It moved from its first home in Sydney’s Broadway in 1998 and since then has not looked back.
The number of students has been increasing steadily over the 20 year period and the work produced by the students shows a high level of learning and technical achievement resulting from personalised teaching in the atelier tradition.
At the time of the move, Tom was adamant that ‘we will bring the magic with us!’
And the magic of clay modelling, the clay bin and the colouring bench and potential teaching staff did indeed follow Tom to Erskineville.
Current teachers still remember the Broadway days, the winding staircase up from the lane way and the special play of natural light on the weathered timber of the attic warehouse. They remember the piercing glance, the white beard and the classic black beret as signature features of Tom throughout his long career.
Tom Bass first envisaged the setting up of the Tom Bass Sculpture School in 1973 after a short stint of teaching life study at the National Art School. Bass spent six months renovating the studio space on Broadway which then opened in 1974. The space had been occupied by goldsmiths since the building was erected in 1911. Tom intended the newly set-up, independent art school to encourage a new generation of Australian sculptors and to promote sculpture in the broader community. He wanted to pass on the fundamental principles of sculpture and to teach in the workshop tradition.
Alongside those years of teaching, Tom completed several commissions including The Arts and the Sciences (1984) for the Great Hall at the University of Sydney and Christopher Robin (1989) for the Prince of Wales Children’s Hospital. Tom Bass created more than 60 major public pieces spanning an active 25-year career, and was made a member of the Order of Australia in 1988 for his services to sculpture.
In 1998, the Tom Bass Sculpture Studio was asked by South Sydney Council to relocate and was offered the new site in Erskineville in the inner-west.
The school moved to Erskineville in 1998, where it continues to run sculpture classes 20 years later. Down a leafy Erskineville lane, you will find a lofty warehouse (with its own beautiful light) where students of all skill levels model torsos, busts and abstracts in clay and cast them in plaster. Here, the fundamental philosophy of the sage sculptor is kept alive and Tom’s ideas, concepts and time-honoured techniques are passed on to fresh apprentices.
Some of Bass’s original benches and equipment are still used at the present Erskineville space. And certainly the clay which had gone into the making of most of Tom’s iconic works also came with him to the new studio.
All teachers now at TBSSS are former top students of Tom and so have a wide range of experience and understanding of his techniques. Above all, they carry on Tom’s legacy of encouraging and guiding students in understanding the language of sculpture and in learning to see. Importantly (in the words of TBSSS Chair Carol Crawford), “students are allowed space, freedom and time for self-expression.”
In 2003, Tom Bass gratefully handed the school over to a management committee and the school was incorporated as a not-for-profit association. It became The Tom Bass Sculpture Studio School Inc. that we know and love today.
Enjoy these YouTube videos of Tom describing the Broadway studio, its last days and his teaching methods!
Written by Christine Crimmins