Giant throne without pier heading for Lorne

Stevens Vaughn was en route to Chile in March 2020 just before governments around the world started closing their borders to shut out COVID-19.

The artist and his partner Rodney Cone had been living in China, and he was due to exhibit art work in the South American country, but the pandemic forced them to change plans.

Artist Stevens Vaughn on his throne at the Billman Foundry in Castlemaine. It will go on display in Lorne next month. Credit:Jason South

“We decided to stop and come to Melbourne because there was COVID in Europe and COVID in the United States,” Mr Vaughn said.

The pair, both originally from America, hoped the virus would pass in a few months. Two years later, they are still here.

After landing in Melbourne, they asked around about where they could rent a home outside the city and settled in Lorne for the remainder of 2020.

They became ensconced in the community and Mr Vaughn was commissioned to produce an artwork for the Lorne Sculpture Biennale, which has been postponed twice during the pandemic.

The thylacine head on the Throne of Potentiality. Credit:Jason South

The result is the bronze Throne of Potentiality that rises higher than 4 metres with more than enough room to fit two adults sitting comfortably.

The imposing structure, which will be installed at the end of Lorne pier, is adorned with native Australian animals set among ornate Victorian lacework much like that on many period homes.

The heads of thylacines – the extinct Tasmanian tiger – protrude from each arm.

Mr Vaughn spent hours fishing on Lorne’s pier while Mr Cone took to ocean swimming. They hiked in the Otways and became fascinated with the native wildlife.

Travis Billman at work on the throne in his foundry. Credit:Jason South

The time spent observing animals and studying the lacework on houses in Melbourne and regional Victoria, helped inspire the design for the throne, which includes kangaroos, cockatoos, a koala, kookaburras and slender shell-like cones.

But the platypus was particularly tricky to recreate.

“Their tail is not like a beaver’s; it actually curls up at the end,” he said. “They have very small bone structures with a lot of fat.”

The Throne of Potentiality is the third throne Mr Vaughn has created in his art career, which has spanned more than four decades.

The Lorne Sculpture Biennale begins next month. Credit:Eddie Jim

He said it embodies the modern age of self-branding.

“The minute you are on the throne, in any country, any place, you are in the centre of your world.”

But he said there is room to share and taking the throne is about the obligation we have to those around us.

The location is also important because the pier is a “road to nowhere” but also anywhere the imagination chooses.

“I call it the road to the nation of the imagination because when you’re sitting at the edge of the pier all you’re looking out and seeing is your imagination. The more grand your imagination is, the more beautiful things you can see.”

Mr Vaughn insists the project has been a collective effort with contributions from craftsmen and local artists who helped sculpt the animals from clay before they were cast into bronze at Billmans Foundry in Castlemaine.

“This is a completely collective experience of people who really stepped up.”

Welder Travis Billman, who is the third generation to work in the family business, estimated the foundry would put about 300 hours of labour into the project.

“This is the first bit of artwork I’ve ever done. It just happened to be a big, beautiful throne,” he said.

The Lorne Sculpture Biennale will run from March 12 to April 3 with artworks to be displayed in 16 outdoor areas from the pier to the swing bridge at the entry to the town.

The biennale’s 2022 curator and co-founder Graeme Wilkie said he commissioned artists to delve into Lorne’s recent and distant past for the works that will go on display.

The public will be invited to sit on the throne once it is installed on the pier.

“It’s about imagining your potential,” he said. “It will go viral. Every Tom, Dick and Harry who walks on the pier is going to sit on it with their family and get their photo taken.”

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