Selected Commissions Link BIO Part One BIO Part Two BIO Part Three
Artist Information HMS Victory Sculpture Upcycled sculptures Wood/Bronze Sculptures HMS Victory
Garter Knights Crests Bath Knights Crests Creating a Crest/Arms Short TV Films
Page Section under construction –
Part Two (First Draft)
It transpired that the theft insurance I had taken out and paid the premium for was apparently not the ‘correct’ insurance and my wood sculptures that took many years to create were apparently ‘not insured’ as the insurance company decided that it would in effect only pay out for the "costs incurred when reproducing the sculptures, “however this does not include the profit element on your labour". So, how much for a piece of wood!..........
During one two year period alone over twenty wood sculptures were either stolen or damaged in three separate thefts in art galleries much of which were once again in all the local papers which didn’t exactly help my still trying to be helpful bank manager’s in his battle regarding my overdraft with the banks head office and after a few meetings at the bank was politely told it best I leave and take my overdraft with me and once again, hardly surprisingly really as years’ of my work had gone along with the insurance to cover such a loss and the only thing I had to show for oh so many years of hopes and dreams was some photographs and several column inches in the newspapers and an overdraft that made worrying reading now looking for yet another potential ex-bank manager.
Although I still had a lot of commissions, I also needed to replace my stolen or damaged sculpture exhibition pieces which had also been promised for a top London gallery. Once again, I found myself walking the streets with polished shoes and neat piles of photographs of sculptures past, but still with a lot of optimism, as things can only get better...it can’t get no worse. To quote words from a Beatles song, but still aware I was running out of new bank managers in the high street to ask. In the ‘good old days’ it was easier then as your average high street used to be full of Banks which actually had a branch manager behind a big shiny desk who was able to actually lend to the person sat in front of them when you really needed it. They are still out there somewhere rather than just an unsmiling motion less online credit score, tick box, algorithm program thingy, apparently if you look hard enough.
Months later after endless correspondence the insurance company finally paid the claim which was most welcome, nay vital but obviously the years lost creating them in the first place was irreplaceable, however sometime later the police once again were great and managed to recover some of my other stolen sculptures including two of my largest pieces the swimming otters and although it meant getting an even larger overdraft to buy them back again from the insurance company. Having these sculptures back was far more important and at least I had a partial sculpture collection to work with. Although a few of the sculptures including the life size ‘Osprey catching a trout.’ my then exhibition centre piece is still out there somewhere!
Several art galleries who had been exhibiting my wood sculptures were constantly asked me to also consider creating sculpture with the same fine detail as my wood sculptures, molding them and having them cast in bronze as limited editions and although I was rather keen on the idea, I was unable to afford the high cost of having them moulded and cast in bronze at the time. Meanwhile I was still busy working on the latest commissions for the royal household which helped keep the finances ticking over alongside trying to replace my stolen sculpture exhibition pieces for the forthcoming London art gallery. I also had several other commissions, some of them large sculptures which would take a year or two to complete on their own and with bills to pay and creditors to try and pacify, these commissions had to take priority over working on replacement exhibition pieces.
The whole idea has always been to try and mix work life, social and family life, doing the school run just normal things really and just working for a living from home on things which I would also have done as a hobby if I had thought about it which fortunately although often difficult at times, we have managed to do for almost four decades. I don’t live or exhibit my work in a particular so-called, high crime areas, although I have done so in the past fortunately without any untoward incidents, but it would appear during one particular period my sculptures were now being stolen from not only inside art galleries up and down the land but even when placed high in the air outside them. It was all started to get a bit silly really as the papers who initially kindly reported on my sculptures for the upcoming exhibition with a few column inches and a photo if you were lucky hidden away inside the paper and a week or so later were reporting on the same sculptures having now been stolen during the art thefts moved onto a much larger spread on the front pages.
Having to find another bank to support my cause with little initial success and the like and then in one of my many forays up and down the high street once again to try and find one of these often-elusive bank managers, with vision, patience and now a sense of humour along with deep pockets and a place to store my overdraft, when I met Colin W a Bank manager with all those aforementioned qualities and more and after a long meeting in his office with a hot cup of tea, in a real cup even with a handle on it. I walked out somewhat taller with an overdraft and loan facility in place and was able to stop taking on any future most commissions apart from the normal and also the time to put together yet another collection of larger wood sculptures and then almost overnight in yet another rather bizarre event a large collection of bronze sculptures and become one of those rare artists that both carves and casts……....
to be continued.
When I was first contacted to create mostly wood sculptures for the Royal Household it was all a bit daunting and felt well out of my comfort zone. I was invited up to London for what turned out to be a really polite friendly interview/ intermigration for almost three hours in a splendid historic 17th century building full of history and tradition and on the massive antique solid oak carved table placed alongside our tea cups and plate of biscuits, were several sculptures that had been carved centuries ago by someone that really knew what they were doing and for me doubts started to creep in. What did I really know of carving such things to this exacting standard, when just five years earlier I was making furniture fitting out pubs, kitchens and racing yachts but mainly making elm garden furniture by the hundreds.
I was self-taught and had no qualification as a woodcarver and sculptor and hadn’t spent a moment being taught at an art college the rights and wrongs of such things although to be fair such teaching and advice may well have been helpful in the early days as I was learning such things as I went along. But I have never taken on any commission be it furniture or sculpture just for the money. If I wasn’t convinced, I could make a first-class job of it I just didn’t want to disappoint myself and especially the client and didn’t take any such commission on and didn’t want to start now with a potential commission from the royal household that would then go on public display in Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle and I more or less intimated that to the two well-spoken gentlemen sat in front of me, as the gentleman that originally phoned me was passing the biscuits across the highly polished antique oak table.
I had exhibited in galleries in London and was recently featured in the Times and he said that they were fully aware of both myself and my work and had seen the quality and exacting standards and very fine detail I have achieved over the years with my woodcarvings and therefore not having any formal qualifications as a woodcarver was not an issue. But what they did required was for every sculpture will be totally unique and must be created to size from an individually painted design for me to work from. Exactly as per specifications and created to the highest possible standard. Not only to budget but also complete and approved on time as they would be required to be placed in position in Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle effectively as a part of a historic ceremony attended by HM The Queen and other members of the Royal Household. Would that be something you are willing to undertake?
Well, that was thirty-three years ago and over one hundred and thirty commissions from the royal household later so I must be doing something right. The expected complete contrast between each commission was immediately displayed as the first commission was to create the royal Knight of the Garter Crown for the King of Spain for Windsor Castle and a life size carved Heraldic Cockerel for an Admiral of the Fleet for Westminster Abbey and a few months later I returned to London with both carvings which after careful examination both sculptures fortunately were formally approved and I was then immediately given a further commission to produce a similar size Crown for HM Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.
