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30 October 2019
By Lotte Reiter
Every piece of art that leaves Drover’s Hut Gallery and Gardens at Lascelles is one of a kind.
At the home of Phil and Marlene Rigg – a couple with zero shortage of creativity and ingenuity – visitors exploring the upper reaches of the Silo Art Trail have likely stumbled upon curious corrugated iron creations, hand-made toys and cot quilts.
The Riggs don’t have a computer. Anything anyone knows about the gallery is passed by word of mouth and plastered online by intrigued visitors. “It’s not our fault,” Phil said.
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But even so, this modest hut is gathering interest from people across Australia and beyond, because what you find inside – and outside – is unique.
‘Uniqueness’ is the basic artistic philosophy for Phil; he never has and never will mass produce his art. In fact, he would ‘rip up a million-dollar check’ in the face of anyone who tried to persuade him otherwise.
“As far as my stuff is concerned, I’ve been privileged to a point where you can’t get it anywhere else,” he said.
“I don’t want people ‘spending’ their money on my art, I want them investing their money. And for them to invest their money the least I can do is ensure their artwork is one of a kind.”
Phil, 76, said he specialised in pioneer-type art, using a mix of corrugated iron
and paint to create three-dimensional art works and nationally celebrated sculptures, many reminiscent of the Australian bush and its settlers’ history.
He said art was a passion from an early age, and something he started professionally about 40 years ago.
“My mother used to tell me it began at four years of age. You couldn’t get a pencil and paper out of my hands,” he said.
“It’s a weird, weird industry to be involved with – it owns you.
“A professional artist can never retire. I’ve tried, and it lasted three days before I had something going around in my head to a point where I had to do it.
“And there are times when you think, ‘I’d love to be able to shut if off every once in a while’. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not crying about it. It owns you, you don’t own it.”
Phil’s wife Marlene is a craftswoman, and many of her soft creations are tucked inside Drovers Hut, from quilts and hand-knitted teddies, to other more ‘controversial’ creations.
“You can get a bit of opposition every now and then,” Phil said.
“But she puts in so much time and effort, she has more patience than I have, and they are the most beautiful works you have ever seen.
“She does baby clothes too, crocheted bedspreads, quite a selection. She’s always doing something to be put up for sale in the gallery.”
Wander around the garden outside, and ‘questionable’ political statements can also be spotted on Phil’s sculptures.
From references to obesity to all sorts of artistic political statements, Phil admitted much of what he would like to write and put on display gets the flick by Marlene.
He said such ‘stirrers’ were a way to make visitors ‘reconsider their own life or politics.’
“And people are fascinated with it,” he said.
“While we’re open, I’m usually working in the workshop, because when people come here I want them to be part of the experience, and they’ll come up to me afterwards and say, ‘I agree with everything you have written, I wish I had the guts to say it’.
“And you just think ‘what’s stopping you?’. Too many people in this world are too afraid to say things.”
The couple set up the gallery and garden about 10 years ago – which now sits beside, and Phil admitted welcomely gains some of the traction from, the Lascelles Silo Art.
“I’d be a liar if I said it didn’t help,” he said.
“We’ve got coaches booked in until March from all over Australia.”
But even so, Drover’s Hut is an attraction in its own right, particularly Phil and Marlene’s home, which, standing in the centre of it all, is the last remaining railway station master’s house in the Wimmera-Mallee in its original form.
“It’s 106 years old,” Phil said.
“It’s a beautiful old home, solid as a rock. We pour a lot of time and money into the garden, giving people the opportunity to wander around for $5 a person, and in that they’re offered a complimentary coffee or tea and a bickie.
“Unless we’re away for appointments or shopping, we’re always open.”
The entire Lifestyle Wimmera Edition 5 is available online. READ IT HERE!