Saturday, June 14, 2014

Aussies 'n' Fairy Tales Week: Bruno Torfs "Phoenix" Fantasy Garden

The fantastical sculptures of Bruno Torfsnestled in a temperate rainforest garden setting in South-Eastern Australia, wowed, moved and inspired 1 000's of visitors from all over the world for over a decade, until, in the midst of a devastating national bushfire disaster in February 2009, amidst great loss of lives, homes, unique rainforest habitats and more, this beautiful garden also became a casualty. While it doesn't compare to the loss of life, losing great art is worth mourning in its own way and many of these mythic sculptures were lost forever.

While, at the time, I was concerned with family members there and fire fighting cousins who were battling against the odds (all of whom survived and got to safety) to hear of the loss of the Torfs' gardens affected me very deeply. (I'll explain why shortly.)

The Torfs family, who lived at the unique garden and gallery, managed to get to safety but lost their home, over 300 paintings and sustained great damage to the sculpture garden. Friends and neighbors in nearby Marysville weren't as lucky and lost not only their homes but their lives. The area remained in a state of emergency for quite some time. Miraculously escaping with his family, Bruno made a statement on his website, saying they would be salvaging what they could, with the intent of bringing another fantasy garden to life.

Here is one of the many video tributes showing the beautiful sculptures the garden contained before the fires swept through (The Torfs' website has a slideshow as well):

Below are some images of what Bruno and his family found once they were allowed back into the area afterward.
From the website: The slideshow (below) is the bonus extra feature in the new edition of the award~winning 30 minute documentary of Bruno's Art and Sculpture Garden. (You can order the DVD HERE.):
And here is a video of Bruno's new garden, nearing it's basic completion (with new works being added all the time):
Though I have long loved the classics and fairy tales of European, Celtic and Russian influence in particular, there was always a part of me that yearned to integrate that mixed-heritage fantasy 'sense' into the landscape I love of Australia, especially the forests and rainforests.* One of my (now shelved) multimedia projects was an attempt to approach classical fantasy from a unique Australian perspective in a very organic way. It wasn't just a story or novel but included an artistic exploration of the images so people would literally 'see' what was in my imagination. I had planned to come back to Australia at some point to build a fantasy garden project with the dream that the concepts and characters in it would eventually make their way into film and/or animation.

I hadn't heard of Bruno's Art & Sculpture Garden till after I had been working on it for a while and couldn't believe the images I was seeing. It was as if he'd dreamed the same dream then brought it to life in his own way. It seemed uncanny. I nearly cried for joy to see such imaginings had become reality and gladly put aside the project in hopes I would travel to see it before doing any more. When I heard of the tragedy, the loss felt personal, though I had never met Mr. Torfs or his family in person.

Three years ago, the pieces that were salvaged and repaired, along with new works, were placed into a new garden and the Torfs' wonder forest was opened, once again, to the public.

A new "Phoenix Edition" of the original coffee table book of Bruno's art and sculptures was expanded and published after the tragedy. It now contains the story of the fires, the rebuilding as well as photos of the many wonderful works that were lost. You can order a copy (and support his work) HERE.

Bruno Torfs grew up in South America (you can see the influence in many of his sculptures), only moving to Australia as an adult but he clearly has a connection with the land and much of his work has the essence of the Australian Dreamtime stories as well. It's no surprise to hear he now calls Australia "home" and we are very glad he does.

Below are some of the restored and newer sculptures now greeting visitors, of which I sincerely hope to be one, one day.

*Perhaps it runs in my blood. My Nanna's aunt - May Gibbs - had the same desire and created the well-known and loved characters of Snugglepot & Cuddlepie.


  1. Jennifer D. BushroeJune 15, 2014 at 2:46 PM

    Those are so cool! I love how they feel organic to the garden—it’s not as if they were sculpted and then placed there, but as if they grew there/live there! (And how interesting that they have the Lady of Shalott.)

  2. Beautiful! Even the sculptures in the post-fire environment look lovely somehow.

  3. This garden is simply incredible. I think that it would be perfect for a photoshoot. What makes it even more amazing is that the work looks so real.

  4. This is amazing, even though I find it a little chilling. Especially knowing that the place burst into flames - could you imagine being the firefighter, and thinking you see someone (or something) in the flames? Then you hurry over there and you see a statue? *shudder* creepy. But amazing sculpture skill and incredibly memorable artwork; it's an absolutely awesome thing to do with this setting.


  5. Wow beautiful. See he is doing them in clay, how foes he gire suvh a big piece and with wood in them.... very interested.