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De digitale krant van wakker Nederland

PETER SCHIPPERHEYN
His art and vision
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“More than three years in the making, “Thus spake…” is the largest and most imposing bronze nude figure in Australia. It was commissioned by the Elisabeth Murdoch Sculpture Foundation at the behest of Dame Elisabeth who, realising the Rodin’s Balzac on loan from the National Gallery of Victoria, would soon be returned, felt the Mc Clelland Gallery and Sculpture Park needed its own major bronze to fill the gap vacated by the Rodin sculpture.The eminent Melbourne sculptor Peter Schipperheyn was selected to undertake this commission”.

Before Peter could start on the sculpture he had to build a studio high enough to accommodate such a large work. It took Peter and the Meridian foundries three years to complete the sculpture. Every step of the way was photographed which makes for interesting viewing and will be a valuable teaching tool for sculpture teachers and students.

Like many young couples, Peter ‘s parents had bought land and build a house in an outer eastern suburb where blocks were cheap, public transport was miles away, roads were unmade and people helped each other. Peter was born in 1955, it was baby boom time, as he grew up there was no shortage of playmates. The paddocks across the road, and the bush just around the corner, provided boys and girls with space to roam, run around in and test their skills in the climbing trees. The unmade roads may have been a drawback for parents but for children there were all kinds of benefits. There were not all that many cars on the roads in those days, the potholes prevented any one from driving too fast. Children also loved to play in the mud after rain, many an engineering project was undertaken, streams were created, little home made boats floated down, and at the end of the day there was usually a lovely mud fight. Often wet to the skin and covered in mud, Peter and his younger brother would be popped into the concrete laundry trough for a hose down after which they’d be popped into a nice warm bath. Always hungry they’d devour their evening meal and would be in bed by 7, fast asleep five minutes later.

Backyards were workshops for the making of billy carts and cubby houses with secret entrances and observation decks. There was strong rivalry between groups of boys and secret plans and designs of ever more magnificent billy carts. All building materials were “scrounged”, possible supplies of pram wheels and axles were kept secret. Building sites were raided, with the builders’ consent, for scrap pieces of timber. Pocket money was saved to buy balsa wood and was turned into model boats, planes and all kinds of other things. All these activities helped develop, and nurture Peter’s skills and creativity.


During those early years Peter thought he might become an architect but at the age of about eleven he decided he wanted to become an artist and together with Herman Pekel attended painting lessons and a few years later found his true love, sculpture. After finishing high school Peter applied for enrolment at Swinburne College, despite not having a folio, he was accepted into the graphic design course. At the end of his first year the lecturers advised him to do Fine Arts, after which he enrolled at the then Caulfield Institute of Fine Arts, now part of Monash University. After a year of study, Peter decided to take some time off and took his first trip to Europe where he hitchhiked through Holland, Belgium, France and Italy and England. It was in Italy that he discovered marble and the work of the great sculptors of the past. After twelve months he came home and returned to College. It was during his college years that he met his future wife Cinzia Ruffilli, a beautiful North Italian Australian girl who became and still is his muse and best model. Soon after his return to Australia, Peter received a very generous scholarship from the Italian government, which covered his return air fares, generous living allowance for twelve months and tuition fees at various Fine Art Colleges of his choice.

Italy, Carrara , (the place where Michelangelo sourced his marble) is where Peter settled and it was at the Studios that he learned how to carve marble, not from teachers but from the Master Craftsmen. Peter visited the marble quarries and learned much about the way it was extracted and also the grading i.e. the qualities of marble. During that short time Peter managed to create a body of work which was shipped home. Once it arrived in Melbourne Peter decided to look for a Gallery, which would be suitable to display his work and chose the Australian Gallery in Collingwood. The Gallery director, Ann Purvess was impressed with Peter’s work and was very happy to have him on board. The show was a sell out and enabled him to return to Italy again. Cinzia accompanied him and it was during one of their trips that they decided to get married. Surrounded by artists, writers, philosophers from all over the world, the master craftsmen, studio owners, quarry men and other wonderful Italian friends, they tied the knot. Both have returned many times since; their second son was born in Ravenna in the North of Italy, where Cinzia’s parents came from. With two sons at school it became more difficult to travel. --PAGE 2--