Kensington’s popular mosaic artworks saved as street works take shape
A stunning collection of mosaic artworks will be saved along on a popular shopping strip in Kensington as heavy machinery moves in to undertake street works.
Twelve colourful circular mosaics located in the pavement of Bellair St – which represent the themes of local architecture and landmarks including the gold rush and Maribyrnong River – will be carefully preserved and reinstated by the City of Melbourne in a move that has been applauded by the community and local artists.
Known as “The Bellair Street Mosaics”, the artworks celebrate Kensington’s strong community identity after becoming the product of a public art and job skills project undertaken in 1996 and led by artists Helen Bodycomb and Paul Robinson.
Fifteen participants were employed by the City of Moonee Valley in conjunction with Training Edge Consultants Pty Ltd to help design, construct, and lay the 1.2-metre circular mosaic tiles over a six-month period.
At the time, the project team, which developed designs from the themes that had researched or had some knowledge of, was described as an “outstandingly motivated, diligent, and talented group” with the works being of the “highest professional standard in the field of public art”.
The participants included a man who had left school at 14 and worked various labour jobs, a landscape gardener, a musician, a sculptor, and a man who arrived in Australia four years earlier after having served in the military in his home country.
Ms Bodycomb said she was “very pleased” the mosaics were being kept and was working closely with the City of Melbourne in their preservation.
“We’ve adjusted the position of the mosaics a little bit, taken the opportunity to slightly shift them into positions that are a bit safer and practical and integrated with the other surfaces on the street,” she said.
“There are a few tiles that we are having custom-made to replace lost material which was originally handmade by the group.
I’m working with a conservator to find other tiles and to match exactly how the works were originally made.
Ms Bodycomb said she was impressed with the work of the council, adding they had been “terrific to work with and they’re doing a really nice job.”
“Public artworks like this, do over time, become a part of the community and by the people who use that site.”
“Sometimes councils just have these sorts of things removed because it’s easier or harder to retain it … but it’s a measure of the value they hold to the cultural collection of the City of Melbourne and to the community.”
“It was a really successful project in its time, and I don’t know that anybody imagined that 26 years later.”
The City of Melbourne’s education and innovation portfolio lead Cr Davydd Griffiths, who had many residents reach out to him to ensure the mosaics were protected, said, “it’s important council spends money on preserving and renovating works of art just as much as finishing new ones and this is a great example of that.”
“Like all locals, I’m really looking forward to the work being done and being able to go back down and enjoy all of those sites along Bellair St.”
Local mosaic artist Libby McKinnon, who was one of the tutors involved in the original project and has helped maintain the mosaics over the years, said it was “great news” the council had taken steps to ensure the mosaics’ retention.
Work is underway to upgrade the stormwater drainage network and streetscape on Bellair St. This includes the repositioning of kerbing and the reconstruction of the footpath, while preserving the heritage mosaics.
Works began in March and are scheduled for completion in late June •
Caption: Local mosaic artist Libby McKinnon is excited the City of Melbourne is retaining “The Bellair Street” mosaics. Photo: Murray Enders.