Don Ross

The Don Ross memorial mosaic containing over 140,000 hand cut venetian glass tiles.

At Anzac Square Memorial Galleries in Brisbane there is a most remarkable glass mosaic. Don Ross was commissioned by the Queensland Patriotic Fund to design and create a memorial mosaic in 1959. It is on display for two weeks every January to coincide with with the artist’s birthday.

Donald Mackenzie Ross at his jeweller's bench.

Donald Mackenzie Ross was a man of many talents. This artist and dentist was a talented jazz musician, an award-winning painter, jewellery maker and a mosaicist. Some of his earlier occupations saw him work as tailings picker at a gold mine, a jockey and as a wire walker and clown in a circus.

Born in Brisbane in January 1917, Don lived a long and full life. He married his wife Joy Dickson known as “Dicki” in 1942 and together they had one son named Daryl.

After serving as a Flight Lieutenant in RAAF for the duration of WWII, Don followed in his father’s footsteps and began to study dentistry. Once qualified, he joined his father’s practice, along with his brother, in rooms above the Tattersalls Club in the Brisbane CBD. He worked here until 1969 when he retired completely from dentistry to focus on his jewellery practice.

Don was a key figure in the Arts scene in Brisbane over several decades. He won many awards for his oil and watercolour paintings as well as for his jewellery designs. He also produced commissioned sculptures in bronze for businesses in Brisbane. When Don began to focus on jewellery making, in 1965, there was no formal training available in Brisbane in this field. The skills he learned and used in his dental practice were a basis for further self-taught techniques in working with metals like gold, sterling silver and copper and combining them with materials like porcelain and wood. His bespoke designs were intricate and influenced by his interest in ancient languages and symbols.

One of Don Ross’ intricate jewellery pieces.

At the time that he was commissioned to create the mosaic memorial, to be placed in the RSL headquarters at Anzac House in Wickham Terrace, he had little experience in working on such a large mosaic. He put forward five designs before one was accepted.

The design features four partially abstracted naked figures, three of which appear to be dying on a rocky outcrop while the fourth is ascending to a stylised version of heaven. The chosen material of Venetian glass provides a luminous quality to the piece. The themes of death, sacrifice, and redemption lead the viewer to observe this artwork as a memorial as it was intended. It is dedicated to those who served in the Second World War.

Detail from Don Ross mosaic.

Don Ross continued to live his full and colourful life creating a significant body of work across many mediums and teaching others through workshops in locations throughout Queensland.

Donald Mackenzie Ross passed away peacefully at the age of 98 in January 2015. He showed his trademark humour to the end with his obituary stating, “Not sleeping, just dead.”

You can find more information about the Anzac Square Memorial Galleries here: https://www.anzacsquare.qld.gov.au/whats-on This is also where you can book to attend the informative talk delving deeper into the remarkable life of Don Ross and the creation of his beautiful mosaic.

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