frantic 120 BPM pace that we so often maintain during our work day.

Be mindful to maximize the health benefits of your water sculpture by choosing a location where it can easily be integrated into your daily lifestyle. If you’re not an outdoor person, don’t commission an outdoor sculpture where you won’t be able to fully enjoy it. If you prefer to relax after work in the living room, consider an indoor water sculpture in the living room. By tailoring a location for the sculpture that compliments your existing routine, you can more easily redirect your daily routine toward stress relief and meditative time.

Getting Started: Consult an Experienced Artist

Before planning your interior or exterior water sculpture, find an experienced sculpture artist that can help you create a personalized piece to suit both the style of your home and your criteria for a relaxing experience. The McLeods have been working with Australian homes and businesses for years to create custom bronze works and water sculptures. If you’re ready to harness the healing power of water in your home, we can help you get started. Contact us today for a consultation.

  1. “Australians’ Stress Levels Remain High, Survey Reveals.” Australian Psychological Society. Accessed November 30, 2015.
  2. “Stress Levels Soar in America by 30% in 30 Years.” NY Daily News. Accessed December 1, 2015.
  3. “Healing Water,” WebMD, Accessed November 30, 2015,
  4. “Negative Ions – Sometimes Negative Is Good.” Health Benefits of Water, August 7, 2014, accessed December 2, 2015,

The Dangers of Cheap Furniture and Why Reclaimed Wood Furniture Is a Healthier Choice for Your Home

Reclaimed wood furniture is safer than modern day wood composites that can leach chemicals in your home.
Reclaimed wood furniture is safer than modern day wood composites that can leach chemicals in your home. | Image Source: McLeod Sculpture

Pine, cherry, oak, maple — these are words that come to mind when I think of wood. Never have I been in the Outback, cooling my feet in a clear stream and thought, “What a beautiful grove of MDF!” In fact, I’ve started to suspect any material with a name long enough to be made into an acronym. But consumers that demand low costs have become accustomed to low-quality wood composites like medium density fiberboard — MDF, for short — and particleboard, a Frankenstein of scrap wood chips that are fused together with adhesives to create a new material.

Buying new furniture made from composites depletes our forests and encourages a throw-away mentality that leaves our landfills overflowing, but perhaps worst of all, the resins and adhesives used to reconstitute wood fiber into composite boards can off-gas toxic chemicals into your home throughout their lifespan.

Salvaged Wood Materials Let You Breathe Easier

Many mass-market manufacturers like Ikea work largely with particleboard and MDF. This keeps costs low and makes their furniture wildly popular around the world, but the convenience comes at the expense of customers’ health. The resins used to reconstitute wood fiber into MDF and wood flakes into particleboard release toxic gasses throughout the furniture’s lifespan. The urea formaldehyde contained in the MDF becomes free formaldehyde in the air.1 The airborne formaldehyde is a suspected human carcinogen and has been known to cause eye and throat irritation, as well as nasal carcinomas in animal studies. The development of airborne formaldehyde from the urea formaldehyde resins used to make MDF have been reported in clinical studies as incontrovertible. This has caused serious concern for environmental and health-conscious consumers but has received shockingly little regulatory attention thus far, leaving the burden of choice to consumers.

Besides the health hazards that come from composite boards off-gassing in your home, composite woods are also inferior quality. They look and feel unnatural — particleboard has to be coated in paints and other synthetic finishes to even be usable as furniture.2 In contrast, salvaged woods were often cut from old-growth trees and offer great structural integrity as well as beautiful and unique texture and coloration.

Choose Reclaimed Wood Furniture and Let Living Forests Do Their Job  

Eighteen million acres of forest are estimated to be lost each year to deforestation — that’s enough trees to cover the entire country of Panama.3 The lumber industry and mass-produced discount furniture industries have taken a cavalier attitude towards our natural resources, encouraging a throw-away culture that doesn’t value well-made products. National Geographic has referred to it as a “forest holocaust,” with 80% of the world’s natural forests having fallen prey to deforestation.4

Deforestation is a known aggravating factor in climate change. In fact, deforestation has been reported to account for 6 – 12% of annual global carbon dioxide emissions. Living trees siphon carbon dioxide from the air and, in turn, breathe life-giving oxygen. This exchange between plants and animals is vital to life on Earth — as the former turns carbon dioxide into oxygen, the latter provides the complimentary service of converting oxygen into carbon dioxide. Removing these vital carbon sinks disrupts this delicate symbiotic balance, allowing carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere.

In addition to the climate concerns surrounding logging, the milling process to get virgin wood ready for sale is a heavy environmental polluter. Cutting, transporting, and milling wood requires a high quantity of fossil fuels, and the resins used to conglomerate the wood chips only contribute to ongoing environmental damage throughout the furniture’s lifespan.

