I remember standing in Swifts Creek in early 2020, near where I now live, looking at the reddish-brown smoke-filled skies, and thinking this is going to end, the bushfires will get under control soon, and we’re all going to need help rebooting the area.
I decided the best way I could contribute to that reboot was using my skills in managing arts organisations, such as the Melbourne Writers Festival, and create an arts trail that would not only help support artists and galleries, but also bring visitors back to the shire and into burnt out communities badly needing moral and financial support.
And just as I was applying for funding, the Australia Council for the Arts published research revealing that domestic cultural tourists travel farther, stay longer and spend more than general tourists. This really underlined my experience that where art is, visitors follow.
Visitors to The Phoenix Trail are arriving fresh from a COVID lockdown, relieved to be out of urban confines, relishing the open air, the varied scenery and the beautiful arts and crafts on display here. For locals, it’s a chance to reclaim their own backyard and discover the creativity that exists in East Gippsland. For the artists, of course, it’s a very welcome opportunity to showcase their creations and regroup after a year of little or no income.
Introducing some of The Phoenix Trail artists.
Paul Gennings’s Firetail Studio/Gallery
Paul explores the use of mixed media combining ceramics and other materials, such as steel and timber. The ceramic component involves alternative firing techniques, such as infusing recycled sump oil into the ceramic pieces to produce deep black oil lustres. Paul’s the only Australian potter to use sump oil to fire pieces.
Paul plasma cuts, welds and hand forges recycled steel to give it new life and meaning. Most pieces are inspired by his immediate surroundings and a love of Australian native fauna and flora. He particularly enjoys the challenge of balancing the materials’ aesthetics with the environment they’ll be displayed in. Paul loves creating sculptures of the many varied shapes and colours that form the Proteaceae family of plants, the banksia being a particular passion.
Old Pub Gallery
Rob Logie paints instinctively, which results in a variety of styles that keeps him interested, frustrated and never settled. The process always seems unpredictable, as do the final pieces, and he enjoys the anticipation of what could happen.
Rob’s art and photography helps him see beyond the purely visual and the immediate, to see beyond the face, the landscape and how people live their lives.
Currently Rob is rebuilding his home, which burnt down during the bushfires. Sadly, he also lost his beloved printing machine, as well as many of his prints. But he looks forward to a new home, a new studio, and, hopefully, a new print machine in the not-too-distant future.
Kate Shone is a sculptor and jeweller. Her main material is copper, because it’s malleable and showcases her hand-crafted and environmentally-friendly patinas. Kate’s studio is full of works, both for indoors and outdoors.
Kate’s artworks are predominantly made from found objects, primarily metal. Her art practice includes sculpture, assemblage, painting, etching, illustrations, bookmaking, costume design, photography and jewellery making. The essence of her practice is the renewal of the found materials. Themes include both urban and the natural environments, and Kate’s currently working on sculptures of seahorses.
Terry Petersen is a traditional landscape painter, focusing on the High Country of Omeo, Benambra, Mt Hotham and the surrounding area. Large open spaces demand large canvases, and his paintings are very popular.
As a long-time resident of Omeo, he also has an interest in the history of the area, particularly the Chinese migrants who arrived during the gold rush. A mini-museum of Chinese history sits in the gallery, and he and his wife Annie are very happy to talk to visitors.
The Clay Place
Two potters for the price of one! Liz Kent and Wendy Reeve happen to live next door to each other, so they set up a joint studio — The Clay Place — in Eagle Point. The studio is a centre for workshops, as well as exhibitions and displays.
Liz explores colour in high temperature fired porcelain and specialises in colourful terracotta wares. She also creates mosaic bowls, cups and plates, as well as life sculptures. Her work is fine, artistic and functional.
Wendy creates high and low temperature fired works, using the beautiful surrounds as inspiration. She particularly likes using clay, which is a medium of great versatility. She also produces pots and wares of great beauty that are also functional.
They have three kilns at the studio for a variety of firing needs. Liz often fires at 1300°C, and Wendy explores other firing methods, such as pit or drum kilns.
The Phoenix Trail is an ongoing project, and details can be found on Facebook at facebook.com/groups/thephoenixtrail