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Sculptor, painter, printmaker, art teacher and carpenter.
The son of Jesse Jewhurst Hilder and Phyllis Amy Meadmore, Vernon Arthur (Bim) Hilder was born in Parramatta, New South Wales, on 3 October 1909. His father, a respected watercolour artist, died of tuberculosis when Bim Hilder was six years old, and he and his younger brother, Brett, were raised by their mother. Photographs show that Bim Hilder bore a close resemblance to his father.
In 1926 Hilder enrolled in a commercial art course at the East Sydney Technical College, but abandoned his training after one year although he continued with evening classes organised by the Royal Art Society of NSW. During the 1920s Hilder began working as a carpenter and later worked for several years with the North American architect Walter Burley Griffin at Castlecrag, Sydney, where he built several houses in the suburb as well as the Haven Amphitheatre.
During the mid 1920s Hilder studied etching under Sydney Long, and one of his prints, Gum Trees, was exhibited at the Australian Painter-Etchers’ Society (APES) exhibition in 1928. The following year Hilder exhibited two more prints with APES. At this early time in his career he signed his work 'Vernon Hilder’, even though he was mainly known as Bim. Hilder’s early talent with aquatints saw his election to membership of APES in 1930. By 1932 the artist was signing his work 'Bim Hilder’. In 1932 he exhibited four works at the 'Sydney Harbour Bridge Celebration Exhibition’ in Sydney, an event organised by APES. The Bridge is arguably his best known print from this period and shows the final construction of this important national structure. The artist continued his involvement with APES until 1934.
In the early 1930s Hilder designed and built a home at 177 Edinburgh Road, Castlecrag. In 1935 he married the commercial artist Roma Hopkinson and the couple lived for the rest of their marriage at this Castlecrag property. Hilder and his wife held a joint exhibition of their work at the Rubery Bennett Galleries in Sydney during November of 1938. According to the review in the Sydney Morning Herald (16 November 1938, pg. 10) Bim Hilder was exhibiting watercolours and etchings:
“There is some pleasant work among the pictures which Mr. and Mrs. Bim Hilder have placed on view at the Rubery Bennett Galleries… Mr. Hilder is at his best when he emulated his distinguished father, J. J. Hilder, and invests his pictures with a touch of the romantic. “Camp Fire” is deeply imaginative in its direction of tall tree trunks which look in the half-light like the piers of a Gothic cathedral, and “The Bathers” is beautifully gay and delicate. Both artists present a series of firm, thoughtful etchings in monochrome and in colours.”
Perhaps not liking being compared with his father’s art, Hilder abandoned watercolour and took up sculpture. According to his obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald (13 June 1990, pg. 10) Hilder began to sculpt after breaking his ankle, and he was artistically inspired by many things:
“All natural phenomena fascinates me, the flight of birds, wave formation, patterns of erosion, characteristics of plant growth, marine life, crystal structure… I don’t have any great aims or direction – I just do the best I can with the ability I have.”
After the war Hilder became involved with the Contemporary Art Society (CAS) and was listed as a member of the CAS Sydney committee in November 1947. His CAS exhibits were painted landscapes, mobiles and wooden sculpture. He ended his involvement with the Society in 1949.
Reflecting the interest in civic sculpture in the post war period, the Society of Sculptors and Associates was established in 1951 and Hilder was a foundation member. He served twice as President of the Society during the late 1950s and early 60s, although exact terms of office are unknown. The Society of Sculptors and Associates held most of their annual shows at the David Jones’ Art Gallery during the 1950s and Hilder regularly exhibited his carved wooden objects. In 1961 he entered two of his works, Totempole and Brookvale Symbolic Sculpture, at the 1961 'Mildura Sculpture Prize’ exhibition in Mildura, Victoria. The 1961 exhibition was Hilder’s only connection with the landmark sculpture festival which later became known as the 'Mildura Sculpture Triennial’.
In 1962 Hilder won a competition for a 'wall-enrichment’ on the new Reserve Bank of Australia building in Martin Place, Sydney. A staff correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald (14 December 1964, pg. 16) described the work:
“Australian artist Bim Hilder is responsible for an arresting and interesting treatment of the marble walls above the Martin Place lifts… A 'wall enrichment’, it is an arrangement of metals forming what Hilder refers to as 'an integrating and disintegrating galaxy, representative of the manner in which nations and communities come together, and separate’...The finely textured Wombeyan marble is offset by the artist’s use of cast and beaten copper and bronze… Accenting one section of the galaxy is a six inch quartz crystal uncovered by geologist Ben Flounders in South Australia’s Corunna Hills.”
Hilder wrote about the Reserve Bank project in the first issue of Artviews, the journal of the Artists’ Guild of Australia:
“Winning the Reserve Bank Prize for a Wall Enrichment in their new Martin Place Building brought me other commissions, and from there on, I seemed to be an established sculptor. I have two main approaches to sculpture – one is to allow the shape and grain of the wood to influence me in the form that develops; the other, for larger works, is to use copper beating, welding, cutting away and adding, like a three-dimensional drawing in space. I don’t have any great aims or direction – just do the best I can with the ability I have.”
The ten years following the Reserve Bank project saw many public sculpture commissions around Australia, but the Reserve Bank wall-enrichment and the Burley Griffin Memorial Fountain in Castlecrag (1965) are, arguably, his best known public art works. In 1962 Hilder began teaching art part-time at the East Sydney Technical College and from 1973 he also gave classes in sculpture at the University of New South Wales for their Student Union.
In August 1976 Hilder had a one man show of his sculpture at the David Jones’ Art Gallery, Sydney. The exhibition was of nineteen works, ten cedar objects priced between $150 and $1,700. Typical wooden object titles were Molluscia and Ritual Dance. The later work was reproduced in Ken Scarlett’s 1980 book, Australian Sculptors. The exhibition also included nine bronzes in editions of twenty-five. Most of these works had animal titles, such as Penguin feeding its young and Furious Eagle.
In 1983 Hilder had an exhibition of his work at the Bloomfield Galleries, Paddington, Sydney. Titled 'Three Generations of Hilder’ the exhibition showed the work of Bim Hilder alongside his father, J.J. Hilder, and his son, Kim Hilder. For the show, Bim exhibited his sculptures, watercolours and etchings.
Information about Hilder’s career is brief and sketchy. Ken Scarlet visited the artist while researching his 1980 reference book on Australian sculpture and he lists sixteen of his major commissions in his entry on Hilder. Scarlett commented on Hilder’s vagueness in his entry on the artist (pg. 249):
'When I visited Bim Hilder I found that he did not have any records of his numerous commissions, or of the exhibitions in which he had shown work. He was not at all certain of dates, or sequence of events during his career. Perhaps these are common enough characteristics of many artists, but Bim Hilder also seems to depreciate his own talent…’
Scarlett went on to comment on the differences between Hilder’s wood and metal sculpture (pg. 250):
“Bim Hilder’s work seems to have gone in two main directions – his organic sculptures carved from wood and his larger commissions often produced in metals.”
In 1973 Hilder wrote a short article titled 'The White Canoe’ for a book titled, Castlecrag. He designed the book in association with fellow Castlecrag resident Eva Buhrich. In 1978 Hilder was awarded an MBE for his services to art. The artist died in Sydney on 8 June 1990 and was cremated at the Northern Suburbs Crematorium in North Ryde, Sydney. He was survived by his two sons, Kim and Larry. Examples of his small sculpture are included in the collections of the Art Gallery of NSW, University of NSW, and the University of Sydney.