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Prolific sculptor Matthew Harding, behind many Canberra public artworks, has died

The stainless steel cushion in Garema Place looks comfy enough to sit on, and many passersby do.

They also pat the chain-metal sheep at Kambah Shops, wander lovingly around the bronze Casuarina pods on City Walk and gazed upwards alongside the steel blue wren at Curtin Shops.

These are just some of the vast body of work left behind by the sculptor Matthew Harding, who died suddenly last week aged 53.

With at least 13 works dotted around the capital, he created more public artworks than any other single artist in Canberra.

But he also produced dozens of works throughout the country and around the world, and his sculptures are now found in private and public collections in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Vanuatu, Singapore, Cambodia, Canada and New Zealand.

Although he moved away from Canberra several years ago, and was living with his family in Trentham, Victoria, his impact on the city is huge and permanent, through the works he created, both alone and in collaboration with others, and the people he helped along the way.

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He first qualified as a carpenter and joiner in Newcastle in the early 1980s, before focusing on art, moving to Canberra and graduating with first class honours from the ANU School of Art in 1995.

David Williams, who was then the school's director, said Harding's talent was evident right from his very first entrance interview.

Although he was drawn to woodworking early on, he would later work in a variety of materials, including stainless steel, marble and stone.

"Canberra and Australia has lost a very talented, accomplished artist and sculptor," he said.

Lecturer in sculpture at the ANU School of Art Nick Stranks said Harding had not only been an exceptional artist, but a generous collaborator and mentor.

"I think a lot of artists are quite happy to work on their own capacity and make their own artworks. What Matt was great at doing was bringing other people and working with other people to bring their works to fruition," he said.

"And not only with other artists but with industry and industry professionals, to educate them about the subtleties that were involved in making art, and those nuances that tradespeople aren't always aware of."

He also took time to help and mentor other artists, even as his own practice flourished.

"Artists who have contacted me in the last few days have said how much he'll be missed, in that anyone could ring him up at any time and ask his opinion or ask for advice, and Matt was more than willing to give that," Stranks said.

But he said Harding, like many artists, had struggled to balance his private practice with his public artworks, and amount of energy they required.

"His own practice took a benchseat, really, next to him while he was making his public artwork, and I think he was frustrated by that," he said.

"But also, with each of those projects, Matt put 150 per cent into them. Matt was completely spent at the end of each one of those projects. Every project ran right to the deadline because Matt was such a perfectionist."

Director of the Canberra Museum and Gallery Shane Breynard studied with Harding at the School of Art in the 1990s, and remembers him as a complex artist who "stretched himself by definition".

"Anyone who met him could see he was someone who was challenging the norms," he said.

"With someone like him, you've got to ask, what's their engine, what is their flame?"

A message on Harding's official website noted that he took his own life on February 22, leaving behind his partner and four young children.

The local community in Trentham have set up a GoFundMe page to support Harding's family, at gofundme.com/fund-for-freya.

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636