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Arthur Murch

Pupils and Assistants


Arthur Murch was an adherent of the traditional “Master–Pupil” model of learning the skills of sculpture and painting. He had been an apprentice as a young engineer and later a pupil of Datillo Rubbo and Rayner Hoff.

Arthur spoke often about the devastating effects of the mass killing of so many young people in WW1. The deaths affected the continuum of learning and innovation in industry and the arts as well as many other areas.

There was a dearth of skills in sculpture and Arthur and his colleagues Edmund Harvey and Sten Snekker were assured plenty of work at George Lambert’s studio during the late 1920’s. Listen to their memories of their experiences in Lambert’s studio.


Arthur Murch in Lambert’s sculpture studio, Randwick c1928

Murch was truly the master, and at his happiest, when he had students who were “apprenticed”. When large commissions were undertaken he definitely needed the workforce. During the making of the large Overseas Terminal mural, The Foundation of European Settlement, Murch had 3 pupil/apprentices: David Schlunke, Helga Lanzendorfer and Julian Halls.

At that time, 1961-3, tax was paid via purchase of stamps from the Post Office. I remember the serious matter of completing the stamp book for the apprentices.

Sculptural works always needed many hands and he had pupils and assistants who were often artists or sculptors – Horrie Broadhurst who had particular skills with moulding and plaster handling; Colin and Michelle Brown, Steve Sawkins, Peter Day, Ian Ottley.

Murch made two life size horse sculptures in his seventies. The last one, Charles Archer and Sleipner, commissioned by the Rockhampton Council was unveiled when Murch was 78.

Murch loved nothing more than to be surrounded by people interested in making things and especially if they were willing to learn. He also learned from his pupils and assistants. One such pupil/assistant was:


Also known as Horrie or Joe, Horace ran a successful plaster works in Sydney in the 1950’s and 60’s and he was a huge help to Arthur over many years. Horrie was musical and lived in a new house in Castlecrag. Arthur painted a mural depicting an orchestra for the Broadhursts. I was with Arthur on the delivery day in 1959. Arthur had strapped the long mural to the back of his ute. We had only got to the first big bend on the Bilgola Bends when a gust of wind snapped the masonite mural. I’m sure that Arthur was very unhappy but I never recall him being very fazed by such things. He managed to glue it back together and it was installed in the lounge room. An article in the Women’s Weekly described it: “Effective Mural decorates fireplace wall at the home of Mr. and Mrs. H. Broadhurst, of Castlecrag, Sydney. Artist Arthur Murch used house paints on a Masonite sheet for this stylized painting of an orchestra at a concert”.


Horrie’s fortunes waned and the house was sold. The new owners apparently painted over the mural!

Horrie worked with Arthur during the 1970’s and into the1980’s.

During this time Arthur had two large horse sculpture commissions – the statue of Govett’s Leap in Blackheath and Archer in Rockhampton. Horrie was an assistant on these works as well smaller castings and linocuts.

Horrie loved to sculpt.

F1140019-Horrie-Broadhurst1980-for-webHorace Broadhurst working on a sculpture at Avalon c 1980


David came to live with the Murches in 1959. A country boy from Temora, son of author Eric Schlunke, David had commenced but became disillusioned with a Degree at the University of New England in Armidale, NSW. Arthur was pleased to have David come on board as a pupil and assistant. Murch won a commission for a large mural for the Overseas Terminal at Circular Quay – the Foundation of European Settlement. Helga Lanzendorfer and Julian Halls were also engaged as pupils/assistants for the mural job.

F1000001David-&-Mural-copy-for-web F1000003Helga-and-mural-for-webDavid Schlunke and Helga Lanzendorfer working on the mural 1962

Arthur-&-David-1962-fro-webDavid Schlunke and Murch 1962 – photo by Julian Halls

David has provided detailed information about working with Murch:

The Anatomical Man or St Bartholomew


David recalls:

Arthur always had an anatomical figure a bit less than 3ft tall. Anatomical figures are statues without their skin, giving a better view of the underlying muscle structure. He carried this figure to some of his night classes. He called it St Bartholomew but didn’t explain why for some time (A Christian martyr who was flayed alive; and is sometimes depicted in paintings carrying his skin folded over his arm).

