ESC staff member Fiona Smith is the artist behind the giant head that adorned Eaglehawk Secondary’s float. When Fiona was invited to participate in the Dahlia and Arts Festival meeting about a ‘secret float’ they were working on, she jumped at the chance.

“We tried to keep it a secret, but the students cottoned on to who the much-loved teacher retiring after 51 years was”.
“The festival was celebrating its 50th year and the theme was ‘gold’…John was a king retiring, (there was also the King’s Coronation happening) so I put two and two together and came up with the idea as King John on his throne. I knew we could use a ridiculous amount of gold on the float, it seemed perfect”!

The initial discussion centred on putting John on the float in the form of a scarecrow with a photo of his face and a banner with the message ‘goodbye Mr Pearce, we will miss you’. However, Fiona felt she could take it to the next level and construct a larger-than-life head out of calico, stuff it, and paint his face onto it. She researched a pattern on the internet and got to work. Calico fabric was used with a large amount of polyester fibre fill as the stuffing. When Fiona started painting John’s face, she wanted to capture his mischievous blue eyes, striking white hair standing straight up and his glorious grey moustache. She also paid close attention to his slightly bent over ears, which she made separately and inserted wire into them so they could be bent down. The throne needed to be big and strong. Fiona researched a few designs and settled on one that looked to be a suitable and a simple design before getting to work raiding some Bendigo businesses recycling bins. The throne took about 7 packets of glue sticks to hold it together. The students sprayed it gold and did a fantastic job sticking on the blue satin backing, armrests and shimmering blue cardboard diamonds to match his crown.

When Fiona started working at ESC in 2021, she never had much to do with John. It wasn’t until he brought the Year 7’s at the end of 2022 for transition day that she got to know how important a role John had in the school. He had a way with the students that made them feel calm and relaxed with his humor and reassuring manner. “John is so loved at ESC and in the Eaglehawk community. He has done so much for the students of ESC and their families. I couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to use my artistic skills with the students, to give back show John Pearce how much we all love and appreciate him”. Fiona’s life has been spent practicing arts and crafts and sewing. Her parents were creative, and their parents also, sewed, painted, sculpted and created.

At the age of 30 Fiona commenced an Art Degree at Latrobe University in 2003. The idea of focusing on painting, drawing and learning about visual culture full time excited her and she graduated four years later with a Bachelor of Visual Arts with Honours.

Fiona has painted many commissions for people of their cats, dogs, birds, children, deceased relatives, and portraits of themselves. She has exhibited in art shows in Victoria, painted murals on walls in Bendigo businesses, and illustrated a book on EFT tapping (a self-help book focusing on reducing anxiety and improving performance). She is currently in the process of illustrating her own children’s book.


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