Fortress of Fire takes shape

Artist Paul Gennings with his outdoor studio in Stratford. Photo: Tom Parry

Tom Parry

There’s a curious attraction that has caught the interest of Stratfordians recently.

Across the road from the local railway station, surrounded by temporary fencing sits a blue gazebo, housing a large clay structure.

The said structure has been crafted in preparation for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, all by the hand of local artist Paul Gennings.

Mr Gennings spent a fortnight shaping the clay sculpture, and is not surprised by the attention it is causing.

“I’ve had a lot of people stopping and asking about it,” he told the Gippsland Times.

Fittingly, his sculpture is named The Fortress of Fife – a reference to The Bard’s celebrated play Macbeth – with nearly a tonne of clay having been utilised to create it.

But Mr Gennings’ art is not finished yet.

The tower will spend the next few days drying, before being set alight in what’s called a petal kiln, which will harden the clay and turn the structure into ceramic stone.

According to Mr Gennings, this process is inspired by Danish artist Nina Hole.

“Unfortunately she’s passed away now, but she was the first one to come up with this concept,” Mr Gennings said.

“I saw a YouTube (video) of one of her firings and I just thought it was amazing.”

Yet this not the first time that Mr Gennings has attempted such a feat, being more than familiar with large-scale ceramics.

Paul Gennings at work on The Fortress of Fife.
Photo: Tom Parry

“I spent three months in Hungary, at the International Ceramics Studios, and I was really lucky that I got to be involved in firing a kiln that was very similar to this,” he said.

“Thankfully I had that opportunity, because it gave me the insight into how this (petal) kiln works and the process in firing it.”

Moulding the clay sculpture has been an arduous process for Mr Gennings, having worked nine hours per day and contended with both heat and wind.

It’s enough to make anybody sick of the artform, but thankfully, Mr Gennings’ ability to work with multiple materials ensures that he never grows tired of working with ceramics.

“I find that changing materials is the most therapeutic thing for me,” he said.

“So I’ll be welding and using metal and cutting metal, and then I’ll go back to the clay.

“And there’s the therapy of using something soft and pliable instead of something like a hammer and weld.”

Better still, the experience hasn’t impacted the love of his craft, and he is thrilled to have been given the opportunity.

“It’s just good fun to be able to do a project of this size and impact,” Mr Gennings said.

“It’s really nice that both the Shakespeare Festival and the Wellington Shire have had the faith in me to make it happen.”

The lighting of The Fortress of Fife will be the opening event of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, taking place from 5pm on Saturday, April 23 – the anniversary of the wordsmith’s birth.

Anybody wanting more information about the Festival can visit to official website at www.stratfordshakespeare.com.au.