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OBITUARY - Frances (Fran) Ferguson


Fran Ferguson was a seer of beauty and originality. Painter, theatre and costume designer, sculptor, writer, ceramicist, teacher and traveller, she lived an artist’s life, a passionate collage of texture, colour and intuition, leaving a trail of precious creations that criss-cross Australia.

Born in Orange in NSW, Frances’ mischievous nature and vibrant imagination propelled her to create the most extraordinary artworks and objects in the most ordinary of realities.

Cherished by her family, Frances was challenged early in her adolescence by severe diabetes. The onset of her medical condition was compounded a few years later by the premature death of her mother. This formative event shadowed her throughout her life and created a raw echo throughout her many creative works.

In 1986 Fran entered Charles Sturt University in Bathurst to study Theatre/Media. There she designed sets and costumes for over fifty student shows. After college Fran moved to Sydney where she created striking visual frameworks for the early innovative works of contemporary theatre companies such as Death Defying Theatre (now Urban Theatre Projects), Legs On The Wall and Stalker, amongst others.

Fran’s creative output was immense and she produced a body of work that included painting and drawing, costumes and ceramics. The inspiration for her work came from friends, family, memories, dreams and fantasies. The experience of being, with all its follies and graces, was the stuff of her art and it was exquisite.

She possessed a rare combination of deep emotional intelligence and manual dexterity, and so was rarely, if ever, thwarted in giving life to the curious stuff of her dreams. Anything conjured in her sparkling imagination could be wrought in her nimble hands. The techniques of many trades, from carpentry to welding, needlepoint to printing, came naturally to her.

In 1995 Frances was commissioned by Arts Out West and the Wellington Council to design and build the landmark sculpture “Gateway to Wellington”, in Central Western NSW. Using twisted steel beams from the collapsed Wellington Bridge, she undertook the greatest artistic challenge of her life.

Standing almost 15 metres high, the reinforced metal beams became the sculptural skeleton which she fleshed out with stonework, mosaics, glass, ceramics welding and metal work. What started as a six-month gig expanded into a project of Herculean proportions. The “Gateway”, resonating with local history and the essence of the surrounding landscape, took 3 years to complete.

Premier Bob Carr finally launched the work, but no public launch or applause could ever really recognise the painstaking hours and ultimately, years that Fran dedicated to that incredible work of glass, mosaic and metal. The “Gateway “ is visited by thousands of tourists annually.

This work, perhaps more obviously than many, demonstrated Fran’s dogged tenacity and sheer endurance when it came to completing an artwork. Many all-nighters went by where she had the sewing machine out utterly intent on finishing a costume. She always made it in time. And the work was always incredible.

Those of us who were privileged to be a part of Fran’s life could only sit back in amazement at the way a simple doodle on a shopping list became something you’d want to frame. A keen dancer (and enterprising op-shopper) Frances fiercely seized each day; perhaps she had an inkling that her illness would shorten her life.

Frances was humble, generous, courageous, reckless, warm-hearted, funny, wise, and strong. She was loved by many.

Friends of Fran Ferguson

RealTime issue #58 Dec-Jan 2003 pg. 12

© Friends of Fran Ferguson; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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