A community comes together

The Wollombi Valley Sculpture Festival, Sculpture in the Vineyards, has been a part of the region’s art calendar for almost two decades.

Wollombi is an aboriginal word meaning “meeting place of the waters” or simply “meeting place”. So maybe it shouldn’t surprise anyone that a particularly tight knit community is behind one of the oldest and largest sculpture festivals in rural NSW. “I’ve been coming to the Sculpture Festival for years, and what has always differentiated it from other places is the sense of community,” says Festival Director Susan Leith-Miller.    

“We need art and the beautiful sculptures to add dimension to our lives and last year the whole valley got involved and owned this event. Beautiful art and the community – they well and truly came together.”  

Nurtured by the success of last year’s Festival, a record 300 entries have been submitted with both local, national and international artists participating. High profile names include 2019 First Prize winner Robert Barnstone, Paul Selwood, Braddon Snape, Chris Hodges, Harrie Fasher, Louis Pratt, Michael LeGrande, Stephen Coburn and Peter Tilley, winner of the 2019 Small Sculpture prize, to name but a few.

The quality of submissions has always been high and around two thirds are accepted for exhibition. High profile judges, art critic John McDonald and curator at Newcastle Art Gallery Sarah Johnson, award a total of $34,000 in prize money across various categories, including the coveted 2325 (the post code for Wollombi) award for local artists. 

Last year’s winner of the 2325 is Amanda Lockton, a novice artist and a fire fighter. The works she submitted to the Festival were the first pieces of art she had ever created. When she was announced as the winner, she was out fighting fires with the rural fire brigade. “Someone got on the phone and said you better get down here. She turned up with her face black and her gear still on to receive the award,” Susan recalls fondly.  

There will be numerous indoor and outdoor exhibits across the Valley, in vineyards, in the quaint hamlet of Laguna and against the stunning backdrop of historic Wollombi village. Award winning artist Paul Selwood, a Wollombi local, will open his spectacular Sculpture Park.

With limited spots to this very special treat, it’s a good idea to get in quick and sign up on the Festival’s website.  Since the Festival runs for 16 days, Susan recommends staying for a couple of days to fully enjoy it all.  “We love for visitors to come mid-week to truly enjoy the calm and serenity of the valley.

And wouldn’t it be a pity if you couldn’t enjoy a leisurely lunch or try our local wines because you have to get back behind the wheel?”  Myrtle House Cafe, Wollombi Tavern, and local wineries Noyce Brothers, Stonehurst Wines and Undercliff Winery are all Foundation Patrons of the Festival. A relaxed afternoon tea or a visit to one of the cellar doors is the perfect way to pause and reflect on the stunning pieces of art you will have encountered along the way.

Visit sculptureinthevineyards.com.au for more information.

Story by Cornelia Schulze, photography courtesy of Sculpture in the Vineyards

Read more in the Spring issue of Hunter&Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here