Paving a path to a career in sculpture

By Paula Xiberras


BEN Tolhurst still possesses the first brick he ever carved.

I recently spoke to Ben about his sculpture of the Presentation Sisters founder Nano Nagle for St Mary’s College in Hobart.

It was while Ben was paving a brick path at his mother-in-law’s house that he searched around to find an implement to cut the brick, or specifically a ‘diamond blade’ or ‘angle grinder’.

He began to use these implements to carve symbols on his preferred medium of Tasmanian blue stone before moving on to do work in relief and finally three-dimensional sculpture.

Even though he began a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree, Ben decided university wasn’t for him.

With the help of his mentor in South Australia, he instead became a self-taught sculptor.

Before embarking on full-time sculpture, Ben had an eclectic career, including working as a deck hand on cray boats and with people with disabilities.

His work took him from Canada to New Jersey, before finally seeing him settle in Tasmania.

Ben believes his previous hard physical work provided him with the strength to handle what is sometimes four-tonnes of stone.

Ben was recently commissioned by St Mary’s College to create a statue of Presentation Sister founder Nano Nagle, a woman once voted Ireland’s woman of the millennium.

Venerable Honoria Nagle was lovingly known as Nano.

Born in County Cork, Ireland into prosperity, the young Nano couldn’t reconcile her life of privilege with the poverty around her.

After seeing poor people seeking refuge in a church, Nano was encouraged and inspired to educate the poor.

However, she went even further, educating adults and children, as well as tending the elderly and infirm in their homes when her day work was done.

This after-hours work resulted in Nano being given the moniker ‘the lady of the lamp’ – a feature illustrated in the finished sculpture.

To create a representation of Nano, Ben required the school to select a student to pose in silhouette wearing the clothing of the time.

Ben said having a living model was important to the process of catching movement in sculpture.

Nano went on to found her community of workers, the Presentation Sisters.

While the order began providing education to the poor of Ireland, it has since branched out worldwide, including to Tasmania, Australia.

Caption: Self-taught Tasmanian sculptor Ben Tolhurst with his sculpture.

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