A key modernist sculptor, Margel Hinder was one of the few women artists in Australia who was involved in public commissions on a monumental scale, being responsible for some of the country’s most imaginative public works during the 1950s and 60s. Her extraordinary facility was manifested in works ranging in scale and technique from carvings in organic materials to the technical virtuosity of later kinetic compositions.
Born in New York and raised in Buffalo, in 1925 Hinder commenced studies at the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy where she was influenced by the works of Auguste Rodin and Paul Gauguin as well as the Constructivist sculptors Alexander Archipenko and Ivan Meštrović. Moving to Boston in 1926, she attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and visited a number of exhibitions by Naum Gabo, Antoine Pevsner and Constantin Brancusi. In 1930 she married the Australian artist Frank Hinder who she had met at Emil Bisttram’s summer school at Moriah, Lake Champlain.
Emigrating to Sydney with her husband in 1934, Hinder studied under the sculptor and teacher Eleonore Lange who influenced her by advocating a sculpture that eliminated natural appearance, silhouette and surface modelling to concentrate on shape relations. In Sydney she and Frank joined a circle of artists influenced by cubist-constructivist ideas, including Grace Crowley, Ralph Balson, Rah Fizelle, Frank Medworth and Gerald Lewers, participating with them in the significant 1939 Exhibition I, the first exhibition in Australia of art based on abstract principles. Hinder’s main contribution to the exhibition was Mother and child 1939, an ironbark sculpture that reflects her early experimentation with local timbers and stone. Dominated by a self-contained poise, the work reflects the influence of English sculpture of the interwar period, especially that of Henry Moore and Jacob Epstein, while also displaying a certain Australian robustness.
Hinder moved to the forefront of modernist activity in Sydney in the 1930s and 1940s, particularly through her involvement with the Contemporary Art Society. Abstracted figurative sculptures, indicative of her significant carving skills, gave way to increasingly geometricised forms, marked by her exceptional feeling for three-dimensionality and interlocking shapes. Like Robert Klippel, Hinder’s aim was to accommodate organic and geometric elements in her art – elements that can be seen as the twin pivots of mid-twentieth-century sculptural production.
In the 1950s, seeking greater spontaneity, she abandoned the perceived archaism of wood and stone for metal, wire and plastics, and developed a concern to resolve abstract conceptions and principles in three-dimensional forms rather than relating her sculpture to nature or the figurative. Hinder was awarded third prize in the Unknown political prisoner international sculpture competition in London in 1953 for her submission that demonstrated her new constructivist approach to the articulation of space. Interest in the expression of form through asymmetry and movement led to a series of kinetic constructions, such as Revolving ball 1954 and Revolving construction 1957, which embrace the theory of space extolled by Gabo in The Realistic Manifesto of the Constructivist movement.
These works were critical to the success of a series of large-scale public sculpture commissions undertaken by Hinder in the 1960s, including Abstract sculpture 1962-64, for the Reserve Bank, Martin Place, Sydney, and the Captain James Cook Memorial Fountain 1961-66, in Civic Park, Newcastle, a spectacular integration of static organic shapes with a moving but carefully structured pattern of water jets. Through the 1970s her work remained preoccupied with the integration and definition of space as exemplified in Green garden sculpture 1972, constructed by building up sections of copper sheets in overlapping thicknesses to create a finely resolved complex of interlocking forms.
Consistently experimental throughout her career, Hinder shared an interest in progressive ideas with her husband, and the two artists worked side-by-side for sixty years. Joint retrospectives of their work were held at the Newcastle Regional Art Gallery in 1973 and the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1980.