Thirty years and over one hundred and thirty-four sculptures later created for Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle, I was also commissioned to create the Crowns for both the Queen and Kings Son’s. It is exceptionally rare since the Order of the Garter was founded in 1348 for two identically carved, painted and gilded Crowns to be placed on display in St George’s Chapel Windsor at the same time. King Juan Carlos’s Crown in 1989 and his Son King Felipe V1 in 2018. Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands Crown in 1989 and her Son King Willem-Alexander also in 2018.
My work mainly has been and known for is to create realistic sculptures in very fine detail so it’s always rather strange then being commissioned to recreate a Lion sculpture from an image you have been given to work from when you know it doesn’t quite look like a Lion you would look at through the car window driving through a zoological park with the children laughing in the back seat now eating crisps, as someone may well have thrown what was left of the sandwiches onto the roof of the car when we entered the monkey enclosure moments earlier.
As in this latest commission was of an almost life size Lion. Apparently, the lion was once a Ships figurehead said to be from an 18th century British warship with the only information to work from was an old photograph, which in restoration work that is pretty much normal if you are lucky. The Lion was not quite like the more realistic Lions I am often commissioned to create as everything about the Lion, its face, its body shape and tail bore just a fleeting resemblance to the real thing, but as it was originally designed as a Ships Figurehead, it no doubt would have looked rather impressive high up on the bow of the old British Warship as it sailed towards you and anyway that was the commission.
After several months of work the large Lion carved from solid hardwood and painted as per spec in a similar colour as the original photograph and once placed into position and after almost 100 years the Lion once again proudly stood high up on its platform above the entrance to the new Museum in Portsmouth was back and was told “It looked as if the Lion had never been away” and around 100 days later the Lion was stolen……
During Medieval times in Britain, few people could read, shopkeepers used to display outside their shops, an image of their wares to be found inside. The local dentist decided to do something similar and I was commissioned to produce a large gold rear molar which was placed high up on the outside of his dental surgery. The tooth was outside the dentist's surgery for several months when one morning the dentist was shocked to discover during the night someone had extracted his tooth as the golden tooth that had hung high above the entrance to the Dentists Surgery was stolen…….
The Golden Tooth – before and after
It would appear there was a bit of a worrying pattern emerging here with many of my sculptures during that period. If the sculptures were not being stolen during the day and night from within the walls of a variety of art galleries, they were being stolen during the night and early morning from outside the walls of a variety of buildings. The culprits that stole the Lion who had disappeared into the night with their ill-gotten gains left no clue to its disappearance other than large flecks of magnolia coloured paint on the pavement, as no doubt the heavy solid wooden sculpture having been released from its restraints it would appear gravity had assisted its removal and the Lion, along with some of my other sculptures around the same period were alas never to be seen again……
However, the culprits who had rather brazenly removed the Golden Tooth outside the Dental surgery had left a ransom note. The culprits were no other than the Tooth Fairies. The militant wing of the tooth fairies to be precise, who had demanded money for the safe return of the golden tooth…. basically, pay up or the tooth gets it……..
Sometime later I was contacted by a prop’s buyer for the Granada TV company making the ‘Cracker’ Television series who were looking for a wood carver to produce an accurate wood carving of a full-size true to life Falcon which was due to be filmed in few months’ times The props buyer said that the Falcon had to be carved in a very specific way as the script required the actor describing in great detail the various aspects of the bird whilst he was ‘carving’ it. As the Falcon was required to be produced accurately, I started searching, preferably for a Falcon to study or at least some good close-up photographs from the library in the days before Google images, unfortunately without much success……
One morning we heard a real commotion coming from the back garden and noticed a flock of Rooks and Crows swooping in and out of the oak tree and looking up into the tree could clearly make out the shape of a large bird caught up in the tree now looking down at me. On closer inspection it looked very much like the type of Falcon I was actually looking for. I couldn't find anywhere that had found me and just sat there twenty feet away caught in the branches by the ‘Jessie’ attached to its leg. The swooping noisy birds eventually left the Falcon alone when I walked into the garden but it was clear the bird was going nowhere. I phoned the RSPCA and asked if anyone had reported a Falcon missing. They took my phone number and said they would get back. A short while later they phoned back and said a Falcon had reported missing a few days earlier and they asked me to describe it. Obviously to ensure it was the right Falcon! Once that was established, an hour or so later the owners of the Falcon arrived and realised they had at last found their missing bird which days earlier had failed to return from an exercise flight in the countryside.
Although they knew it could not be classed as an emergency the fire brigade kindly offered to come over and help rescue the bird which they graciously said they would use as a training exercise. Eventually with the Falcon rescued the relieved owners said I could have as much access to their bird anytime to help with my research for carving the Falcon commission. Several weeks later the Falcon was completed to schedule and also carved as required by the script. It was collected by the props company and we eagerly waited for its debut on the television program and after so many months of working on it as per spec we eagerly waited for it to appear in living colour on screen and when it finally appeared it was on the TV for well at least nine, maybe ten seconds.
The near completed carved lime wood Falcon – The actor working on Falcon on screen
Our then young daughter once said with my long hair and hipster Jeans along with the work I do, unlike her friends' dads Jobs in some ways likening it to us almost like living like ‘hippies’ apparently did in the sixties she had once read about and loved every moment of it. Us making something to sell, in our case furniture and later wood carvings from fallen timbers straight from the forest behind the garden fence or directly from a sawmill much further away. How exciting it was at the sawmills watching machines trundling around like huge dinosaurs with black smoke belching from the top of the cab carrying massive trees twice the height of her in it’s huge jaws and then watching them being sliced through the whole length by an equally massive band saw, something we also agreed on.
Then back home again timber in the garden stacked up seasoning for a few years time and then converting the timber in my log cabin built in the back garden during the winter months with a wood burning stove constantly on the go burning the off cuts and selling our wares by the side of the road or at county Craft and Fairs during the spring and summer months and on school days often dropping her and her friends off to school and pick them up again in our old handwritten Transit Van often with furniture roped onto the roof being delivered somewhere afterwards and one afternoon as they got back for a lift home in the Van after school laughing and saying “Greetings Farter” as they had just been having German lessons.