Then came the big one who stood about 4 ft tall. Maybe Arthur got it from an art school which was purging itself of fuddyduddy plaster casts.

He was very keen to propagate from it. (To defy the iconoclasts) We decided it had to be done in two halves and so we cut it across at the waist; a very irksome act, and made a plaster spigot above and a recess below to help reassemble it. Oh yes, and we removed his extended arm to cast separately.



He decided to use jelly moulds rather than the fiddly business with plaster piece moulds. For complicated in-the-round jobs jelly is the preferred method, said Arthur; though I suspect he really wanted a pretext to teach us how to do jelly moulds.
The process which Arthur taught us (Helga and me) is fascinating and unforgettable.I had to buy the gelatine at Nock and Kirbys (“glue pearls”)
Basically the jelly, which is made from the glue pearls has to be a bit stiffer (less water) than the jelly one eats as a dessert. It is flexible and so can go around corners, though to a limited extent. Because the jelly moulds are floppsy they have to be encased on the outside by two sturdy plaster moulds: the “mother moulds”.

In order to make this setup we had to cover the original statue with clay about 14mm thick and then make the two plaster moulds over this clay. These mother moulds when set, were opened and the clay taken out and the original cleaned up. This left a hollow space between the mother mould and the original. This was then filled with molten jelly and left to set. (Parting agents were applied where appropriate). A clever system of “dimples and pimples” located the moulds together and the jelly sleeve inside the mothers.
Allow to cool.
So after opening the mother moulds and slitting the gelatine along the parting line; peeling oh so gently, the jelly off the original we were able to reassemble the jelly inside the mother moulds; with emptiness where the original anatomical figure had been.

So far this sounds easy. But wait.

I will start with the below-waist half.Plaster casts need armatures to hold them together during the rigors of birth and life. I made armatures out of 6mm iron rod; one down each leg and wired together in the base and top.We have to keep the armature from coming to the surface, so I had to make little plaster pads in the mould where the rods need support, and press the armature gently into the setting plaster.

I stress that this anatomical figure was a man.

The only place where I could make a plaster pad that would not pop out of its position when reassembling the moulds was the male genitalia. This cluster “dovetailed” itself in place nicely in the mould and supported the iron rods. A little known quality of male genitalia.

We used peanut oil as a parting agent inside the jelly mould. Everything assembled, and roped up and the whole mould inverted so plaster could be poured from the open part of the mould: the plinth.Then came the difficult part. As plaster sets it heats up. When jelly heats up it melts.

There are only a few minutes to get the business apart, get the jelly off the still-soft-and-warming-up plaster; put the plaster somewhere safe to set in peace, and rush the jelly molds up to put them in Ria’s refrigerator. Those of us who remember Arthur can imagine him indulging in his “frantic stress” state at this stage. As soon as I could I did the casting by myself to deprive Arthur of his stress.

We got about five casts done of the bottom half which was as many as we “needed” but the jelly, although getting mouldy and a bit torn here and there seemed OK so I took it upon myself to keep popping them out until the bitter end, and I got another five or so.

The top half, lacking long legs, was easier. I put plaster pads to support the armature in the face and elbow.


Because it was easier we did the top first and stopped at about five. When I went back to do another five to match the extra bottoms the jelly had decomposed into something imponderable, so we had some spare legs; which was a source of amusement for Ria and her visitors.

David Schlunke, Big Bush 2015

When asked further about casting and moulding techniques, David writes in April 2016:

I can remember Arthur’s backyard “kilns” or more likely drying ovens.

When he had bronze heads cast he insisted (understandably, because its fun, and probably nobody else would do it his way) on making the moulds and then melting out the wax, and then raising the temperature of the mould (Plaster of Paris and crushed brick and fired ceramic materials: tiles, plates etc) to as high a temperature as he could get in a backyard firebox; about that of molten lead I suppose, in order to generate and release whatever gases would be generated by the heat of the molten bronze when its poured in the foundry.  If gases are generated in the bronze pouring there could be blow-holes, or the whole thing would explode. So he would keep his fire going for maybe a week. If it rained he would cover it and wait… Lots of wood came down from the “reserve”[Angophora Reserve] for the project.

We never did any bronze pours. It requires a pretty sophisticated furnace to get those temperatures.
We got our stuff done by a Mr Bob Ryan of Sophia St Surry Hills.
I still have the lead patterns and some bronze and one aluminium animals. They were all done in sand boxes. Solid cast; two sided.

