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Ralph Trafford Walker Artist

Ralph Walker, (1912 – 2003) was an Australian draughtsman, printmaker and sculptor of enormous industry and great talent. In his long life of 93 years he created thousands of drawings and hundreds of pieces of sculpture ranging from life size figures to miniatures that he worked in the palm of his hand. The hallmark of his work is a deep understanding of form through drawing and a haunting poetic sense of intimacy – moving towards soliloquy and loss. Ralph designed the relief panels for the Sydney Mitchell Library main doors. These panels had aboriginal subjects. Ralph was one of the first Australian artists to give aboriginal people integrity and honour through his work.  Among the many examples of his public art Ralph created works for the Australian War memorial in Canberra having been an official war artist during WW2. Those who have written with admiration for the work of Ralph Walker include fellow artist Fred Williams, Richard Leplastrier architect and historian Manning Clarke and yet the work of this major artist is relatively unknown. With his artist/writer  wife Jean he lived in a rambling, self-designed, house among Angophoras near Sydney Harbour. His son, Ian Walker, himself an artist, with the assistance of his talented family is cataloguing and preserving Ralph’s work.  I have fond memories of Ralph and Jean dating back to the 1960s when I got to know them through my uncle Richard Ashton. There was lively knowledgeable conversation on the subject of art and vigorous debate. From 1937 to 1941 he was a student at The Julian Ashton Art School, where he studied under Henry Cornwallis Gibbons.

Ralph, gentle and kindly, was never happier than when he could be reclusive in his purpose built Studio Yurt at the bottom of the garden. Here he was not to be interrupted whilst creating his little figurines and firing them in the kiln. He was a lover of the human form and of the bush.

Jean wrote two bestselling books on designing Australian bush gardens and was a close friend and supporter of the Bradley sisters, Joan and Eileen, who were like her, pioneers in the field of bush regeneration. Their bush care involvement was in response to the depletion of the natural habitat including that of the Sydney Blue Wren, a sculptural inspiration of Ralph and Jean.

Paul Delprat