I had hired this massive truck 7.5 truck to travel to and fro the West country to collect several tons of lime wood a truck that looked so much smaller in the yellow pages which I had hired for the day and soon found driving the long wide truck through narrow country lanes stopping only to pull the wing mirrors back as the hedges got to close and up and down motorways requiring all six gears then unloading it all at the other end totally exhausting to put it mildly and ended up with not only a garden full of several tons of massive trees that had been cut into thick planks of timber and massive respect for all the truck drivers up and down the land that do it day in day out. These massive trees recently cut up into sweetly smelling assorted planks of timber direct from the saw mills as it was always cheaper that way and back home again to hopefully make yet more furniture or wood carvings of all shapes and sizes to sell to enable us to pay the bills and start the process all over again. A rather simple way of life and just as we preferred it, but sometimes, life gets in the way…..…….
Art exhibition are often set up years in advance things were going really well and I appeared to be was getting away with it keeping the bank, clients and gallery happyish then in a classic case of more haste, less speed, when I was trying to lift some of these heavy timbers, why is it the one you are after is always on the bottom. Two of the thick planks of long timbers, not so carefully held up a bit like a piano lid, when gravity took over like it tends to do when you’re careless and not paying attention and the mass of heavy timber I could hardly lift with both hands one minute came crashing down crushing my left ‘chisel holding hand’ breaking the middle and forefinger under the heavy beams, recently collected I was rather unsuccessfully lifting in a hurry…….
Although I am right-handed, especially creating large three-dimensional sculptures, the left hand for a sculptor is the real clever one. That is often the hand that tightly holds the carving chisel and manipulates the angle and direction of each individual cut to create the sculpture in question. The right hand basically just holds the mallet used to drive the sharp chisel into the block of timber or stone with great force being applied usually in my case anyway with a steady rhythmic, tap, tap, tap sound of which in the spring time carving a large wood sculpture in the garden often tended to set off the rather territorial woodpecker up a tree somewhere in the forest where it lives in the trees behind my back garden fence.
Although that hand was now no longer functioning as nature intended as I had to do something whilst it repaired itself and as I had been asked many times in the past by potential clients to carve in bas relief their Coat of Arms or other bas-relief carvings which can quite easily be carved one handed and over the years have created around 15% of my commissions in such a way. But I much preferred to create one-piece three-dimensional realistic sculptures in very fine detail which I am known for which I rather enjoyed doing anyway and had resisted the temptation thus far, apart from a few and they were the commissions I was working on at the time. But that takes two fully functioning hands working together in perfect harmony to give the commissions the precision and quality they deserve and I had to find another way to earn my keep……..
My once very supporting Colin W, bank manager was then promoted and moved on to pastures new and his ‘new broom’ replacement unfortunately was less inclined to share my aspirations as a budding artist with the Banks no doubt ample funds shared with the likes of me. But London was calling again and couldn’t help myself sometimes reverted to my old ways working on exhibition pieces and still trying to play catch up with the earlier gallery thefts and ended up spending most of my time and energy on exhibition pieces to display in some art gallery way over the horizon, rather than concentrating on a sculpture that has been commissioned that would put funds into my account which of course is probably the most the sensible thing to do living and working in the real world were most people inhabit but perhaps not in the arty world I was desperately trying to inhabit.
I started to look around for relief carving commissions once again including the highly detailed carved, polished and painted bas relief carvings of Coat of Arms, something I stopped working on years earlier which could easily be done just using my good hand and eventually did so and today almost half my commissions are for high base relief carvings. But at the time changing horses’ mid-stream as they say is not that easy especially with one recovering crushed hand and two fingers of which were neatly bound in a splint and it was a rather slower transformation process, trying to find new clients quick enough that were commissioning such carving and I could create them quickly enough, and it didn’t take long for any unpaid bills to quickly mount up and as most people know for the most part if you don’t work you don’t eat, or indeed pay the mortgage…….
The date was set for the court hearing to repossess our home after too many late or missed mortgage payments, despite having lots of work to do that would catch the arrears up but physically unable to do so as it would appear for my mortgage company, patience was not a virtue. I arrived early at the Courthouse and was surprised to see there was eleven other people’s names on the list for the same reason also waiting for their day in court The names being in alphabetical order and my name appeared second down on the sheet of A3 paper pinned rather unceremoniously to the wall of the waiting room like a neatly double-spaced shopping list. Apart from myself I was rather disturbed to see it appeared only three other people out of the eleven names on the list had arrived for the court hearing to also defend their homes and one of them judging by the way he was dressed I assumed was a solicitor. I had no legal representation with me but as I have always been quite prepared if I have to and fight my corner in most things in life over the years and unfortunately had quite a lot of practice. Anyway, I couldn’t afford a solicitor at the time, but knew the mortgage company could.
I found myself a seat away from three other people sitting in the waiting room who were shuffling the ample supply of well thumber magazines on one of the small tables. One of which rather ironically was a copy of the ‘Country Life’ magazine when I was featured in a full colour double page full colour spread as a ‘Living National Treasure’ creating the Crown for the King of Spain for Windsor Castle a while back in happier times which I quickly hid under a pile of other magazines. I was then sat in court room in Portsmouth with a crushed hand and a pair of broken fingers on the mend but still taped together on splints but still unable to work properly on the commissions I still had waiting in the studio that would pay the bills or indeed mortgage arrears that were building up.
Waited for my name to be called, as my soon to be new ex-bank manager who had finally run out of patience, along with the mortgage company which appeared to not have any in the first place, were now trying to repress our home. Despite the fact I had lots of commissions including three from the royal household all well underway at the time of the accident and had plenty of other commissions to pay all the arrears, but was just physically unable to hold the tools of my trade to do so for a while longer. Unfortunately, none of which had impressed the bank or mortgage company at all, thus my morning out wearing my suit, but it did the judge who kindly adjourned the repossession hearing for a month. When I left the courtroom and passed by the court's waiting room; the waiting room was empty…….
When I finally got back to the multi storey car park alongside the Court building, I noticed the driver’s side of my old Ford Cortina’s door lock had been drilled through. The glove box was forced open and emptied and the radio/Tape player had been removed. There was no money taken as I didn’t have any, which is why I was in a courtroom next door in polished shoes, wearing a tie and my only suit kindly given to me by my brother in-law as he had put on a bit of weight. Alas the only clue I had of who broke into the car was they obviously didn’t have any taste as all my old Beatles and Rolling Stones cassette tapes were left scattered around the car floor…….
