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Ewers, Raymond Boultwood (Ray) (1917–1998)

by Ken Scarlett

This article was published online in 2022

Ray Ewers, in his studio, by Richard Beck, 1970s

Ray Ewers, in his studio, by Richard Beck, 1970s

National Library of Australia, 40052952

Raymond Boultwood Ewers (1917–1998), sculptor, was born on 20 August 1917 at Wyalong, New South Wales, only child of Adelaide-born Alfred Boultwood Ewers, grazier, and his Melbourne-born wife Alice May, née Bailey. In 1923 the family relocated to Melbourne. Ray was educated at Frankston District High School, where he topped the class in woodwork (1932), and at Dookie Agricultural College. He then worked as a jackeroo before winning a scholarship to study as a commercial artist at the Melbourne Technical College from 1936 to 1940.

Fortuitously, Ewers was apprenticed to the sculptor Leslie Bowles when he was working on two major commissions—King George V and Sir John Monash—for the Domain gardens, Melbourne. Assisting with these memorials allowed Ewers to gain invaluable knowledge of equine anatomy and experience in accurately depicting uniforms and insignia. At Christ Church, Essendon, on 13 December 1939 he married Margaret Athol Forbes, a nurse.

On 23 February 1942 Ewers enlisted as a sapper in the Australian Imperial Force. The next year, following a recommendation by Bowles, he was transferred to the Military History Section, Melbourne. On 24 November he was appointed as an official war artist and commissioned as a lieutenant. He was sent to Papua and New Guinea (March–July 1944), and then to Borneo and Morotai (October–November 1945). A photographer and the artist George Browning accompanied him and together they documented the form and colour of battlefield terrains. Between 1943 and 1958 Ewers (often with Browning) created more than thirty dioramas illustrating wartime events for the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. He also sculpted several small bronzes, including Nursing Sister shown attending a recumbent soldier, a group of six Native Stretcher Bearers, and a dramatic head and shoulders of a Native Girl. In October 1946 he was transferred to the Reserve of Officers and would be placed on the Retired List in August 1964.

Walking Wounded, another example of Ewers’s wartime sculptures, was shown in the Australia at War exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1945, winning the Sun News-Pictorial prize for that medium. His first public commission was for the Drouin War Memorial, installed in Gippsland in 1949. It depicts the bronze figure of an infantryman, stepping forward, in marked contrast to the static figures of World War I memorials typically found in country towns. He was president of the Victorian Sculptors’ Society in 1951. During that decade he exhibited regularly, but he would make his living largely from commissioned pieces. He established a studio alongside his beachside home at Frankston and often took advantage of the location of his workplace to cross the road for a swim.

The Australian Serviceman (1958), which Ewers designed for the Australian War Memorial’s Hall of Memory, was a vast undertaking spanning five years. Standing eighteen feet tall (5.5 m), it was not a ‘symbol of mourning or sacrifice, but a huge male: the World War II fighting man himself,’ mounted on a nine-foot-high base (2.7 m) so that observers ‘had to look up even at the booted feet’ (Inglis 1998, 397). Ewers stated that he wanted the figure to ‘symbolize “Young Australia” in an attitude of Remembrance, Hope for the Future, Achievement’ (NAA AWM315 234/5/26). In 1993 the sculpture would be winched out of the dome and moved to the memorial’s lawns, replaced by Janet Laurence’s The Pillars.

Ewers spent most of his life creating memorials and monuments, such as the Kokoda Memorial, Territory of Papua and New Guinea (1959); and, in Melbourne, the John F. Kennedy Memorial (1965) and a memorial to ‘Cookie,’ a black swan that lived on the Yarra River (1974). There was, however, one significant exception, the wonderfully posed Pegasus (1960), the symbol of Vacuum Oil, originally placed outside the company’s head office in South Melbourne. Dramatically lunging forward, standing on its hind legs with huge wings outstretched, it is far more alive than the predictable horse he produced for Ballarat in 1969, as a memorial to both Adam Lindsay Gordon and the horses and mules involved in World War I.

Although it had been traditional to show military leaders on horseback, impressively authoritative and commanding, Ewers broke this formula with his oversized statue Sir Thomas Blamey (1958). Introducing contemporary imagery to Australian memorials, Ewers showed the field marshal not on horseback, as his wife had requested, but as though standing imperiously in an open jeep. Yet he also remained comfortable producing conventional forms, such as the realistic, back-to-back figures Father and Son, for the crypt of Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance in 1968. His later sculptures included a series of life-size bronze Australian animals designed for vision-impaired visitors to the Sir Colin MacKenzie Sanctuary, Healesville.

An unassuming man, Ewers once commented that ‘I believe in truth in art and in life, in honesty and sincerity. That is all that I ask from anyone and all that I propose to give’ (Bastiaan 1998, 14). He was awarded the OAM in 1995. Survived by his wife and their two sons, he died on 5 June 1998 at his Frankston home and was cremated.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Bastiaan, Ross. ‘Masterly Sculptor Humanised War’s Futility.’ Australian, 22 July 1998, 14
  • Inglis, K. S. Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape. Assisted by Jan Brazier. Carlton, Vic.: Miegunyah Press, 1998
  • National Archives of Australia. AWM315, 205/2/12
  • National Archives of Australia. AWM315, 234/5/26, part 1
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, VX76415

Additional Resources

Citation details

Ken Scarlett, 'Ewers, Raymond Boultwood (Ray) (1917–1998)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ewers-raymond-boultwood-ray-31822/text39279, published online 2022, accessed online 27 November 2022.

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