Best known locally for Fairy Bower’s magical sculpture ‘The Oceanides’, Helen Leete is an internationally acclaimed sculptor who has many other popular works locally and around Sydney.

The stunning Fairy Bower sculpture The Oceanides, also known fondly as The Sea Nymphs, would have to be one of the most famous and loved works of art on the Northern Beaches. The engineer who helped install it, and who lives above the sculptures, once remarked that the sculptor would be a millionaire if paid a mere dollar for every time it was photographed. Helen Leete is the talented artist, and is also known for many other iconic sculptures around Sydney. 

Helen Leete. Image: https://www.helenleete.com/

Immensely passionate about her work, Helen has been active in the arts scene both locally and abroad for over three decades. Her unique sculptural forms dot the landscape near and far, with pieces gracing the grounds of Macquarie University, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Darling Park and Cockle Bay Wharf. 

Although she is best known for her large public artworks, Helen also works on private commissions, with her sculptures finding homes in collections and gardens both in Australia and worldwide. 

Earthmother by Helen Leete. Image: https://www.helenleete.com/

Helen’s Oceanides are such an iconic piece of work that she has dedicated an entire book to them, their creation, and their exceptionally interesting lifespan at Fairy Bower. The book is called ‘The Agony and the Empathy’.

An “idyllic childhood in the mountains of Africa” was Helen’s inspiration behind the joyful work of art. The two gorgeous figures were initially made of ceramic and installed as part of a boost to promote culture and tourism to Manly in conjunction with the 2000 Olympics. However, in 2016, a storm ripped through the Beaches and damaged the beautiful nymphs beyond repair. 

The local community, along with Good for Manly President, Candy Bingham, rallied to have them repaired. 

“We needed $80,000 all up to recreate the sculptures in a way that would last –  in bronze,” said Candy. “In the end, the community was easily up to the task. A whopping $57,000 was raised from art lovers and locals who wanted to see the ‘sisters’ returned to their rock platform. A limited edition of mini nymph sculptures, individually created by Ms Leete, were a big part of the success. The miniatures sold out on the night they were released, contributing $27,000 to the cause.”

The wonderful Save Our Sea Nymphs Committee (Helen is pictured in yellow). Image: https://www.facebook.com/Saveourseanymphs/

When asked if she has a favourite piece, Helen cannot choose, saying her great love is always the work she has her hands on and is bringing form to. Once I’m done I let go and they are settled into someone else’s home or garden,” she says.

In the past Helen has also entered the popular Sculpture by the Sea exhibition four times, but this year has her hands full with private work. “I have concentrated on my private commissions, which I love,” she says, “At the moment I have three bronzes being cast at a foundry, big ones for a waterfront garden.”

Leap by Helen Leete. Image: https://www.helenleete.com/

In exciting news, Helen is also working on another piece inspired by the local area.

“I am working on a very large landscape version of the Earth Ancestors which is inspired by the three northernmost headlands on the Manly to Palm Beach coastal walk,” she confirms.

Helen also loves working with the next generation of artists, and currently teaches sculpture at the Ku-ring-gai Art Centre in Roseville. She has some encouraging advice for anyone who feels drawn to sculpting. 

“I have some devoted students who obviously revel in the process, who slip into ‘the zone’ in class and have produced some stunning pieces themselves. My advice for anyone wanting to start is, well, just go for it!”

 

For more information about Helen Leete’s work, visit her website here. Helen’s Book ‘The Agony and the Empathy’ is available at the Fairy Bower gift shop.

You’ll find more of Helen’s beautiful work here:

  • “Arched Back Bather” at Manly, was located on the rock above the beach for several years and then sold to the Manly Pacific Hotel.
Arched Back Bather by Helen Leete. Image: https://www.helenleete.com/
  • “Earthmother” is in the Royal Botanic Gardens near the Opera House. “It’s a vastly popular work which has drawn comment from a wide variety of admirers, from all over the world, while children particularly are drawn to the space within the arch of the arms.’
  • “Kata Tjuta Earth Ancestors” is in Bancroft Sculpture Park, Roseville.
  • “Landscape Form” is at Macquarie University.
  • “Naiad Fountain” is in Crescent Garden, Cockle Bay Wharf;
Naiad Fountain by Helen Leete. Image: https://www.helenleete.com/
  • “Bronze Tantra” is at Darling Park;
  • “Tall Forms” is in the Unidata Foyer, North Sydney;
  • The UNICEF sculpture; “Tennis Form,” is in the Foyer, Lindfield Centre;
  • “Earth Ancestors” is at Gallery 460 Sculpture Park;
Balance by Helen Leete.
  • “The Three Graces”, “Bronze Lotus Fountain” and several other sculptures are at Gillian Adam’s Day Spa, Turramurra,
  • “Madonna and Child” is on the Façade of Brigidine Chapel
  • “The Holy Family” is at Lindfield

Stunning main image: with thanks to Neil Thompson Rees @neilthompsonrees

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