But I was still once again on the lookout for yet another new bank manager now with a lot of optimism, patience, especially a sense of humour and the willingness to take over my overdraft. Meanwhile, during my daily visits to the ‘Occupational therapy unit’ at the QA hospital in Portsmouth for treatment to the hand I was taught by a kind member of staff, how to use a wood turning lathe which was part of the hospital treatment program, wood turning was something I had never used before. I started taking wooden blanks I first cut to size on my bandsaw at home to practice on, during my often-daily physiotherapy sessions in the hospital and soon found wood carvers, well this one anyway, doesn’t naturally make a good wood turner as they use two entirely different techniques which are entirely different for both species.
Carvers basically drive the chisels into the timber with some force using a heavy mallet which weighs the same as a bag of sugar to achieve the desired shape. A wood turner however takes a razor-sharp wood chisel, gouge call it what you like and at the precise angle gently and slowly introduce the sharp blade onto the surface of the spinning piece of wood and with a steady hand and nerves of steel carefully peels away the timber not required until the shape slowly appears, as if by magic. A bit like the fabled Potter’s wheel scene with Demi Moore in the ‘Ghost’ Film, but in my case with absolutely none of the great music or the je-ne- sais- quoi about it. But with care, patience and the guidance of someone who was a patient competent wood turner like the member of the hospital staff who was trying to show me the way, I eventually found it could be done with two fingers and a thumb in splints despite having white finger bandages on them which my younger daughter had kindly painted little sad faces on them in felt tip!........
The first object I ever turned was a small goblet from a piece of Victory oak I was kindly given years earlier in the dockyard. The next a fruit bowl from a piece of elm wood followed by a large collection of lime wood turned ‘bowl’ shapes for potential coronet and crowns for the future. The first of which happened to be the coronet for former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, like you do. The coronet also had six balls attached around the rim which a competent woodturner could also easily do, but I wasn’t one of them and a friend turned a pair of them for me from lime wood and I moulded one of them and cast the other four in a hard casting plaster. During the coming weeks before I was discharged from hospital, I managed to turn more potential crowns and coronets blanks for the future.
Two of the lime wood blanks Baroness Thatcher’s Coronet alongside the Osprey wood sculpture that started my woodturning period and Prince Williams Coronets
Before the next court hearing I fortunately managed to sell amongst other things one of my sculptures carved the previous year along with a commission using one of the blanks turned on the hospital lathe all helped to clear my mortgage arrears just days before the adjourned hearing and the case was dismissed.
Eventually I was out of the splints and up to speed and having been discharged from hospital after their great work I was also working normally with a new mortgage company that actually wanted to help you buy your home. Having been taught how to turn timber I purchased my own lathe to turn some of my coronets and crowns which saved so much time and soon all the hassle was in the past and slowly began catching up with my work load along with creating large and not so large carved and painted coat of arms and continue to do so today and finally managed to crawl out of the financial hole I had carelessly dug myself often by hand over the years and then promptly fell in.
Until it would appear yet again having learnt nothing from my previous accident, with more haste less speed. I was once again trying to make up for lost time working on commissions and large exhibition pieces cutting corners and saving a few hours, this time using my favourite carving ‘chisel’ a chainsaw to trim the carved wave on the life size ‘Osprey catching a Pike’ wood sculpture I started but put on hold years earlier from one of the blown down lime trees. Now to be created as the centre piece to replace the Osprey stolen from an art gallery years earlier. The Osprey was virtually completed and was just ‘tweaking’ the wave of the sculpture to get a just a bit more realistic movement and when moving a piece of the ‘wave’ no longer required with the other hand the chainsaw blade skipped over the surface of the timber into the same hand that had only just recovered from its crushing blow a year or so earlier, yeh I know, I know.
It was only my wearing the large steel watch the children had bought me between them for Christmas that took most of the hit from the chainsaw blade that prevented something much worse happening. The result was a classic case of Déjà vu moment with a fast ride in an ambulance back to the same hospital in Portsmouth who kindly put me back together last time. Then a ten-minute session on the same x-ray machine as the previous year but with a different but equally caring nurse which was followed by a three-hour operation by a very clever surgeon and his team who skilfully sewed back my severed and damaged tendons and a few days in hospital. My only contribution required to the whole recovery process was to do nothing, something I have never been very good at as I was told by the doctors that although the operation went well and lead to a full recovery but with severer and damaged tendons was told not to attempt holding carving chisels with my left hand for several months especially hitting the end of the chisels hard with a heavy wooden mallet the weight of a bag of sugar, which is what us carvers tend to do…… a lot.
The accident with the chainsaw however had changed everything once again. I had to put on hold my many woodcarving commissions but as you have to make the best with what you have and once again started concentrating on bas relief carvings just with my right hand until I had full movement back again. As always having I have to keep busy doing something productive and started working with the clay and wax modelling tools I purchased along with the huge set of carving chisels many years earlier and now started experimenting making small sculptures in modelling clay and wax potently to be cast in bronze one day when the finances allow. I had constantly been asked by the art galleries over the years to also work in bronze as well as wood so thought with large three-dimensional wood carving put on hold now might be a good time to start also working in clay and wax with the first clay but potential bronze wildlife sculptures were a small 'Elephant and calf ' made from modelling clay borrowed from the children when they wasn’t looking and even smaller Lioness catching a Zebra carved in wax which could again be easily worked one handed. Although due to the high cost having them moulded and cast in bronze wasn’t going to happen any time soon.
The technique and tools required for carving is also totally different, producing bronze sculptures. As a carver you mostly start with a solid block of wood or stone with the sculpture you are after hidden away inside before removing everything that is not part of the sculpture. Creating your average bronze sculpture, you usually start with nothing and slowly add clay, wax or plaster to eventually create the sculpture you are after but unlike wood or stone, if you were to make a mistake you can simply add another piece of material back on. The original wax master copy once complete is taken to the art foundry who basically does most of the work creating the bronze, however the possibility of having the 8 inches long clay elephants and the 4 inches high wax lioness and zebra cast in bronze were very slim as it is a rather expensive process so it would be a rather pointless trying to build up a collection of clay sculptures only for them to be left to eventually dry out, crack and fall apart in the corner of the studio so they were just put in a draw and forgotten about.
One morning clients and now friends of ours who collected many of my early sculptures Terry and Judy E, visited me in the studio with my left hand still in plaster and after explaining what happened and how I was now also thinking about working in bronze as the art foundries could mould woodcarvings without damaging the original, but if I did still would not be able to afford the foundry costs. They jokingly then said, if we win the lottery, they would have all my wood sculptures I produced and they now owned along with several I still had in the studio would all be moulded and cast in bronze. Three weeks later Terry and Judy once again arrived at my studio and yes you might have guessed it, but I didn’t tell them they had just won the lottery…….