Set the Tone for your Life with the Materials Around You

In his collection of essays on architecture and interior design titled Atmospheres, Swiss architect Peter Zumthor says that the objects we choose to surround ourselves with are as much a part of our lives, our home, and our space as the architecture of our domestic spaces. They create the sense of home. Speaking at the Wendlinghausen Castle in Germany, he spoke about how the nature of the castle’s architecture was deeply rooted in its landscape and use of local materials. The inner beauty of the interior materials contributes to the overall experience of beauty that a person feels in its presence.5

The local woods used in the castle impart a feeling of solidity and wholeness to the environment. By choosing salvaged hardwoods, you can give your home a similar contextual richness.

Salvaged woods come with their own history, and the varied qualities in reclaimed wood furniture seem to contain quiet stories sealed in their surfaces. A damaged and reconstituted wood that off-gasses resin is a wounded injury, but a healed wood has inner and outer beauty. Salvaging lumber invokes a vibrant energy in the wood and brings a positive feeling into your home.

Additionally, the variety of grain, sheen, and wood tone found in salvaged woods can’t be bought at Home Depot. The wide range of unusual woods and unique patterns of wear offer gorgeous striation and one-of-a-kind finishes — my favorite part of owning a piece of reclaimed wood furniture is the character it develops as it wears and ages over time. These woods offer architectural charisma to elevate the style of your home.

For Health and Happiness, Choose Salvaged Woods

Buying furniture, like any interior design decision you make for your home, is a choice that sets the tone of your home, and by extension, your life. A piece of reclaimed wood furniture imparts its own energy into your home, brings architectural elegance to your space, and helps to heal the Earth rather than harm it. Perhaps most importantly, by choosing salvaged woods over composite woods or mass-manufactured furniture, you’ll be making a choice that keeps your family healthy and happy in your home for years to come.

Artisans like the McLeods are bringing the craft back into furniture craftsmanship, creating elegant furniture with its own history from salvaged woods. If you are interested to learn more about reclaimed wood furniture, or want to get design ideas for your home, contact the McLeods today.


  1. Kim, Sumin, and Hyun-Joong Kim. “Comparison of Standard Methods and Gas Chromatography Method in Determination of Formaldehyde Emission from MDF Bonded with Formaldehyde-based Resins.” Science Direct. 2005. Accessed November 27, 2015.
  2. “Furniture Construction Issues Relative to VOC Off-Gassing from Composite Wood Furniture.” MAS Certified Green. Accessed November 13, 2015.
  3. Bradford, By. “Deforestation: Facts, Causes & Effects.” LiveScience. March 4, 2015. Accessed November 27, 2015.
  4. “7 Striking Examples of Deforestation from NASA.” MNN. Accessed November 27, 2015.
  5. Zumthor, Peter. Atmospheres: Architectural Environments, Surrounding Objects. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2006.

Why Every Art Lover Should Visit Queensland: The Best Spots for Cultural Tourism in Northern Australia

Big Captain Cook in Cairns is a fun stop along the route of Australia’s cult classic Big Things. Image Source: Flickr User apasciuto
Big Captain Cook in Cairns is a fun stop along the route of Australia’s cult classic Big Things. Image Source: Flickr User apasciuto

Australia just may be the world’s most untapped destination for cultural tourism. When most people think of Australia, they think of its unique wildlife and beautiful beaches. Don’t get me wrong, lounging on beaches and seeing marsupials are both fantastic reasons to visit Australia, but the Land Down Under has even more to offer cultural tourists and art lovers alike who are interested to know more about Australia’s unique history.

In the northern region of Queensland we at McLeod call home, we’ve immortalized our heroes in public sculptures —  a tour of these sites gives a unique and personal glimpse into the stories that have made Australia the place it is today. Queensland’s fascinating history is best told through its oral histories, heroic tales, and public sculpture. Once you get a taste, you may be ready to say “G’day” to the Western hemisphere and plan your walkabout with some of these favorite art installations around Queensland.

The Must-Sees for Cultural Tourists and Art Lovers in Queensland

Australian history intersects with the history of other countries and cultures more than you may realize, thanks to its colonial history and its time as a penal colony of the United Kingdom. Many Westerners have ancestors who were sent to Australia as convicts, making it especially attractive to cultural tourists from Europe and the States interested to learn more about their genealogy. Queensland offers some of the art attractions that best exemplify the history and culture of Australia. Here’s a look at some of our favorites.

Lady Diamantina Bowen | Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Lady Diamantina Bowen | Image Source: Wikimedia User Kgbo

Lady Diamantina Bowen, Gardens Point, Brisbane

As a little girl, I always adored stories of noble women from around the world — no matter what time or place she lives in, an elegant woman is captivating and mysterious. To me, Lady Diamantina Bowen exemplifies that noble woman of nineteenth-century Australian society: delicate and stately, as poised in her life as she is in sculpture. As the wife of the governor of Queensland, she struck the chord for the style of Brisbane women through her distinctive taste in fashion, her high education, and her social and musical accomplishments. In life, she was described as having a beauty that came from her expression: mild hauteur coupled with a slender silhouette and calm elegance. Contributing to charity through active patronage and community engagement, Lady Diamantina Bowen exemplifies the charm and style of her day. Created in 2009, this sculpture from Phillip Piperides is an exciting stop for children and adults who love stories of historical women of importance as much as I did, and it’s an opportunity for the whole family to learn about Australia’s nobility through the life of this intriguing woman.

