Present in the moment

Not many people can walk around towns spotted across Australia and see their artwork permanently on display.

However, such is the supreme talent of local artist Julie Squires, who has worked professionally for three decades, that she can claim such accomplishment.

Whether you encounter one of Julie's sculptures in Alice Springs or along the Great Ocean Road, at Sydney's Taronga Zoo or in a Pokolbin vineyard, at the National Motor Racing Museum in Bathurst or closer to home along Newcastle's foreshore, they all inspire awe.

Julie is a former student in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. She commenced her schooling at St Joseph's Primary School in Merewether in 1971 before completing her education at St Anne's High School in Adamstown. And while Julie's love for art was encouraged by the nuns at St Joseph's, who she says would often pull her out of class to draw posters for the local church, it was an interest she acquired before she reached Kindergarten.

"My love for art started as soon as I was old enough to hold a crayon, and I have been creating ever since," Julie says.

It's not surprising then that as a youngster, Julie dreamt of becoming an artist.

"I always wanted to be an artist, but I wasn't sure if it was a viable career,” she says. “Even now, after 30 years of working as an artist, it is still a roller-coaster of a life choice, but I am always happy in my shed."

The nature of the sculptures Julie has created varies. Still, the collection includes several religious sculptures, including one of Saint Mary MacKillop and another of Mary with baby Jesus.  

"I think the iconographic images I grew up with had a lasting impression on my sense of aesthetic and contributed to my desire to be an artist,” she says. “So, when creating religious works, I feel very connected to them."

She describes herself as a spiritual person.

The property team behind the Diocese's newest school – Catherine McAuley Catholic College in Medowie – asked Julie to submit a proposal to create a sculpture. It was an offer she did not hesitate to accept.

"It's been a great honour to create an interpretation of Catherine McAuley as she is such an inspiration," Julie says.
The bronze statue, situated within a bed of yellow roses at the college's entrance, took more than six months to create and involved various stages and an assortment of materials.
"Research is the first and most crucial step to the success of a sculpture, particularly when it is a life-like portrait," Julie says.

"I spent a lot of time researching with the help of the Heritage and Spirituality Department of the Mercy International Association in Dublin, as well as being guided to research books and films by Anne Ferguson from the Sisters of Mercy."

There are no images of Catherine McAuley to use as a reference, which complicated matters.

"There is a portrait of her, but it was actually modelled by another Mercy Sister thought to look a bit like her," Julie says. "So, I used written descriptions of what she looked like as a starting point. I wanted her image to exude her character of determination and strength, as well as a sense of welcome. 

“The era of her clothing as a young woman was called Regency, which is the style of the Jane Austen novels. I had a Regency jacket made by a seamstress to ensure all the details were historically correct."

In addition to the statue of Catherine McAuley, Julie also worked alongside Aboriginal artist Richard Campbell to create Stations of the Cross artworks for the onsite chapel. She describes this collaboration as a career highlight.

"I love co-creating with Richard,” Julie says. “He had not worked in clay before, yet his calm and methodical strokes
were mesmerising."

Aboriginal art is not new to Julie, who has Warlpiri and Gumbaynggirr family.

"My first experience of an Indigenous Catholic church was on Bathurst Island, one of the Tiwi Islands, when I was 12 years old,” she says. “It had a profound visual effect on me. Working with Aboriginal artists has taught me many things but mainly about the importance of being present in the moment, silent and listening, instead of always rushing."

It's a lesson Julie concedes that despite her years in the trade and the significant works she has created for recipients such as the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, she must keep learning.

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Lizzie Watkin Image
Lizzie Watkin

Lizzie is Team Leader Content for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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