Good to their word they promptly contacted the ‘Phoenix’ art foundry near Basingstoke in Hampshire and around three months later I had a collection of a dozen large and small bronze sculptures, to exhibit alongside my large and small wood sculptures and was now one of these rare sculptors that both casts and casts, …. Yeh, I know you couldn’t’ make this stuff up. …..
Leaping panther and the wood and bronze Osprey and the bronze and tulip wood Otter
These first bronze sculpture castings included Terry and Judy’s carved walnut leaping panther carved a decade earlier, along with their life size walnut swimming Otter, a Mute Swan protecting her Cygnets and the Osprey catching a Pike bronze. One minute I had built a reputation with my highly detailed wildlife wood carvings, the next I was able to build up an equally impressive large collection of bronze and occasionally silver sculptures which were now accounting for almost half of my commissions. Although when appropriate I often produce the original master copy for the bronze casting from wood which is then moulded to produce the bronze sculpture.
This highly detailed original woodcarving 'master copy' can after moulding be cleaned, polished and then retained and the client can then potentially have both the wood carving original as well as the bronze version. Whilst the woodcarving was being moulded and cast in bronze in the art foundry doing all the work, I continued working on wood carving commissions. Meanwhile the 8 inches long ‘Elephant and Calf ‘modelled from clay and the 4 inches high ‘Lioness catching a Zebra’ carved from a block of jewels wax taken out of the draw and also sent to the foundry and also cast in bronze, without not of a lot of assistance on my part whilst I got on with other things.
Although I had concentrated on clearing the mortgage arrears a while back it was often at the cost of paying other bills when an article in a local paper however was drawn to his attention. It was an open competition for any artists in the area being staged by Portsmouth's City Council. I had never exhibited any of my work in a competition before or since and was rather reluctant to do so now, but still unable to work at full capacity and needs must when a few days later much to my great surprise the life size Osprey wood sculpture that I was carelessly working on with the chainsaw and had caused the injury actually won the first prize and had unexpectedly started to earn it keep. Not only as a wood sculpture when a year or so later the Osprey was sold and sometime later it was moulded by the art foundry without causing any damage to the original to become a limited-edition bronze.
Decades later I continued to work on the new large collection of sculptures for my potential ‘retrospective exhibition’ if and when I get around to actually doing something about it and not just squirreling the wide variety of pieces away and stored away in the dark, which include the pair of small dolphins. A dolphin the first woodcarving I ever completed in 1984 one of which was carved from deep within a burnt 100-year-old roof timbers from the fire that destroyed my furniture making business the burnt rough outline of dolphin, one of my favourite creatures of the wild just laying there amongst all the destruction inspired me almost Phoenix like to a new career as a sculptor. To a burnt 1000-year-old roof timber from a fire in Windsor Castle of a Phoenix rising from the Ashes.
To the artist copy of the small elephant and calf, the first limited edition bronze wildlife sculpture I had cast. To the small carved image of a
Velociraptor which also didn’t live around these parts, which was carved in around an hour from within fossil of an Iguanodon that could once have live in my back garden to be, my young daughter found on the beach whilst on holiday in the Isle of White, just a few miles away. To a 1/57 scale replica of HMS Victory that once would have sailed close by our house carved in around 18 years from within the ship’s original 18th century oak timbers. The Victory sculpture is depicted ‘running before the wind’ on a journey to the past.
To a ten feet high Bald eagle carved from within the folk of a massive tree that blew down in a storm in 1990 which was the largest one-piece woodcarving I ever created to a sculpture of a 1940’s Spitfire windscreen set in Victory oak replica spitfire frame in which the young pilot eighty years ago flying over Europe would have been looking through at Europe at War. Hoping to finally help put an end to it. Today looking through the same armoured windscreen you could alas still see Europe at War as it would appear some people appear to have learnt nothing. All of these unique sculptures are just a small part of the collection of living history.
In the early days giving talks on the QE2 I often used to take a wide variety of my sculptures in both wood and bronze along for the ride to not only talk about some of my more unusual sculptures on the cinema screen in the Theatre, but to also show the passengers on the table right in front of them. One moment I could hold up a Crown recently completed to be placed in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle. Followed by an original wooden shield for a 17th century Knight removed from St George’s Hall after the Great Fire at Windsor Castle, explaining the Knights shield was actually older than the United States of America.
It also helped that the shield easily fitted in the suitcase, unlike the large leaping Panther and life size swimming Otter bronzes I used to take with me, which ended up wrapped in bubble wrap outside the cabin awaiting collection by a kindly porter with a strong back and a large trolley to remove it from the Ship so I can place them into the boot of the car and taken back home again for display elsewhere.
The Queens Room on the QE2
Southwick House – D Day Map -
The contrast from one moment working in abject luxury on the QE2 giving a talk about what I do for a living to working in Portsmouth Dockyard actually getting on with it. On one occasion working in number 4 boathouse in Portsmouth Naval Dockyard having a tea break sat on one of the 35 pounder guns having been commissioned to carve the replacement Starboard Entrance Port on Lord Nelson’s 18th century Flagship HMS Victory. To the next working in Southwick house a dozen or so miles away. Now sat on one of the chairs alongside a table having yet another cup of tea, the same chair and table that fifty years ago preparations were being made from for the Allies landing at Normandy looking at the historic D Day map still there set at H hour as it was all those years ago as I was commissioned to replace carvings lost and damaged over the decades to the huge antique mirror and picture frames within this historic building.................. to be continued.
Antique mirror and picture frames in Southwick House; before and after
The United Kingdom where centuries of history abounds and in England where such things excel which soon found that if you work in historic buildings and of the places to deliver my completed sculptors, beit. The College of Arms in London, St Pauls Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle all major historic buildings delivering my sculptures it's always nice for many reason to take one of the children with you as the friendly kind and very generous with their time people you tend to find in great abundance living and working at such places, as they will often lift up the ropes with the NO Entrance Sign’ hanging off it and give you a guided tour well of the tourists beaten track and explain in great detail all the facts and little secrets surrounding the historic building they have often spent most of their working life’s which I have always found fascinating, as I find myself meekly scuffle alongside them listening in.
