Where is Bella? The mystery is yet unsolved!

The mystery of the missing "Bella". Greg James Sculpture - Perth - Part 4

I find myself daydreaming about little moments here and there that I shared with new and friendly faces on the other side of the globe. This account I could not even really make up and certainly need not embellish a bit!

My niece will love that Greg James sculpted a life-sized 'Bon Scott'
- the original lead singer of AC/DC

On the afternoon of October 9th, 2019 I arrived at J-Shed in Fremantle Australia to explore the sculptures of Greg James and hopefully also meet ceramist and public art/tile maker Jenny Dawson as Mal Capone recommended. I was proud of myself for driving again on the 'wrong' side of the road (and car) without incident!



Spacious and bright light-filled entrance of Greg James Studio 2
J Shed Fremantle Australia

A nice man showed me up to his studio gallery and turned all of the lights on to illuminate the expertly crafted bronze sculpture gallery. As I headed up the stairs behind him, I could see two men working on what appeared to be wax pieces of sculptures yet to come to fruition. I don't know very much about how sculpture becomes bronze, so I knew I would have to explore that a bit more.

A view of the studio from above on the stairs to the gallery.

My first thought as I went up to the gallery was how I enjoyed the artist's appreciation of the pear-shaped female figure. The sinuous curves complemented the bronze patina beautifully and the surfaces were just absolutely perfect - I could tell a lot of work and love went into each piece.

As quickly as he flipped the lights on, he rushed back down the stairs apologetically ensuring that the people down in the studio would be able to help me with any questions I might have as he bolted-away to a meeting with the detectives. Detectives? My Scoobie-sense said there had to be more to this story for sure! And that was how I met Greg James at J-shed. 

I made my way through the gallery dreaming of how lovely this piece or that would look in my home and garden back in Virginia then made my way back down the stairs. I asked if I might take a closer look at what they were working on. I met Archie McCahon and Ivan Zuvella - two of Greg James' sculptural studio assistants and they shared with me the many intricate steps involved in creating a bronze sculpture.

Each piece starts either from a casting of a person or object, then into sculpted clay that is silicone molded, then a wax replica that is touched up to revive original markings, then surrounded by plaster and into the kiln to melt all the wax a low temperatures before metal would be heated and poured into the plaster mold followed by a lot of finishing touches.

Archie, an exuberant artist from New Zealand was nice enough to show me the studio and explain the process. He was working on details to a wax sculptural cast. Greg would have sculpted this particular piece in clay, then a silicone mold over the clay allows the wax to be poured in. In the process, some of Greg's maker's marks and tooling marks that are signature to the sculptor's hand would be eliminated or obscured in some way. It is Archie's job to follow each tooling line and bring it back to life as close to the original as Greg intended. Quite tedious work indeed!


Archie working on some of the intricate work to revive makers and tooling marks in a wax cast from the original sculpture.


Pieces being readied for a bronze pour. I found it interesting the intricacies of details beneath a hat that ultimately will be placed on the head of a sculpture where no one will see these details - a testament to the detailed care in each sculpture by Greg James Studio.


A large kiln candles at a low temperature to melt the wax from within the sculptures to be cast in bronze that weekend.

Meanwhile, Ivan was working on some detailed smaller sprig items that bring the reality of placement of each sculpture to life, and in the back of the studio I also met Yuko Takahashi. Yuko won an award to turn one of her sculptural ideas into a full-sized series for a March 2020 unveiling, and Greg was gracious enough to offer her some studio space to work from. Archie said, that's how they work - supporting each other and Greg is someone who will go to great lengths to help support the artists in the community.


Yuko pictured with one of the sculptures she is working on to be cast in bronze.

It's no wonder the support shown to Greg in the news that day. Little did I know, but on the day of my visit, in the wee-hours of 3:30 a.m. one of Greg's beloved sculptures "Bella" was stolen from the bench at Bathers Beach House. Apparently, Greg's speedy exit to meet the detectives was to help in the investigation of this full-life-sized model in bronze. Archie fed the magpies in the open-air studio with the breeze coming off the Fremantle port through the large two story door. He said - they must have had an angle grinder or something because she was bolted down. I thought - an angle grinder? even with that, how in the world would they have moved a heavy 300+ pound large bronze sculpture worth AU$100K under the cover of darkness?? Archie theorized that "Bella" may be sitting somewhere in a school dorm being photographed with prankster students on Spring Break (Yes...October is Spring in Australia for my northern friends). The hope at that point was that perhaps someone would just come forward and admit where she could be found. 


An empty bench at Bather's Beach where "Bella" once sat.

Upon my return to the USA, I have followed-up on the missing "Bella" sculpture - and the mystery is yet unsolved. News stories that day on social media, print, and television requested that anyone with information step forward. Supporters have since started to post their favorite "Bella" selfies on Greg's Facebook page in an appeal to recover the beloved sculpture. You can hear one of the news reports online here direct from Greg talking about "Bella". By October 15th, 2019, CCTV photos were released searching for someone believed to have been involved in the heist. By October 23rd three men were charged with the theft of "Bella", but she is yet to be recovered.


Beloved "Bella" still missing.

Anyone with information regarding the beloved missing "Bella" may call Fremantle Detectives on 9431 1228, CrimeStoppers on 1800 333 000 or report online at www.crimestopperswa.com.au


"Bella" on Bather's Beach.

You can check out more of Greg and team's work on his website here. I have my heart set on one of the smaller pear-figures if anyone wants a Christmas idea - wink-wink-wink.

You never really know where the wind might blow you when traveling and what interesting stories are to be had! I feel grateful for every person and every story I have captured and have yet to fully capture from my recent trip to Australia. Cheers to the next adventure!

-- Amy Lee

 

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