Indigenous art from first Aboriginal Canon Glenn Loughrey to adorn St Paul's

By Stephen Cauchi

St Paul’s Cathedral’s narthex screen is to be adorned with glass artwork from newly appointed Indigenous Canon and Artist-in-Residence the Revd Canon Glenn Loughrey.

Canon Loughrey, the Vicar at St Oswald’s Glen Iris, is the first Indigenous canon in the Cathedral’s history. A Wiradjuri man from NSW, he is the second First Nations artist-in-residence at the Cathedral, following Maori artist, the Revd Regan O’Callaghan, in 2016.

A canon is a senior leader of the Cathedral. Canon Loughrey will continue his ministry at St Oswald’s.

Two pieces of Indigenous artwork from Canon Loughrey, each broken into three glass panels, will be installed in the narthex screen. The screen is the carved wooden portal separating the entrance from the main body of the church.

They depict a bird’s eye view of the pre-colonial Melbourne region from the Dandenongs to the You Yangs, including Port Phillip Bay, the Yarra River, sacred trees, human footsteps and meeting places.

Canon Loughrey has already completed the artwork, which has been in the planning stages for two years. The process of tracing and casting the artwork into the six pieces of semi-opaque glass is set to begin shortly.

The Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, made the announcement of the artwork and Canon Loughrey’s appointments on
3 August.

Canon Loughrey told TMA he felt “pretty chuffed” by the news his artwork would adorn the narthex screen. “I never thought I would be a sufficient enough artist to get such a wonderful opportunity. It’s an affirmation of my artistic practice but it’s also an affirmation and a step towards reconciliation by the Cathedral by placing that in such an important position at the entrance of the building,” he said.

“From my Aboriginal point of view, it’s a very powerful statement about what the Cathedral sees as important.”

Canon Loughrey said he was “very happy” with his artwork. “It does everything I want it to do and it speaks to country which is what we wanted to get across – the idea that when you walk into the Cathedral you walk through country and when you walk out of the Cathedral you walk through country.

“It’s about people getting to recognise where they are and how to adjust the way they think about things in terms of where they are on country.”

Canon Loughrey, who will continue to be a full-time priest at St Oswald’s, said he was “gobsmacked” about being made a canon.

“It’s also a great opportunity and a responsibility to be in the Cathedral and have the possibility of making more inroads into the process of reconciliation through that place.

“I’m chuffed but I’m also very humbled by it.

“When they asked me – and being the first Indigenous canon – I thought, ‘Yes, this is a good thing to do’.

“I didn’t have anything to do with it at all. I’d done the design for the narthex screens and in the conversation a month or so back (Dr Loewe) said we ought to make you a canon at some point.”

Canon Loughrey, a Wiradjuri man, said he was asked to do the artwork specifically for the narthex. It took about six or eight months to complete.

Glass artisan Mark Edwards at Wathaurong Glass in Geelong will create the glass screens from Canon Loughrey’s artwork.

Canon Loughrey said: “Creativity is central to both my traditions (Anglican and Wiradjuri) and I look forward to watching what comes into being within the Cathedral and the Diocese as a result of this appointment.”

Mr O’Callaghan, the Cathedral’s inaugural First Nations Artist-in-Residence, joined St Paul’s during its 125th anniversary year in 2016 and continues to work with Chapter’s Culture and Heritage Committee on the development of a new triptych for the Cathedral’s Chapel of Unity.

Dr Loewe said the Cathedral had been thinking since 2014 of a way of honouring Indigenous Australians.

“How can we put the fact that we worship on Aboriginal land – sovereign land that had not been ceded but was taken – front and centre at the Cathedral?” he asked.

Dr Loewe said the Cathedral had initially considered a plaque, but “we wanted to have something that was a much more transformative experience”. Then the idea of the narthex screen came up.

“It is the entrance screen into the cathedral, and kind of creates a space between the outside world, the country in which we are, and the sanctuary space,” he said.

“We thought if we can use this screen as a place where we can acknowledge where we’re coming from, and where we’re standing on, then that could be a very powerful personal experience as you walk through the screen.”

Transforming the screen in this way would mean “you’re literally walking through the map of the country on which we minister, on which the Cathedral stands and on which the whole diocese ministers”.

Canon Loughrey’s artwork “gives you this rare birds-eye view of where we’re at, what this country looked like before colonisation, and you walk through this and in walking through it you are entering the ceremonial space of the Cathedral”.

Dr Loewe said the artwork would also be visible to those standing at the altar. “We will be reminded of the land in which we stand,” he said.

“When I’m standing at the altar and celebrating the Eucharist, or giving the blessing at service, I could also have my own vision changed because I’ll see what’s out there – the open doors into the City of Melbourne through that map.”

The project has yet to be approved by Heritage Victoria, which could delay the installation of the artwork to the end of 2022. At the earliest, the artwork would be installed by the end of this year.

The First Nations Arts Program with the Anglican Foundation will fund other artistic endeavours and will help contribute to a budget for Canon Loughrey’s work. You can donate at: https://www.melbourneanglican.org.au/melbourne-anglican-foundation/melbourne-anglican-cultural-organisation/