On one such occasion after a rather comprehensive tour of Westminster Abbey, a UNESCO Heritage Site and the final resting place of Kings, Queens great visionaries and thinkers. We were shown around the Jerusalem Chamber, past the Coronation Chair into exquisite Henry V11’s Lady Chapel, the last great masterpiece of English medieval architecture and the burial place of fifteen Kings and Queens. Around the walls are 95 statues of saints and above the oak seats of this magnificent Chapel the finest example of English Gothic architecture of the Knights stalls are beautifully carved misericords above which are lines of Knights helms on both sides of the historic chapel are placed over the decades over seventy carved, painted and gilded Knights Crests I have been creating for this historic Chapel during the past thirty-three years…………… to be continued.
Having stopped exhibiting in art galleries in 1996 right up to the mid 2000’s things were really busy and my wood and bronze realistic highly detailed realistic and heraldic sculptures created in wood, bronze and solid silver were being commissioned from all over the world and also much closer to home. Having just completed and delivered my latest commissions for Westminster Abbey and Windsor for the year I was delighted to receive a commission for a large bronze statue which I was particularly looking forward to working on and decided not to not take on any further commissions until it was completed. Although it was always going to be a tight schedule to complete this particular large bronze sculpture on time as many are but I am quite used to working to schedule and one of the great things about working from home is that no time and energy is lost commuting and I could work through the night which I frequently did on this particular sculpture as I intended it to be the most highly detailed sculpture of its kind anywhere.
It was an unusually fine sunny day for the time of year so it was all rather idyllic to work in and preparations were going well. In the garden I had built a tall temporary structure to work on the larger wood and bronze sculptures when a fox wandered in from the woods behind the garden fence and after taking a look around to watch what I was doing and then laid down on the lawn just a few feet away and began quietly grooming and sunning itself watching a deer which was also wandering around looking around for any of Sue’s plants that might still have flowers left on them, which Deer had a bit of a habit of doing in the garden a lot.
Sue was away all day in town shopping and then having lunch with her mother so the coast was clear for the deer to continue looking for its lunch when the telephone rang. I assumed it was Sue phoning me to collect her and her mother from the bus stop as we planned to get us all a takeaway for dinner and it had been a long day so it was something I was really looking forward to.
It was Southampton General Hospital who informed me Sue has just been admitted and could I come down to the casualty unit as soon as possible. Apparently, Sue was just about to step on the first step of the moving escalator in a department store when the lady in front of her fell backwards and landed with her full weight onto Sue’s then outstretched right leg. Although the Lady was fortunately unhurt, the fall snapped Sue’s tibia in half just below the knee cap………….…........to be continued.
The next few years would turn out to be the most traumatic and difficult period during the past four decades, in oh so many ways and it almost felt that 2007 then emerged from out of the haze and by the summer had inadvertently built up a two-year waiting period for new commissions which was not ideal to put it mildly but perhaps to be expected for a solo sculptor mostly working with just steel spatula or chisel in hand and enquires particularly for my large realistic highly detailed sculptures continued. One of these enquiries was to create in fine detail an eight feet bronze ‘Mute Swan protecting her Cygnets’ to be placed 4,500 miles away alongside Mirror Lake in Florida. As it turned out despite everything else going on and a long waiting period, I was able to take on this particular commission immediately. The commission was to replicate exactly the three feet high Mute Swan wood carving I carved many years earlier and use the Swan as the ‘Marquette’ for the larger bronze sculpture, which on its plinth should stand around twelve feet high; the largest sculpture I have ever created.
Original Swan carving/wax casting- The enlarge clay replica and partial completed bronze being worked on and in position in Florida
To be fair my sole requirement and contribution to the exciting project at this stage was basically just to build a strong plywood crate to transport the Swan to the USA which was made in my ‘preps shed’ and took the best part of three hours to do so. To then arrange for the Swan to fly to Florida and that was it, job done! Admittedly I had spent around four months carving the ‘master copy’ which the foundry then rather cleverly enlarged to eight feet high so I suppose that must count for something. Once the ‘master copy’ of my wooden Swan arrived in Florida the artisans at the foundry transformed the wooden Swan into a much larger bronze version of itself.
To be fair once an artist has made the original ‘master copy’ or Maquette the highly skilled craftspeople at the art foundry can if required do everything else often without further impute from the artist. As it turned in my case the art foundry in the USA did all the real work producing the massive Swan bronze, basically starting with scaling up my original wood carving in clay, molding it and then casting it first in wax and then in bronze, chase and colour the bronze and then delivering the completed bronze Mute Swan on site for the unveiling. The original Swan wood carving was then placed back in its crate and arrived safely back home again after its little adventure overseas in the bright Florida sunshine and has now like oh so many of my sculptures over the decades visited and residing in wonderful places I have never been to and was subsequently placed in storage in the dark as with so much else going on it was now taking up too much room in the studio.
2007 continued to be really hectic and gradually began picking up speed creating a wide variety of unique sculptures in many different subjects, sizes and materials again from all over the world, but mostly much closer to home and the year went by really quickly. Then along came 2008 which was to be a very difficult period for us all with the International Financial crisis which affected many people including many small businesses. My particular Bank that I finally had my overdraft for many years was one of the big banks that was right in the centre of it all then decided in its infinite wisdom to also remove my overdraft facility, along with thousands of other small businesses, which was very unhelpful to put it mildly.
Once again, we had a financial battle on our hands, but this time we were not alone as it would appear much of the world was unfortunately in a similar position, not that that makes you feel any better of course, but I managed to still keep really busy despite everything and kept going like you do and eventually after a few years of working hard and many long hours, ducking and diving, yet again we survived as fortunately many did and also grew stronger, what is it they say ‘if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger’ rather easy for them to say of course but once again I was so busy and unfortunately just having one pair of hands, most of the time! still having to turn down far more commissions that I can possibly accept as many find there are simply not enough hours in the day, never have been to get what needs to be done working on commissions that pays the bills alongside exhibition pieces that one day might as well as keeping the bank happy when they don’t. Fortunately, I don’t always require a lot of sleep, no matter how good it is for you, which is probably just as well as I still kind of resent the hours wasted when I do. Having to spend a third of your life effectively ‘unconscious’ always appears to be such a waste of precious time when I have so many things, I need to do with it.