David Schlunke made many small bronze pieces.

F1120026 Sclunke bronxe gecko

David shot this film of his studio and the very industrial-looking backyard of the Murch home in Avalon.

Avalon Backyard 1960s


Julian Halls was the son of a local artist Elspeth (Betty) Halls.

Here are Julian’s memories of meeting Ria and later working with Arthur:

“You know, the first time I met Ria was when I went with my mother to 109. I must have been 12 or 13 and eager for ‘life!’. It was in the kitchen and Ria was standing by the door wearing white slacks and a white top and smoking. She looked very sophisticated. With her was a good-looking youngish man with curly black hair, obviously an artist or actor. Ria offered my mother one of her cigarettes, “They’re Alpine,” she said. “They’re menthol. Very refreshing.” Whether I put that to memory and tried them when I began my smoking career I don’t know. But that’s the little scene I have of first meeting your mother.”

Regarding the house-cum-studio:

“… I can still see those boxes shoved in openings yawning with things best kept but not sorted. I’ll always see it as it was; rather stark but always welcoming with things of value going on Now…”

Arthur's-studio-in-house-FOR-WEB-V2Arthur’s studio at 109 Palmgrove Rd Avalon, 1960’s

Julian recalls working on the Foundation of European Settlement mural in 1961 or 1962 : “….it’s an interesting story (Reasons why Arthur might have Employed Me) as it had much to do with giving my life a direction…. Arthur did give me a bit of a go at pushing the stencil through onto the board, which made me feel good – an artist! There were other preparatory things that I was in on from the start, such as laying the brick floor and getting the structure of the “Cathedral” up, [this was the name given to the large studio built especially for the making of the mural which was 105 feet long] and then the mural panels cut, primed and put in place.


During my last days working with Arthur I found a lump of stone and set about carving a face from it. Catching me at it, Arthur was very encouraging and let me continue with it. It was one of those real burst of energy moments. I don’t know how long I spent on it but I enjoyed it very much and the finished result was much admired (I think)….This stone masonry business was one of the reasons he employed me … “For perhaps a weeks work” He’d come up to see Mum to tell her that she’d been hung in the Contemporary Art Society exhibition where he saw me down the back making a stone wall from sandstone; stones that I’d cut so that they fitted nicely – and remember, Arthur hired me out to Tony Suleau who had a house in North Avalon in need of a raised car park for one car. It was a reasonably steep block. A truckload of sandstone had been dumped there. As head stonemason it was my job to shape and build up the walls prior to the delivery of earth. I did enjoy the work very much and completed it to everyone’s satisfaction. I also laid the bricks down by the side of 109.[Palmgrove Road Avalon]”


Deborah worked with Arthur in 1970 for several months after finishing High School. She suspects that her father John Moseley may have paid Arthur to take her on! There are many notes of Arthur’s that show Deb’s handwriting. She also assisted in a commercial sculpture project – “.. an eagle for an insurance company; about 4ft tall, stylized and made from fibreglass and resin”. Deb is a contemporary of Michelle Murch. In 1970 Arthur, Deb and Michelle all signed on to a 2 year Technical College evening class at Gore Hill. The subject was Television Studio Techniques. Arthur was very keen to learn about the technicalities of television production.


Deborah Moseley 1970



Steve worked with Murch in the 1970’s helping mainly with sculptural works – in particular the Govett’s Leap sculpture.

Maquettes of horse and rider were made in resin. More details of the process can be seen in the ABC Weekend Magazine Report:



Cross sections of plaster maquettes of the horse and rider were photographed with a measuring grid.


The resulting photographs were projected onto thin board to the correct size. The resultant “horse slices” were used to make a positive which was covered in chicken wire and plaster.



Steve Sawkins and Horrie Broadhurst working on the Govett’s Leap sculpture


“It’s even hard to remember the years I was there but generally the early/mid 70’s?? Maybe 73-4-5 or 74-5-6? We met at the Royal Art Society.

I was the general assistant, I primed boards, help repair plaster anatomical figures (with not much else than a screw driver), puppets, clown heads from Luna Park.


