Visiting the studio of an artist who’s work you’ve known for so long is quite special. Seeing the tools they use and the materials they work with, you can put together the pieces of their work in your memory. Thousands of visitors to Stones over the years have walked past, leant on and admired the iron work of Justin Purser. From the tree of life garden gate in The Stables and the staircase in The Farmhouse, to the front door of The Barn at Stones, Justin’s work plays an important role in the aesthetic and history of our property.
Justin grew up in Eltham, the son of a ceramicist and an automotive engineer. Studying ceramics with a major in architectural ceramics
at Monash University, he created large site specific installation pieces in his early career. Justin tells us, “There was just no money in it though. I take my hat off to local ceramicists, like Mary-Lou Pittard, who have made a real career from it. It’s not easy.” Having just started to bend and weld stands for his ceramic works, when an opportunity arose to learn welding and blacksmithing with a company
in Kensington, Justin eagerly accepted the chance.
These formative early years working inner city and establishing skills and technique are looked back upon fondly by the artist.
Following this period, he set up a studio in a big old barn on his parents’ property in Yarra Glen at the time. Here he worked
on commissions for clients all across Melbourne and the Yarra Valley, further developing the style he’s now sought after for.
Still honouring his original passion for architectural site specific pieces, depictions of nature and growth are a common theme
in Justin’s work which sits so well within balustrades, gates and tables.
Two years ago, when the time came for Justin’s parents to downsize to a small place in Healesville, Justin embarked on the laborious move to his current studio in Whittlesea. Over four months, moving every night of the week, Justin shifted all his gear, tools and work until there was just one piece of machinery left. Made in 1910 he tells us the story of how he acquired his beloved mechanical spring hammer. “I was working for some guys and their business went bust. They gave me my last pay cheque and I gave it back to them and said
‘I’ll take the power hammer’. It’s needed a fair bit of servicing, I’ve had to make some new parts for it, but it still works great.” He turns
it on and the belts whirl into gear. We really didn’t know what to expect, when he put his foot down on the large pedal the machine came to life and hammered loudly in a clunky fashion. “It’s used to shape hot steel, tapering and flattening. I use it for so many projects.”
Being inside the warehouse, it’s easy to forget the drive there. You could be anywhere and in any time. His daughter Ruby rides her scooter through the workshop as one-eyed dog Bindy hobbles around wagging her tale and smiling. Curious tools, metal shavings and the odd Coopers bottle paint a scene of the quintessential Australian workshop. The effects of production; dust, grease and the tough smell of hot iron, contrast to the beautiful and sensitive depictions of nature and its patterns in Justin’s work. Another juxtaposition is the artist himself, a big man with tough hands but kind eyes and a gentle soul.