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“A Farewell to my Friend”

by Dorothy Hartnett

Author of 'Forms Entwined – The Life Story of Sculptors Leonard and Kathleen Shillam.’


 My first introduction to Leonard Shillam was in 1976 at the Queensland College of Art where I was enrolled in the Fine Arts course.  Len had written the curriculum and tutored the first sculpture course in Queensland at this college, Seven Hills in 1975 where his influence was almost unlimited.  He changed the lives of all who entered his classroom by his guiding spirit.

Both Len and his partner and wife Kathleen were the initiators of the Society of Sculptors in 1975 giving workshops and lectures, extending their network of sculptural expertise even further and continuing as activists in the growing sculptural awareness in Queensland.

Kathleen  grew up in the Sandgate area and Len grew up in the Nudgee area, his family lived at the Nudgee Beach Kiosk in the 1920’s. The young couple met at art school in 1932, cementing their friendship on their daily train journeys home.  It was on the 1st September 1942 that Len and Kathleen became man & wife.

Len  studied and worked with the leaders of abstract art in Britain in 1938.  He returned abruptly to Australia in 1939 because of the intervention of World War 1, and post war alongside Kathleen, they established their separate careers as sculptors in Queensland.

Len's style reflects the influence of the artists in the contemporary movement which began in Europe in the 20th Century.  His stone carvings of figures, birds and animals have the compact look of Henry Moore, but Len’s distinctive impression of movement and lightness created by using geometrical angles and planes combined with a dramatic sculptural shape reveal an intelligent distortion in the interest of structural success.  In this way Len establishes strong parallels with the work of British artists Epstein, Moore, Hepworth and Skeaping

Len challenged conventional modes of thinking about Art in the 1940’s and his sculptural works were dogged by a storm of controversial newspaper critiques. In a career ranging from the 1930’s until 2002 both Len and Kathleen produced a monumental body of mature work. Their prolific output of varying sculptural studies and experimentation reveal a highly personal and instantly recognizable statement.  There were no limits to the application of their inventiveness and they each produced a body of work that retain the stamp of their own personalities.

Shillam sculptures constitute a permanent record on many public buildings in the city of Brisbane.  "Proclamation", St.John’s Deanery, commissioned in 1959 marked the centenary of the Proclamation of Queensland.  This sculpture created controversy with its modern concepts at that time.  Five pelicans, created in 1985 reside in the Queensland Art Gallery water mall.  Len's 17 metre high Banker on Westpac Bank overlooks Post Office Square. These are only three of their many sculptures expanding our perception, presenting historical values and enriching the life of the community.

Len and Kathleen Shillam have known Brisbane from the horse & buggy days to the modern technological world of today.  They were as one with a life-long intrinsic accord with the fauna and flora of their environs.  This concern for the environment provided stimuli for many of their works.  They utilized their creativity in significant artworks to do battle to retain a planet in which wildlife could survive

Kathleen died in 2002 and was sadly missed by her soulmate Len, who at this stage of his life was battling with crippling rheumatoid arthritis.  Dr.Ruth Cilento had suggested a diet for Len at his 80th birthday party which had helped him in the ensuing years, but Len, still mentally stimulated, was finding it increasingly difficult to handle tools with his crippled hands.  

To help him remain mobile in the last three years Len had met Angelika Kuhles who became a warm, caring friend.  Angelika & her three attractive daughters soon encompassed Len in their family life, a lovely new experience for the childless Len, which eased his loneliness. Angelika helped Len remain mobile with his failing body so he could continue with the mammoth task of editing his diaries of Kathleen and Len's career enriching trip to Europe and the UK 1961-63.

Len joyfully celebrated his 90th birthday at my home in the company of many of his friends & fellow sculptors on the 6th August 2005, a little early owing to crowded events, he was born on 15th August 1915.  

Len married Angelika Kuhles  at a private ceremony at his home on the 11th

August 2005 with his new family and a couple of close friends as witnesses.

It was always Len's loudly spoken wish to die in bed at the home he & Kathleen had built by the waters of Bald Hills creek. Len had specifically asked my partner and myself to sign his Advance Health Directive to stop anybody placing him in hospital or on life support.  Unfortunately we had not got around to signing this document due to my visit to Melbourne.  I regret putting on hold this often spoken about wish of my dear friend. This has been a big learning curve for me I will immediately organize a legal Health document for myself.

It is unfortunate that overzealous but well meaning relatives removed Len from the tender care of his second wife Angelika on the 22nd September and placed him in hospital. Len had been unwell and he was frail, but his mind was very clear.  At Len's request I flew from Melbourne to Brisbane on the morning of the book launch where Len asked me to help him get out of hospital to go to the launch.  I tried for a wheelchair or an ambulance, but the hospital refused to release him to attend his long awaited book launch on that day, the 27th September 2005.  




SHILLAM, Len and Kath