Sometimes having woken up at 3.00 in the morning, I find myself quietly sneaking into the studio, wandering past the badgers going about their nightly rounds and manage to ‘steal’ a few hours to carve something that I suppose could really have waited till the morning. But the foxes and badgers then often wander into my studio to watch and wander so at least I had a bit of company, so stealing a few hours here and there still feels like a small but precious victory in the tiny but hectic arty world I inhabit. Although to be fair I often then spend much of the rest of the day yawning but still feel I have gained precious time that way may well have been lost forever. I worked it out once no doubt wasting some of that precious time I saved, over the past four decades I must have ‘stolen’ many a months’ worth of sleep time and converted it into work time and there are now sculptures out there somewhere in this big wide world of ours that simply would not have existed if I regularly had a bit of a lie in………….….... moving on
Over the decades, I as with many free-lancers often find having to turn down work as you are working on other projects is really difficult to do, especially after years of dreading the mail drops and constant phone calls from strangers from all over the world, who would often phone you day and night especially on a Sunday all showing really concern about your financial well-being and then as soon as the all bills are up to date it all goes quiet, the phone doesn’t ring the mail gets lighter and your ‘inclement weather’ friends simply disappear never to be heard from again……possibly until the next time.
Eventually once again we literally worked my way through it all like you have to and Yay…. a decade later I was finally no longer on the lookout for yet another new bank manager with a lot of optimism, patience and the willingness to take over my overdraft, as finally at long last and after almost three decades I was an overnight success and no longer have a mortgage or overdraft, but Hey, that was over a decade ago and I am new at this not having an overdraft business, so give me time……….
At the end of 2016 as all was quiet on the home front and we thought finally after all those decades of incidents and accidents, ducking and diving wondering what was just around the corner to trip us up where hopefully far behind us and having been still working long hours seven days a week for what appeared to be forever, but probably slightly less than that, trying to keep up with commissions. Cunard kindly offered us a seven-day break in 5-star luxury on the Queen Mary 2 as a guest speaker and this time having to only give one 45-minute talk and then we had the rest of the week off to enjoy all the magnificent facilities on board. It was also a great opportunity to have a much-needed break, as on a luxury Ship at sea even I couldn’t go back into the studio after dinner just for a few minutes to finish something off!
We joined the ship the following morning; I woke up in my cabin with a blinding headache and my close up and peripheral vision was literally disappearing right before my eyes. Opening the thick curtains, in the morning I found the sunlight coming in almost blinding and had real problems focusing my eyes along with on and off double vision. Meanwhile I still had a job to do as it was just a short trip so there was only one other guest speaker on board and to be fair, the only reason I was having a free cruise was to talk for supper. Sue led me to the theatre which wasn’t too far away from our cabin and right up to the podium on the stage. As I now couldn’t see my clock on the podium for timings, I pretended to the theatre manager who greeted me that I had forgotten my glasses and asked him to flash the light in his control box when I have five minutes to go which he kindly said he would do and then he told me there was no one following me after my talk, so don’t worry too much about overrunning, which was really helpful.
Fortunately, I always prepare my PowerPoint presentation weeks earlier and have done this particular talk before so it was all set up on my laptop and as I don’t use any notes not seeing anything close up was not a problem once I was shown the right keyboard button to press to move my slides forward, we were good to go. I was then introduced to the audience by the entertainments director and once he had walked off the stage and the house lights went down replaced by the now blinding spot light which lit up my podium, I couldn’t see anything, let alone any images on my laptop having totally lost all my close-up vision and couldn’t even see the hand in front of my face. So, there I was giving a Talk live on stage, in the middle of the Sea in front of a room full of passengers, well aware my talk was just like all Cunard guest speakers being filmed to be played on a loop in everyone’s cabin, throughout the whole voyage, whilst I was having a stroke….....…
Although I didn’t know it was a stroke at the time. The night before we were due to join the QM2, as I am not a good sailor and took a new traveling tablet, I hadn’t tried before and assumed I might have had a bad reaction to it and these effects would pass and the show must go on as the say and although I couldn’t see what image was on my laptop, but a quick look behind me now and again as it progressed at one of which was the image of the HMS Victory shown in full sail ‘running before the wind' which I carved years earlier, shown on the huge cinema screen, could hardly be missed even by me at the time and as I could still speak normally so we were good to go..........
It was the same Talk as I have given at different Venue’s a number of times before and as it was basically mostly about what I do and how it all came about, all fully illustrated with slides to remind me it’s really not that difficult to do. I used to say to Sue I think I could give this Talk with my eyes closed and now was a good time to find out. As giving a talk is why I was there for and to earn our keep whilst we are onboard. Forty-five minutes later as the kind audience applause fades and as the House lights go up and the passengers quietly file out of the theatre many of them are going for lunch in one of the splendid restaurants on board the Queen Mary 2, as it must be at least three hours before the last meal. The Talk went surprisingly well considering but getting out of the Theatre was not quite so easy as backstage all theatres e are painted black including the stage door and having managed to unplug my laptop and place it into my bag and was now fumbling around backstage looking for the stage door to get out without much luck when fortunately as always the helpful guy all dressed all in black, high up in his control box at the other side of the theatre called out to me on his Tannoy with a chuckle, your trying to get into the props cupboard again Ian.
I then spent the rest of the cruise quietly in the cabin expecting my eyesight to return any minute and although I couldn’t see what I was eating when my meals arrived, it still tasted great and as I could still see clearly in the distance mostly just sat on the sun bed and watched the sea go by. Sue made a video recording of my Talk in the cabin for me to see if I managed to complete it without getting any slides out of sync with the words and apart from one or two rather surprisingly managed to do so. I have never watched it myself but that's not unusual as I never like to see or listen to myself on the TV or radio but it must have gone alright as fortunately I have been invited back several more times since fortunately without any issues.
Two days later back home again, mail opened, answer
phone answered, suitcases unpacked, washing machine filled, cup of
tea on the go and an appointment made with the doctor, mostly all
normal things having arrived back home from a trip away and for me anyway
that was pretty much all I could do without getting in Sue’s way, again.
At the end of the day as I couldn’t do much else, we decided to take a
stroll down through the woods and watch the Queen Mary 2 which we were
enjoying breakfast on just hours earlier which I could clearly see in the
distance but not the many pit holes and exposed roots on the tracks I kept
tripping over on the track through the woods, I never noticed before. The
same track I have regularly walked for fifty years making our way to the
shore and standing on the very spot people a century ago would have watched
the Titanic sailing past in 1912 what tragically turned out to be that
fateful trip to New York………..
A few days later the doctor referred me to the eye hospital who confirmed I had a stroke. Now having no peripheral vision, it made carving in three dimensions almost impossible but my vision appeared to be changing all the time so decided to get the strongest lenses from the ‘pound’ shop helped a bit with close up vision but not really helped carving fine detail and detail is what I am known for and as a carver if you remove the wrong pieces, you cannot put it back and the sculpture is often ruined, so carving was put on hold until things hopefully improve. But once again having to do something I started writing this bio/journal instead using the largest size font on the laptop and totally reliant on spell check and wishing I had such a thing in my school days.