Clown Head moulds in 2016. Martin Sharp commissioned Arthur to recreate the traditional Fun Park sculptures in the 1970’s. Peter Day worked with Murch on this project

I retouched some pictures that required minor repair, worked on both horses Blackheath [Govett’s Leap] and Rockhampton [Charles Archer and Horse]

I also did some shopping, both food (and some cooking, I quite liked his special bread and the orange lentils) and art supplies and did a bit of driving, if Arthur was giving a talk at night and I operated the projector.

I think we (my girlfriend at the time Olga) and I did Murch a disservice when we bought the parrot to keep him company, More Olga’s idea than mine, she was very fond of ‘Murchio’ and he painted her portrait.


Olga – photograph by Peter Day

I think he quite liked her too. I don’t think he really wanted anything else to think about apart from his work. I think he felt time was running out, tho I don’t recall him saying anything. Sometimes he used to work quite late to after 11pm, I was rarely there then tho, but he would sometimes say in the morning.

He sometimes used to wash himself with Metho, did you know that? Has any one else mentioned it? I don’t know why. Whenever I asked him how he was he would reply “I’m in good order and condition”

I have one of the pieces of greaseproof paper he used to lay over the old palette to start afresh with the his layout of colours and some mixing. I’ve also got a 30 min sketch he did of me and an example small painted head he gave me to show how to approach a portrait when I was trying to paint a portrait for the Archie of my cousin Bill Morrison.

I was once a bit unethical and counted up the total of the cheques pinned to the top of the easel, it was quite a few thousand dollars, I was shocked but I was worried he’d lose them. I tried to get him to put them in the bank but I think he didn’t want to waste the time.

Every time I see a can of Lackerstein’s Marmalade in the supermarket I think of Arthur.”


Colin Brown was a pupil of Arthur’s at East Sydney Tech and the Browns and Murches developed a long friendship. Colin was a skilled at mould-maker and casting. He helped Arthur on many sculpture projects – particularly the big equestrian projects.


Colin Brown Chalk on paper by Arthur Murch c1945


Michelle, Colin’s daughter, came to live with the Murches in Avalon in 1980 when she was 18. Michelle recalls working with Arthur on a series of slip casts for an exhibition at Prouds Gallery.


Slip-cast mermaids – Photograph by Chris Duczynski



Michelle Brown cleaning sculptures at Avalon, 2014

There were other “pupils/assistants” who worked with Arthur in the 1970’s and 1980’s including Ian Ottley and Ian Chapman. I would love to hear from anyone with information and memories to share.

Michelle Murch  May 2016


Barbara was a pupil of Arthur Murch. She writes:

I am happy for you to use any of my info regarding Arthur, he was such a respected man.

Narrabeen public school held classes for adults at night, similar to the present WEA and Senior’s College.  In 1954 when I was 14 I chose the art class while my

teenage friends chose the maths class next door.  I was the only child in the class amongst adults.  When their class finished at 9 p.m. the boys and girls would

stand on the wooden bench outside my classroom and look in the window at Arthur’s class, always more interesting than theirs, while we all turned heads to see

noses pressed to the window.  There were boys and I think Arthur could see me losing interest for a minute from his bottles and bowls to boys, as we used to meet

at the bus stop at 9 p.m. and  kiss the boys goodnight.

When Arthur arrived at class with his interesting load of subject matter in his arms it always intrigued the students waiting to see “what was for us to-night.”

He said he found this in his frig and this and this and unloaded his arms with a plate, a cabbage, a plant pot and whatever else he could grab as he left from home.

Everyone loved his class and was totally absorbed.  Most people were poor so my drawings are on a few sheets of old pastel paper and even the cover.

The classes were my first art lessons and left such a happy memory I have kept them now sixty-four years, and jumped at the opportunity to meet you and share them.

I was fortunate to meet Ria at your home in 1997 for her book launch “Arthur Murch An Artist’s Life 1902 – 1989” and have Ria write in it and record my art class memories

“To Barbara with memories of Arthur Murch since 1954 teaching you at Narrabeen Evening College when you were 14.  With love from Ria Murch, Nov 1997. ”

Arthur’s home was as interesting as he was, the backyard thriving in ivy which partly revealed his life size white horse on its side, and an enormous white head with just its face poking through the ivy.  Arthur Murch was very respected, his artwork treasured,  your mother exceptional in promoting Arthur and the world a better place because of you all.