Yarra Valley sculptor passes

Ernst Fries. Picture: JESSE GRAHAM

By Jed Lanyon

Renowned sculptor Ernst Fries passed away at Healesville Hospital on Tuesday 3 March after a brief battle with lymphoma.

The Yarra Valley artist was well known for his contemporary works in stainless steel, glass, granite and concrete.

Ernst was born in Wurzburg, Germany in 1934 and grew up during World War II. On 16 March 1945, the majority of his home city was destroyed from British firebombing during an air raid.

Ernst’s daughter, Reggie Clark, said he and his family were lucky to survive and that these experiences shaped his work later in life.

“He came to Australia from Germany after the war. He had a very interrupted childhood because of the war,” she said.

“He really didn’t have much education, but he did take himself off to a plumbing trade and so he could work with metal. And then he did some gold and silversmith courses.

“His work often has some sort of social commentary or message, which won’t necessarily be obvious to the viewer.”

Ernst’s submission for a bushfire memorial artwork made from concrete and glass was commissioned by Yarra Ranges Council in 2013.

“It depicted the fires but also the aftermath of the regrowth … He had experience working with concrete and glass for many years by doing church windows,” Ms Clark said.

“It was just a fitting tribute to all of the people who had lost their lives.”

The coloured glass of the artwork is designed to amplify the sun’s rays as they penetrate and reflect, making the work sparkle and shine.

Ernst moved to Yarra Glen in 1985, living and working at the residence now known as Art at Linden Gate.

“He bought this place mainly because of the views. It was lovely and quiet and he could set up a workshop without annoying the neighbours.”

Some of Ernst’s other works include creating the Victorian Coat of Arms at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, the Toolangi Sculpture Trail, a six metre tall kinetic wind cube at Art at Linden Gate the church windows at St Ita’s Catholic Church Drouin and many more.

Yarra Valley residents pass his sculpture everyday along the Warburton Highway in Wandin’s shopping strip. The sculpture was commissioned by Yarra Ranges Council in 2018.

The large steel sculpture was designed to reflect Wandin’s unique berry and fruit orchard industries.

Ernst was instrumental in establishing the Australian National Committee for the International Association of Art (UNESCO) and served as president on several occasions for the Association of Sculptors of Victoria from 1983 to 1988.

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