While the famous ‘Dog on the Tuckerbox’ monument, five miles from Gundagai, was designed by Frank Rusconi it certainly is not the most impressive example of the work of this talented artisan on exhibition in the Gundagai district. From an artistic perspective it is one of his poorest offerings. Rusconi was a stonemason so bronze was not his usual medium and added to this was the fact that he was blind in one eye by the time he produced it.
I will refer to others of Rusconi’s work in Gundagai in separate reviews but in this one want to focus on his most elaborate creation, tucked away in a small room in the Visitor Information Centre. This, Rusconi’s Marble Masterpiece, is either the work of a genius or an eccentric madman with too much time on his hands – you be the judge. Is it a kitschy curiosity or a true masterpiece? In any event, it is worth the $5 (2017) entrance fee just to see it.
I imagine that it is called the Marble Masterpiece as it is difficult to define otherwise. It appears to be (all in baroque style) a cathedral, town-hall, Italian palace, garden and clock-tower, all rolled into one. This jumble may be accounted for by the fact that there exist no known plans for it and Rusconi probably just developed it and added to it as he painstakingly produced it over a period of 28 years, working three hours per day on it. This was his evening, unpaid, hobby.
And painstaking indeed its production would have been. Standing only 1.12 metres high the Marble Masterpiece comprises 20,948 individual pieces of marble, every piece cut, turned and polished by hand. Add to this the 9000 odd pieces that didn’t make the grade and we can possibly understand why it took so long to produce notwithstanding its modest size.
Rusconi was born in 1874 in Araluen, near Braidwood in New South Wales, but after his mother’s death moved to Europe with his Swiss father. He became an apprentice marble stonemason in Verquinto in Italy and gained international renown at an early age for work such as a marble stairway in Westminster Abbey and a memorial to the heroes of the 1870 war in France. Most of his working life was, however, spent in Gundagai as a monumental (headstone) mason.
While he often worked with the finest of European marble every one of the 20,948 pieces of marble (which range from pieces 3mm square to some about 125mm high (some of the columns)) in his Marble Masterpiece came from New South Wales, including black marble from Mount Parnassus, the hill on which Gundagai is built. Samples pieces of the twenty types of local marble used by Rusconi, together with a small gemstone collection, are on display close by his Marble Masterpiece.
Also on display is another Rusconi masterpiece – a replica of the altar of Saint Maries Cathedral in Paris – which took him seven years to complete, again using only Australian marble. Rusconi and three others constructed the original altar whilst he was working in Switzerland.
Rusconi died in 1964 and now lies at rest under a plain black marble slab in a cemetery here in Gundagai.
Opening times (as per the Visitor Information Centre)
Opening hours: Daily 9am – 4.30pm .. closed 12.30 – 1pm
Open all Public Holidays except Christmas Day
Entrance fee (Rusconi Masterpiece)
Adults $5, Children $2, Pensioners $3, Family Group $10. Coaches $3 pp.
Address: 249 Sheridan Street
Directions: In the Visitors Information Centre