The sculptor by the sea



They are perhaps the most photographed artworks in Australia.

The two slender sculpted figures have appeared in endless tourist brochures, posters, videos, news stories, advertisements, social media feeds and websites.

The ‘Oceanides’ - or ‘Sea Nymphs’ - have been admired both by locals and countless tourists since they appeared suddenly beside a Fairy Bower rockpool in 1997.

The work of Northern Suburbs sculptor, author, and teacher Helen Leete, the ‘Oceanides’ first arrived at Fairy Bower on loan as part of a public art project organised by Manly Art Gallery & Museum.

Shortly after, Logie-winning television host Rosemary Eather purchased the ‘Oceanides’ and then donated them to the Manly community as a permanent memorial to her late parents. 

“The sculptures became so loved by the people of Manly that when one of the stoneware originals was damaged in a big storm in 2016, hundreds volunteered to contribute towards bronze replacements,” says Helen.

“A committee sprang up, and at their opening function they sold a whole edition of 12 miniature ‘Sea Nymphs’ at $6,000 each, easily raising the funds for the two bronze replacements which were installed in September, 2017.”

Helen counts ‘Oceanides’ among her ‘tall semi-abstract works’, along with such pieces as the stunning three-metre high ‘Naiad Fountain’ at Cockle Bay Wharf, and ‘Dryad’ or ‘Tree Spirit’ which sits above Shelly Beach.

More recently, Helen has focused her attention on creating sculptures for the gardens and homes of private clients.

Her figurative bronze works grace many private collections and gardens in Australia, Britain, America, Japan, Italy, Singapore, and South Korea.

She has also been invited to join the artist panel for the planned Northern Beaches Sculpture Walk, which will stretch from Fairy Bower to Palm Beach.

“This initiative is amazing and farsighted,” Helen smiles. “It’s a much-needed boost to art and culture.”

“As the Sea Nymphs are the start of the walk, I might submit a proposal for one last landscape-type sculpture closer to Palm Beach. But that might be some time after 2023.

“Perhaps it will be fun to be both the alpha and omega of the Sculpture Walk!”

Helen has written and illustrated several children’s books, published a novel, and a philosophical book called ‘Beauty and the Mystic’.

Now, a new book, tentatively titled ‘Public Sculpture, the Agony and the Empathy’, is in development.

The work started out as a booklet dedicated to all those who strove so enthusiastically to restore the ‘Sea Nymphs’ but has grown into a larger, illustrated volume. 

Helen is inviting photographers and the public to contribute their favourite original images of the ‘Sea Nymphs’, both of the earlier stoneware versions and the new bronzes. 

“I’m particularly keen for images of wedding groups, or people interacting with the ‘Nymphs’, or the sculptures in stormy seas.”

Contact Helen via her website at

Chris Parsons, Contributor, Peninsula Living Magazine

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