Petrie Tableau | Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Petrie Tableau | Image Source: Wikimedia User russavia

Petrie Tableau, King George Square, Brisbane

Sculpted by Stephen Walker in 1988, this delightfully whimsical sculpture stands as a monument to the early pioneer days of Queensland. While Australia is famous for being a home for English convicts, this sculpture depicts the Petrie family, some of the first free-settlers to land in the area. It exemplifies the life and stoic spirit of Andrew Petrie, who made his living in construction and building colonial Australia. He was also the first European to climb Mount Beerwah, one of the Glass House Mountains that the celebrated Captain James Cook spied in his travels. The sculpture, located in King George Square in Brisbane, also playfully boasts two kangaroos perched at its base.


Queen Victoria | Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Queen Victoria | Image Source: Flickr user Michael Simmons

Queen Victoria, Queens Gardens, Brisbane

Queens Gardens in Brisbane is named in honor of Queen Victoria of the British Empire, for whom the celebrated and distinctive Victorian Era is also named. Among the many accomplishments she can claim, Victoria notably modernized the English monarchy and made the throne more symbolic than political. Victoria holds a special place in the history of the United Kingdom, and by extension Australia. It’s rare to see a monarch offer increased power to the people at the expense of the throne. The garden’s monument to Queen Victoria was created by Thomas Brock in 1906 but is still relevant today, as another English monarch — Queen Elizabeth II — continues to serve as Australia’s official head of state. This sculpture serves as a powerful reminder to observers of the lingering power of the United Kingdom in the Land Down Under. 

The Big Captain Cook, Big Things, Cairns

You can’t make a road trip through Australia without stopping to snap a few selfies with Australia’s cult classicBig Things. Folk art has an ongoing love for big stuff like tall tales and larger-than-life heroes, and Australia’s Big Things do “big” in a big way. With an estimated 150 oversized statues of Australian heroes around the continent, and objects like instruments and local fish, these statues exemplify that winking Australian sense of humor and are a cult favorite for tourists and locals alike.

The Big Captain Cook in Cairns is our pick for the local folk flavor on our tour of Queensland’s figurative sculpture. This sculpture gives you a slice of Australia’s history from a more populist perspective. If you ask any Australian kid of schooling age, they’ll know all about Captain James Cook, the British explorer and cartographer who discovered Australia. Your family will love this history lesson, too, in the form of this larger-than-life sculpture.

The Little Old Man, Endeavour River, Cooktown

In case you haven’t noticed, we Australians love the story of Captain Cook. Aden and Karena McLeod created The Little Old Man sculpture in Cooktown — also named after Captain Cook —  as a nod to the story of Cook’s coming to the southeastern coast of Cape York. Cook landed in the area in 1770 and stayed for 48 days while he repaired his ship and explored the local flora and fauna. At one point during his stay, the Europeans had a skirmish over a haul of captured turtles, but an indigenous elder — the inspiration for The Little Old Man —  stopped the feud by approaching the armed Europeans holding a spear with a broken tip in a brave gesture of peace. Cooktown is known as an exemplar of social and cultural integration in this remote area of Australia, perhaps best exemplified by the common local saying, “two cultures, one people.”

The Little Old Man celebrates this wise man who helped to establish a culture of peace. This sculpture has a story with a heart beat behind it — you’ll walk away feeling uplifted by the courage of the human spirit, even in trying times.

We Can’t Wait to See You!

Honestly, you can’t capture the spirit and wildness of Australia in words. Whether it’s tromping through Queens Garden for a glimpse of our history as part of Great Britain or learning Australia’s early history through Big Captain Cook, the public figurative sculpture of Queensland paints a vivid picture of Australia’s past you won’t soon forget.

While you’re in the area, stop by and say hello! The McLeod studio is located in Tropical North Queensland in the Cairns Hinterland, approximately a one-hour drive from Cairns. Cairns lies on the coast by the Coral Sea and northern Great Barrier Reef.  The hinterland is a World Heritage listed wet tropic rainforest, and it forms part of the Great Dividing Range that runs from North Queensland right down to southern Australia. Australia has some of the most gorgeous weather and beaches on the planet, so no matter where you go, you’ll enjoy the weather while you explore Australia’s outdoor artworks.

If you’re interested in cultural tourism and public art in Queensland, and you’d like to know more about where McLeod sculptures are located around Northern Australia, contact the McLeods today.