Norma Redpath was a leading sculptor of the generation who emerged after World War II. Her success was even more remarkable as her career was forged at a time when it was especially difficult for women to succeed as artists. In 1956 she made the first of many visits to Italy, and there is a strong Italian influence in her work.
Sculptor, was born in Melbourne, the younger of two daughters of ceramic designer Harry Redpath and his wife, Dorothy. Her formal art training began as a commercial art course in 1943 at Swinburne Technical College, but tuberculosis combined with a long convalescence interrupted her studies. In 1946 she resumed study at Swinburne, but switched to painting. Discontent with both her work and the medium led Redpath to enrol in sculpture at the Royal Melbourne Technical College (now RMIT)where she studied from 1949 to 1951. Her studies were largely self directed as she found no contemporary sculpture of interest to her in Australia, however her work soon attracted the attention of the sculptor Karl Duldig. She first exhibited with the Victorian Sculptors’ Society in 1950, and she was awarded the Society’s Stanley Hammond Prize in 1953. She also contributed to their activities as a council member and, later, as vice-chairman until her resignation. The quality of her work led her to be invited by recent immigrants,Julius Kuhn (later Kane), Inge King and Clifford Last, to join them in what became known as the Group of Four. The group exhibited in 1953 and 1955. By this time Redpath was also teaching art at a girl’s school. In 1956, with savings from two years of teaching, sales and commissions, she sailed for Europe. In Italy she studied at the Universita per Stranieri, Perugia. Later, when based in Rome, she cast two bronzetti, her interest in the potential of bronze as a medium having been aroused in Melbourne. On her return to Australia she continued to work in wood. In 1958 she was awarded the commission for for a mural based on Milton’s Areopagitica for the Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne. It was carved in silky oak. In 1960 she was selected for the National Gallery of Victoria’s Six Sculptors exhibition, the first local demonstration of modernist sculpture. But by 1961 she decisively turned to bronze with Dawn figure which was a plaster cast envisaged for casting. It was awarded the Mildara (later Mildura) Prize for Sculpture. In the same year she was awarded both the Italian Government Travelling Scholarship and the Dyason Bequest travelling scholarship. In Milan in 1962 Redpath pursued further studies at the Academia di Belle Arti di Brera, gaining foundry experience on the recommendation of her teacher, Luciano Minguzzi. Two large sculptures and twelve bronzetti cast there and formed the basis of her Gallery A exhibition in Melbourne the following year. One of the sculptures gained Redpath her second Mildura Prize for Sculpture in 1964. In 1966 she won the Transfield Prize for Sculpture. Her most significant commission was the Treasury Fountain (1965-69) for the Secretariat Building in Canberra. James Gleeson described this as 'less a decoration than a morality in water and metal’'. The year after its completion she was awarded an OBE for her services to art.
Other commissions include Extended Column (1972-75) for the School of Music, Canberra; Sculpture Column (1969-72) for the Reserve Bank of Australia, Brisbane; and Bronze Reliefs (1964) for BP Australia, the Victorian Coat of Arms for the Arts Centre of Victoria (1968), Facade Relief (1970-72) for the Victorian College of Pharmacy, the Sydney Rubbo Memorial Capital (1970-73) at the University of Melbourne and Paesaggio Cariatide (1980-85) for the State Bank of Victoria, Melbourne.
Redpath regularly travelled between Italy and Australia, living and working in both countries. In 1972-74 she was awarded a Fellowship in the Creative Arts, Australian National University, Canberra. Then she worked out of her Milan studio (1974-85) before returning to develop her existing studio and production base in Melbourne. In the late 1970s Redpath ceased studio work, but instead described her sculptural ideas and projects in a manuscript, Ideas and Images. Her final commission, Paesaggio Cariatide was received in 1980 and is installed at the State Bank Centre in Bourke Street, Melbourne. The work was donated to the McClelland Gallery in 2003.
She continued to make was maquettes until the last years of her life.
She is represented in the National Gallery of Australia, the state galleries of Victoria, NSW and WA, in regional and institutional holdings and in private collections in Australia, Italy, UK and USA. In 2006 she was awarded an honorary doctorate by Swinburne University.