The next Australian to be invested into our pantheon is pewtersmith Graeme Anthony. Graeme’s pewterware is instantly recognisable, from his craggy faced wizards to his flawless elven complexions, and his work continues to fetch high prices around the world. If you haven’t seen Graeme’s goblets before you’re in for a treat.
Remember, these goblets were made decades before the films came out. Indeed the Gimli goblet looks so much like John Rhys-Davies you’ve got to wonder if Peter Jackson didn’t use it as a reference. The Galadriel goblet perfectly captures her unearthly beauty and is it just me or does Graeme’s Gandalf look a hell of a lot like Christopher Lee? (apparently Christopher Lee met Tolkien and got his blessing to play Gandalf if a Lord of the Rings film was ever made- perhaps Graeme knew that?)
Graeme's an interesting guy- he did a bunch of things before his current incarnation as sculptor and designer, including teaching science, practicing as a chiropractor and lecturing in anatomy and physiology (somewhere along the line picking up a PhD). Graeme was also the first artist in the world to interpret Lord of the Rings sculpturally and perhaps most impressively, when he found he couldn't achieve the level of detail he wanted using existing pewter-casting technologies, he developed his own.
Anyway last week I contacted Graham with a few questions and he kindly took time out of his busy schedule to answer them.
"1. Why did you choose fantasy as subject matter for your goblets and specifically Tolkien?
I've been interested in science fiction and fantasy since my primary school days.
I carved my first chess set when I was about 8 and developed a small business making chess sets whilst attending Uni. My first popular chess set was based on Tenniel’s drawings of the characters found in Alice in Wonderland. It was around this time, about 1973, that 2 friends who were huge fans of The Lord of the Rings suggested I make a set based on it. They did the original character selection and I did the sculptures. That set was hugely popular and the first edition of 50 sets sold out in about 8 weeks. Today those sets are very expensive.
Back in those days I was the only person in the world making sculptures of Tolkien’s characters.
2. Pewter work is an unusual pastime. How did you get into it?
I actually started making things in pottery, then moved onto polyester resin and fibre glass, then onto plaster then plaster reinforced with fibre glass, then polyurethane, acrylic and wood until the desire to make things that were difficult to break led me to pewter.
3. Do you make sketches first or does the design come to you as you work?
No sketches. I work straight from my own mental picture of what I perceive the character or thing should look like. The process of sculpture helps in its own creation. As the sculpture progresses it suggests its own evolving form as you work.
4. Some of your goblets have runes. Do you write in Tolkien’s Dwarven Khuzdul language and how do you decide what to write?
I used the Dwarves Runes found on Thror's Map. I was fond of signing people’s goblets when I was touring for my Joint venture partners Royal Selangor. I would personalise their purchases.
5. You were making Lord of the Rings pewterware long before Peter Jackson made his movies. What affect did the intense interest they generated have on your business/art/life?
I started interpreting Tolkien's works in sculptural form in the early 70s. I had the market to myself. The making of the films brought Tolkien’s works to a much bigger audience and produced a huge increase in demand for my chess sets and goblets. But this was a double-edged sword. Like all popular things, the popularity encourages hundreds of other opportunists into the field and it does not take long for there to be an oversupply of memorabilia. When McDonalds gets into the field you know the end is nigh.
6. How long does it take to make a new piece from conception to the final product?
Anything from 5 hours to 3 months. Chess sets...months. Goblets....days , dragons..hours. Simple cute things ...half a day.
7. Have you ever made miniatures (28mm/15mm)?
No, miniatures are and have always been a thing for centrifugal casters. My work is much, much more complicated and difficult to make and cast. I spent almost 7 years perfecting the making and casting of my goblets. In fact the process I use was invented by me and nobody else knows how I do it (except Royal Selangor whom I taught and they are sworn to secrecy).
8. I noticed you had an Iron Throne piece on your website. Has anyone approached you to work on a bigger Game of Thrones project?
I am approached often by various people and groups and clubs etc to do commission work. Unfortunately most want to pay labourers wages for sculptural work and I and my fellow artists feel our abilities deserve better than $25 per hour. This is probably why I tend to do only my own ideas. It usually pays better.
9. What are you working on right now?
I am working on a fully illustrated e-book on Real Mythological Creatures. It's a lot of fun inventing even more weird and wonderful creatures. It allows my imagination to run wild. If it's successful I might even produce 3 dimensional versions of my nightmarishly wonderful critters.”
Man that would be cool. When it happens we’ll stick a link to it right here:
The goblets shown here are just the tip of the iceberg or should I say hoard. Graeme also makes chess sets, combined pewter/glassware, dragons of all shapes and sizes, bottle stoppers, even incense burners!
Trollwood does not stock Graeme Anthony Pewter at present but head on over to Graeme’s website (graemeanthonypewter.com.au) and have a look through his collection. It’s a magical place.
(Australian Gods, Part 3)