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Windjammer Sailors

Date: 2016
Overall: 2748 × 1400 × 3150 mm
weight of bronze estimated at 700kg - one tonne
thickness of bronze approx 5-7mm
Medium: Bronze - silicon bronze 95 percent copper; 1 percent manganese; 4 percent silicon Patina -- graphite applied with heat; microcrystalline wax supplied by ANMM conservation - specs from Rebecca Dallwitz
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Rear Admiral Andrew J Robertson AO, DCS, RAN (Rtd) through the ANM Foundation
Object Name: Sculpture
Object No: 00054858
Place Manufactured:Sydney

User Terms

    In the 19th century sailing the ships which were vital Australia’s economy was a tough and dangerous task. This life-size bronze sculpture, located on the wharf at the Australian National Maritime Museum, was commissioned to pay homage to the crews of these ‘windjammer’ ships which for more than a century visited this site.

    The sculpture was conceived by Australian artist Dennis Adams (1914-2001), and developed in 2015 and 2016 by artists Belinda Villani and Brett Garling at Sydney’s North Head. Dennis Adams sailed on the windjammers, on the ships of Finnish captain Gustaf Erikson who operated one of the last fleets of commercial sailing ships up to the 1940s, principally carrying grain from Australia to Europe.

    SignificanceThis bronze sculpture represents the lost and last days of commercial sail in Australia and was commissioned by a private donor as a homage to the sailors who manoeuvred the great windships in all weathers to ports around the world, connecting Australia with distant homelands and markets as the colonies grew from the 19th century.

    The choice of concept artist Dennis Adams (1914-2001), who had voyaged on the last commercial sailing ships in the 1930s, of sculptor Brett Garling who modelled and cast the work in a figurative realist, impressionistic style, and the enduring material of bronze conjures up a traditional and slightly romantic frame through which to view this work - two sou’wester-clad sailors struggling in heavy weather at the wheel - and heroic themes, man harnessing nature.

    The location of the work on the museum wharf in the former working port of Pyrmont, alongside museum ships of commercial sail such as James Craig, highlights its importance in recognising the cultural history of the site as host to ships and windjammer sailors for more than a hundred years. It reinvests the site with some of the ghosts of its past.

    HistoryAustralian artist Dennis Adams (1914-2001) conceived the sculputre in the 1980s. In the 1930s he had sailed on the windjammers, desperate to experience sail while he could. He sailed to England in 1935 to study art at the Royal Academy on the Herzogin Cecilie as an 'able-bodied passnger', returning to Australia in early 1939 on the Lawhill. Knowing that the ships were soon to become unviable, he dreamt of a life chronicled so evocatively by poets, sea captains and writers like John Masefield, Joseph Conrad and Alan Villiers.

    Adams joined the port watch and climbed the rigging with paintbox in hand sketching on squares of sailcloth. He captured moments of action on the yardarms and the routine maintenance tasks so critical to the survival of Erikson’s fleet. He ran economical, lean ships which were not insured, while his cargoes were.

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