'Mute Swan protecting her Cygnets'



The original woodcarving 'master copy' of the 'Mute Swan protecting her Cygnets' along with the moulded and cast bronze version

lime wood - bronze

34 inches wide (87cm)  x  27 inches high (89cm)



Stage photographs of producing the 'Mute Swan protecting her Cygnets' carved from lime wood; moulded and being cast in bronze

The wood sculpture of the Mute Swan protecting her Cygnets was carved from a 150 year old Lime tree which had grown alongside the former 'Battle of Britain' RAF base near Manston in Kent and was blown down in the Hurricane force winds that hit Southern England in 1987.  The lime tree trunk was then allowed to initially season for almost four years before work to produce the sculpture was to commenced. As the log was quite large Ian decided it would be possible to produce the virtually life size Swan sculpture from a single piece of wood. Several hours was spent simply moving the log around, carefully studying every part of the trunk looking for any splits or other flaws that might be in the log and also most importantly, working out exactly were the Swan was within the log before the most important first cut with the chainsaw was to take place

The normal two or three splits or 'shakes' that usually appear radiating from the centre of any felled timber as it is drying out, is caused by natural shrinking between the sap and heart wood, no matter how carefully large logs like this are dried these shakes often cannot be prevented, so the sculptures Ian produces are designed in such a way that the finished sculpture will avoid any of these potential splits in the timber, to insure the finished wood sculpture will not split over the years when it is placed inside the home.

The possible shakes having now been dealt within the overall design of the sculpture, the real carving of the Swan can be started. Ian rarely draws the desired shape of the sculpture onto the log as carving initially with the chainsaw as Ian does, any drawing is all to quickly removed. Ian can keeps the image of the completed sculpture in mind as he works, he also does not try to keep to rigidly to any one particular pose to early on which enables him to be able make any change in the design if the timber was found to have some serious faults deep down in the timber which could possibly make it unsuitable. At this stage any such  faults such as rotten wood found deep down can soon be spotted and the potential sculpture can then be abandoned before to much time has been spent on it. Fortunately, on this occasion the lime wood log used for the Swan sculpture was found to be in perfect condition.

As the Swan and Cygnets is being carved from a single piece of wood, the overall shape of the sculpture is obviously totally dependant on the size of the tree used. Fortunately on this occasion the desired size and pose chosen for the sculpture neatly fitted within the parameter of the log, with fractions of an inch to spare. The chainsaw enables quick movement of any surplus wood, although special care has to taken at this stage as cutting too deep or at the wrong angle and a potential future wing or beak can soon be removed. Having reduced the majority of the unwanted timber the basic shape of the sculpture starts to materialise, the wood is continuing to be of excellent quality with no rot or any other imperfections visible in the wood. It is at this stage that the final pose of the sculpture would eventually take is decided upon

With the basic outline completed, the most important but rather tedious feather count can begin. Ian always indented making the Swan protecting her young rather angry looking, with wings raised and feathers ruffled, however by raising the feathers like he has done has meant that they had all to be carved both sides which not only slows things up a bit but also provides the sculpture with many undercuts, which would later make producing an accurate mould rather difficult.

However with most of the work completed a rather urgent commission for HM The Queen Elizabeth's II daughter, HRH The Princess Royal was required. This carved and gilded coronet which was carved from the same lime tree as the Swan, was also to be completed and than delivered to Windsor Castle close to the time of Ian's exhibition so both the Swan and the Coronet were eventually completed at the same time from the same lime tree. Once all the fine detail on the Swan carving was completed several coats of a neutral colour wood sealant was applied to give the sculpture its  natural lime wood finish, before the sculpture was finally gently polished.

The completed 'Swan protecting her Cygnets' sculpture


Moulding and casting the bronze version of the Swan;

The bronze version of the 'Swan protecting her Cygnets'

As Ian had carved the original woodcarving of the Swan with many undercuts particularly the feathers under the wings this would require a much more flexible three piece mould than normal. This would enable both the original woodcarving and the moulded wax version to be removed from the mould without damage.


the three piece plaster and rubber swan mould

Once the Art foundry had successfully produced the mould of the Swan and Cygnets the original woodcarving was returned back to Ian along with the exact replica of the Swan having now been cast hollow in wax. The wall thickness of the wax would then determine the overall finished thickness of the bronze casting.

Even though the wax Swan and Cygnets was reproduced in fine detail, it still takes Ian several days to re-work the wax Swan taking the opportunity of using his original Swan woodcarving as a reference and continually re-defining all the fine detail back into the wax replica. A rather tedious job he was quick to point out, but well worth the effort when the completed wax was eventually replicated in bronze. Once the fine detailing on the wax Swan has been completed, Ian then signs the base of the sculpture

As this Swan sculpture is rather large, the wax has to be cut into smaller sections and cast in these separate pieces. The various smaller wax sections of the sculpture are then assembled along with the wax runners upon a wax 'tree'. These wax sections upon the tree are again carefully cleaned by being dipping in alcohol and when dry again dipped or 'invested', into a wet ceramic based slurry and coated with a fine dry refractory ceramic. 



Once the separate bronzes have been cast and then carefully removed from the tree, all the pieces have to be carefully fettled, any holes or imperfections that might be found in the casting are carefully repaired using a bronze weld by the 'chaser'. The chaser at the foundry is the most important craftsman in the foundry his task is also to carefully weld all the separate pieces of the sculpture back together.  

This welding has to be done so expertly that you cannot see any of the joins in the sculpture, this is therefore a highly skilled and time consuming process especially when he is working on one of Ian's bird sculptures as they have many hundreds of individual feathers. Each of these detailed feather have many barbs carefully carved along the entire length of each feather, all of which have to carefully chased back into the bronze along the weld line. The completed sculpture is then gently as possible shot blasted all over with very fine pellets, which prepares the bronze sculpture surface for colouring, The whole sculpture is then heated up with a blow torch and various different chemicals applied to the surface to obtain the desired coloured patina. This colour is then sealed into the sculptures surface with wax

The patina required to complete the Swans on these two examples were both completely different, the Swan on the left was requested by the client to have a green mottled type of appearance, whereas another client requested to have the Swan shown on the right to have more normal bronze patina. 

The whole process to produce a sculpture like Ian's ' Swan protecting her Cygnets' from the moment the foundry receive the woodcarving master copy, to finally adding the patina to the completed bronze Swan casting often takes around ten weeks of full time work at the foundry


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