If the success of the 2020, ‘Sculpture in the Vineyards, The Wollombi Valley Sculpture Festival’ is any indicator, potential visitors should book their accommodation now at ‘Somewhere Unique’ for the 2021 Sculpture Festival to be held from September 11th to September 26th, 2021.

In 2020, the Festival’s 18th consecutive year, the event was held over 16 days, including three weekends in the middle of spring. The not-for-profit annual Sculpture Exhibition is one of the largest sculpture festivals in Regional NSW and is the longest running regional outdoor sculpture exhibition in Australia.

The annual sculpture festival began in 2002 when Stella Downer, a renowned Sydney art dealer, in collaboration with four vineyards in the Wollombi valley, was instrumental in bringing the exhibition to Wollombi. The Festival has evolved and grown into an institutional fixture on the Australian art calendar. From such small beginnings the festival has grown into a million-dollar event which attracts thousands of visitors to its 16-day show at Wollombi.

One hundred and sixty-six works from 103 sculptors were selected for the 2020 exhibition, valued at $2,600,000 from 300 national and international submissions received. And the selection included seven previous ‘Sculpture by the Sea’ major prize winners. Ranging from sophisticated, modernist art works set against a backdrop of hillsides and valleys, to whimsical and often ephemeral works specifically designed for the vineyards, the exhibition celebrated contemporary sculpture in all its forms.

In 2020, the $20,000 first prize was awarded to Stephen King from Walcha NSW for his work, ‘Tongue and Groove’. Stephen won the major prize in the ‘Sculpture by The Sea’ exhibition in 2013. The $5,000 Highly Commended prize was awarded to Amanda Lockton for her work, ‘Fire’s Edge’. The $1,000 2325 Locals Prize was won by Rode Vella, from Wollombi, for his work ‘Fatigue’. The $6,000 Indoor Small Prize was awarded to Johann Tovar-Carrera for his work ‘Portal 1’. And the Artist-in-Residence Prize was won by Gavin Vitullo for his work, ‘Monument to the Fallen’. With over 50 years combined experience, Art Critic and Lecturer John McDonald was joined by Sarah Johnson, Curator at Newcastle Art Gallery, to judge this year’s Sculpture Festival.

The Festival’s Director, Susan Leith-Miller, undertook a daunting but ultimately highly successful role in delivering the most successful festival yet. For the 16-day duration, the local Wollombi valley community – volunteers and residents – were enthusiastically involved and the area was abuzz with a spectacular showcase of sculpture. More than 3000 visitors, including Her Excellency Margaret Bleazey, the Governor of NSW, and her husband, Dennis Wilson, came to the valley for the event and 94 of the works exhibited were purchased. There were also many associated activities such as a daily program of talks and visits designed for visitors.

And, although logistically complex, the entire festival was delivered in a completely COVID-safe environment by strictly adhering to all health regulations through a COVID-safe plan which kept all visitors safe, as well as fully informed. For example, three 5-Star Marshalls carried out 100 hours of COVID-19 awareness and practice across 6 days and at 3 events.

The spectacular sculptures were located at Undercliff Wines, Stonehurst Wines at Cedar Creek, Great Northern Trading Post (GNTP) at Laguna and in the village of Wollombi itself.  The selected works were also on display and for sale in five indoor galleries and public spaces; the Old Fireshed Gallery, Blender Gallery, Wollombi Community Hall, GNTP and the Old Dance Hall which is also the Visitors Information Centre.

‘Somewhere Unique;’ remains an enthusiastic supporter of the ‘Sculpture in the Vineyards, The Wollombi Valley Sculpture Festival’ especially because it is an excellent and appropriate event to provide a platform for aspiring artists and also to showcase the beauty and cultural enthusiasm of the local area.