- Media category
- Materials used
- carved pink marble
- 47.0 x 30.0 x 17.0 cm (irreg.)
- Purchased with funds provided by the Barbara Tribe Bequest 2022
- Not on display
- Accession number
- © Estate of May Barrie
- Artist information
Works in the collection
May Barrie is known for her carved stone biomorphic forms. With a career spanning six decades, at the age of 91, she was awarded the Balnaves Foundation sculpture prize in the 2009 Sculpture by the Sea exhibition for her large outdoor sculpture Time and Tide Granite Monolith II.
Barrie was born in the Western Australian coastal town of Denmark in 1918. She completed a Diploma in Sculpture in 1941 at East Sydney Technical College (now the National Art School) and studied under artists including William Dobell and Lyndon Dadswell. From 1946-48 she and her husband Wim Voorwinden travelled to The Netherlands and South Africa. On their return to Australia, they established ‘Callemondah’, a dairy farm and sculpture studio at Calderwood, nestled under the Illawarra Escarpment, near Wollongong, where she lived and worked for more than 50 years.
Polar bear is one of Barrie’s earliest works. A charming depiction of a polar bear, it was carved from pink African marble in South Africa where Barrie and her husband lived from 1947-48. Polar bears were a favoured subject of animalier sculptors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the most famous example of which is Francois Pompon’s art deco bear displayed in the 1925 Paris exhibition.
Barrie’s stylised bear leans toward a surrealist bent, perhaps due to the fact it was carved in a country not known for snow or polar bears. The work bridges the gap between the artist’s early figurative sculpture which gradually became more abstract as her career progressed.
With polar bears’ natural habitats rapidly under threat from climate change, the work takes on new and poignant significance in the present time.