Artists of the Central Highlands

May 11th, 2024Artists of the Central Highlands

When bodily stresses intervened, artist and designer David Dawson went from making a living as a builder to creating Blampied’s unique Overwrought Garden Art workshop, gallery and display garden.

Words & Images: Eve Lamb

When bodily stresses intervened, artist and designer David Dawson went from making a living as a builder to creating Blampied’s unique Overwrought Garden Art workshop, gallery and display garden. In so doing he and his partner Karen McAloon have created a thriving enterprise that now employs nine staff and has become a much-loved attraction for the region. It’s a prime example of marrying art and functionality to create enterprise and bring joy into the lives of many.

Eve: Hi David. How long have you been here now?

David: We’ve been here (Overwrought Garden Art at Blampied) for about eight years but we’ve been in the area, living at Mount Franklin for 20 years, from Melbourne originally.

Eve: How did you get into this line of creative work?

David: Well even when I was a kid I always loved working with my hands – Lego and plasticine. I used to work with wood and I ended up working as a builder. But it got too hard on my body so I had to look at another means of making an income.

I started out making some wrought iron gates. I took them to the Seymour farmers’ expo and they sold. I got orders and I thought … ‘that worked!’ But I didn’t just want to make wrought iron though. I wanted to make really unique organic designs with trees and leaves and birds, and so I looked into different ways of making different shapes and came up with laser cutting.

Initially I got this done in Ballarat and had it couriered back here, and I then shaped and welded it here. I did that for a couple of years. But then I realised I could do my own cutting and I started out with a CNC plasma cutter before I bought my first laser cutter about seven years ago. Then we got a second one during Covid. I’ve come up with all my own manufacturing techniques and I make all my own jigs.

Eve: What items do you make?

David: (laughs) If it’s metal we make it. Garden art, sculpture, wall art, garden furniture, gates, privacy screens, bird baths, fire pits… But we don’t do structural engineering jobs. I’m not a structural engineer.

Eve: How do you come up with the designs?

David: People always ask me that and I don’t really know how to answer… I see things in nature and I imagine how they’d be in steel. Sometimes I start with a photo and I edit and adapt the design.

I love a challenge and some of the best designs come from people saying ‘can you make this?’ For example a tawny frogmouth project.

Eve: Can you tell me a bit more about your journey of establishing this site here at Blampied? It’s transformed a fair bit since you started out here.

David: Yes. This (gallery and retail space) was a fallen-down hayshed with a dirt floor when we started out here about eight years ago. The workshop was an open shed with no floor. I and another guy rebuilt the entire place and I landscaped the garden. I designed and built the garden here from scratch and I am really happy with the way the garden has come together.

Eve: How many people do you employ here now?

David: We’ve got nine employees, not counting myself. We are very proud to be able to support local people and we try to buy all of our materials locally.

Eve: What would you rate among your more memorable projects to date David?

David: Probably the biggest one was a set of gates for Burnley Gardens. They were a 150th anniversary for Burnley Gardens and the design featured espaliered fruit trees.

Eve: I hear that you and Karen are just back from a pretty interesting trip to Vietnam. What came out of that trip?

David: We’ve always tried through this business to support local and other artists and while we were in Vietnam we did some arts workshops, and we met some artists making interesting pieces and we have now brought some of those pieces back to exhibit and sell here.

We went to a place called The Hope Centre in Hue. It works with people who have disabilities and gives them vocational training. We have brought back some of these pieces to sell here and we want to continue to support them.

I want to go back and spend more time there, meet more artists and build more contacts.

Eve: With your own work, what materials do you work with?

David: Mild steel and we use hydrochloric acid to rust the surface. I also use stainless steel for backing, or acrylic sheet, and also galvanised iron for backing. I can also work in coreten which is designed to rust and then stop rusting.

Eve: What do you find most fulfilling about your work David?

David: I love seeing the joy it brings to people. Some of the work I try to make is a bit quirky. It makes people smile and I love that. Everything I make I get a kick out of making.

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