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Ewers, Raymond Boultwood (Ray) (1917–1998)

by Ross Bastiaan

Ray Ewers, in his studio, by Richard Beck, 1970s

Ray Ewers, in his studio, by Richard Beck, 1970s

National Library of Australia, 40052952

Born Ungarie, NSW, August 20, 1917. Died Melbourne, June 5, 1998 aged 80.

Ray Ewers devoted his life to sculpture and became one of Australia's leading exponents. His many commissions, both in Australia and abroad particularly in the images of war — confirm his wide appeal and his lasting legacy.

A war artist in New Guinea, Ewers abhorred war and in all his works he tried to highlight the suffering it brought on serviceman. Principal among his war sculptures was his favourite work, the 5.5m bronze The Serviceman, completed in 1959 and now in the Australian War Memorial sculpture garden. This huge towering, twisting figure of an Australian serviceman naked to the waist confronts the viewer with the torments of war and in the facial expression the courage of service.

Born an only child on a farm at Ungarie, NSW, he was educated in Melbourne at Frankston High and worked as a jackaroo in his early years. He developed a love of the bush and spent hours camping and fishing. Around the homestead he was often seen with a knife and tomahawk, carving designs in the wooden fence posts. Little did anyone realise that such skills would be turned, in later life, to creating some of Australia's most enduring memorials.

Ewers won an art scholarship to the Working Men's College (now Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology), graduating in 1937. Concurrently, he was selected by Australia's leading sculptor of the time, William Bowles, for a five-year apprenticeship. This mentorship was a significant turning point in Ewers's life. Commissioned sculpture would earn him his living from then on.

Ewers married Margaret, a newly graduated nursing sister, in 1939 and together they set up home in Frankston. The war, however, intervened and like many of his generation, Ewers volunteered in 1941, entering the Royal Australian Army Engineering Corps as a sapper. At the recommendation of Bowles, he transferred to the military history section of the AWM.

Soon an official war artist and promoted to lieutenant, Ewers followed the Australian advance along the Kokoda Track and later the heavy fighting in New Guinea and Borneo. During this time his many sketches and figurines became the nucleus of a great range of sculpted work now featured at the AWM. Between 1960 and 1964 he completed the 3.7m bronze statues flanking the Hall of Memory, Sailor and Airman.

He also made 32 dioramas, including Shaggy Ridge, Tobruk Harbour and Tarakan, and these are much loved by the nearly 1 million visitors to the AWM each year. Later, at Ballarat, he made the Eureka Stockade diorama.

Elsewhere, he sculpted in 1960 the statue Field Marshal Blamey at the entrance to Government House, Melbourne, and Father and Son in the Melbourne Shrine crypt. The beautiful bronze The Desert Corps in Canberra was completed in 1967 and he created the stone motifs around the honour roll wall at the AWM.

Ewers's work was certainly not confined to war; he created fountains, medals, portraits, trophies and coats of arms around Melbourne. Animals were always a favourite and many bronzes are evident at the Healesville Sanctuary, outside the Royal Women's and Royal Children's hospitals, Melbourne, and The Adam Lindsay Gordon Memorial in Ballarat.

Overseas commissions included the 2.4m bronze Pegasus Fountain in Tahiti, the 1958 Australian Soldier in the Hall of Heroes in Athens and the Papuan Memorials to the Australians and Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels in Papua New Guinea.

Rewards were many, and not only for his work; he especially valued the close relationships he formed with other great war artists, including Ivor Hele, William Dargie, Lyndon Dadswell and Harold Herbert.

Ewers was an unassuming, modest man. His wide contribution to the nation's art heritage was acknowledged with his Medal of the Order of Australia in 1995. With his wife and their two sons, Michael and Peter, who survive him, he lived a quiet and simple life in Frankston. The beach was across the road from the studio and to relieve the pressures of work he would often dart across the road for a quick swim between sessions.

Ewers took young sculptors under his wing and imparted to them some of the knowledge and skills he had acquired over the years. He was a true Old World artist and made many of his own tools; unlike many sculptors today, the quality of his work and not publicity was his goal.

He said, "I believe in truth in art and in life, in honesty and in sincerity. That is all I ask from anyone and all I propose to give."

His legacy is his work and that will survive us all.

* Melbourne periodontist Ross Bastiaan was taught sculpture by Ray Ewers.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Ross Bastiaan, 'Ewers, Raymond Boultwood (Ray) (1917–1998)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/ewers-raymond-boultwood-ray-31822/text39875, accessed 28 May 2022.

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