Towards the end of December my close up and peripheral vision was still a no-show which was a real drag to put it mildly and the backlog in commissions was now a real concern for everyone. On Christmas eve Sue and I attended our local village Church for the Carole service as usual and we sat down on one of the pews at the back of the well-attended church. Although I couldn’t see any of the words on the hymn sheet Sue said she would whisper to me what the next one was and having sung them many times at school, I knew I could keep up with the service and quietly waited for it to begin.
I then felt a massive blow to my head with such force it knocked me into the pews and people in front when the eight feet high wooden cross which had somehow detached itself from its usual position attached to the pew across the aisle swung across the wide aisle like a pendulum and hit me with all its full weight right on the side of my head just below my right eye and I literally didn’t see it coming and I don’t think anyone else did either.
St Mary's Church Warsash
All a bit embarrassing really as I was quickly surrounded by other members of the corrugation many of them saw and heard all the commotion, including Mike T the most apologetic Vicar who ran up to me to see if I was alright and as I assured him it was things all quieted down and the service resumed. Sue then whispered are you sure you are alright, lucky that hit you and not a child and I got through the rest of the service without further attacks by the furnishings.
The following morning it was pointed out that I was now sporting a wonderful bruise and black eye to show for my exploits in church the previous evening. Then later on that morning I began to see the start of bright flashes of light around the side of both eyes, flashing several times throughout the day. It was a bit like the sparks you often see coming from tube trains as they enter tunnels and then weirdly, I began to notice my close-up vision was slowly improving. On Boxing Day, I could now see my hands albeit for the first time in two months although they were still a bit blurry. My sight dramatically improved. It continued to improve gradually each day through the Christmas period, although I still required one of the pair of newly acquired thick lens glasses to see things clearly enough to carve of sorts but I could now see clearly images right in front of me again. But most importantly my peripheral vision along with my 3-D vision had begun to improve almost a ‘flash at a time’ and on New Year’s Day and over the coming weeks my eyesight returned completely back to normal …….…. Yeh, I know.
I still don’t know how being hit on the head could do such a thing and it properly was all just a coincident, otherwise why would anyone go through all those years of training to be an eye specialist when all you would need is a large lump of 2x2 timber and the will to use it with a bit of force on your patient. Today everything is back to no normal apart from my now having to take five different shaped tablets every day. Late December I was beginning to work normally as before without requiring any glasses and I soon began to catch up with my commissions and working seven days a week playing catch up things were getting back on schedule and decided to actual take a day off yes, a whole day when I had a ‘climbing accident’
As I mentioned earlier and actually fell off a ladder, I was climbing in the back garden trimming or trying to trim a branch of one of one of the trees, the ladder broke my fall and also my foot. It is all getting a bit weird now and I know some artists can be a bit strange but that is often part of the job description, but being a professional artist has got to be one of the safest, less risky occupations going. I mean as a teenager in the 1960’s I have worked in factories, used heavy woodworking machines, been a window cleaner working high up a building on a triple extension wooden ladder often with your mate having a ciggy with his foot casually jammed onto the bottom rung to try and steady it in the wind. Working in the docks unloading ships with a fork lift truck stacked up high with crates trying to manoeuvre his fork lift around you as I was trying to manoeuvre my equally stacked up sack truck out of his way. All done at great speed so the Ship could catch the next tide. Even working high up on old roofs replacing roof tiles in the 1960’s without any scaffolding anywhere as we had another urgent job to go to when ‘health and safety’ would have been the death of us. All without any injury or mishap, ok I caught pneumonia laying a flat roof in Kent during the winter once but that doesn’t really count.
I know I am far from perfect but I am not a clumsy sort of person and in my line of work regularly carving and modelling objects from delicate materials often in very fine detail and then moving these often-delicate creations from place to place without breaking anything; touch wood. But during the past decade alone, as a professional artist I have managed with any real effort on my part, rather carelessly to crush my ‘chisel holding’ hand breaking my fingers. A year later drove a chainsaw into the same hand to add to a rather unbelievable string of careless mishaps over the years. Then having a stroke and lose my close-up vision for a while and the following year breaking my foot trying to cut a branch of a tree when the ladder slipped away, probably because my mate of old had his foot jammed onto the rung of someone else’s ladder, but all these incidents and accidents and near misses over the decades were all starting to get a bit ridiculous now……
Being able to carve without a crutch made things rather awkward to put it mildly as us carvers tend to carve standing up, often with a chisel in the one hand and a heavy mallet in the other, but trying to swing a heavy wooden mallet around with one hand holding onto a razor chisel in the other. On one leg with a heavily strapped up broken foot and a crutch on your arm trying not to fall over or break anything you were attempting to carve as the clock was ticking is an art form in its own right and not quite as easy as some might think. For me anyway working crutches wasn’t working out too well coordination wise, so in the end they were only useful for slowly transiting back and forth across the floor, as I just couldn’t master the technique.
Fortunately, having roughed out most of the larger more urgent Crowns, Coronets and Crests and other wood sculptures weeks earlier all in one go which I tend to do usually all in two weeks of frenzied activity with a chainsaw, bandsaw and large chisels and anything else close to hand, I got by like you do. Awkwardly at first but soon started to make inroads into the commissions backlog once again and things were looking up when I got up early one morning to make an early start and walked into the studio and found the studio ceiling had fallen in during n the night after weeks of heavy rain.
I know things are sent to test us but what with one thing or another over the years it was all starting to getting totally bizarre and almost unbelievable that is why I have always tried to photograph and video record such moments good or bad before my memory start to fade away just like my hair and I don’t end up wondering, did all that nonsense really happen despite literally having the scars to prove it as it would appear Sue and I were in a bizarre game of snakes and ladders which we would play as kids, but today we couldn’t just walk away from even if we wanted to and sometimes we really, really wanted to, but didn’t.
The roof had been leaking for weeks. I had been a roofer in my early days and put this roof on the studio when I built it forty years ago and never had a problem with it before. But I had known the roof needed replacing for months now and had put an old tarpaulin I had as a temporary repair. It had been heavily raining on and off for weeks and the rain water would always find a way even under the tarpaulin and was almost filling the buckets up as quickly as they could be emptied by anyone close at hand and it was all starting to get a bit silly now as what has always been the case but now being a carver trying to ply my trade but as always inspiring to put food on the table, but in the process was once again making a rather poor attempt of keeping a roof over my head…….
Meanwhile I was now wandering around on crutches with a broken foot so fixing the roof properly wasn’t going to happen any time soon and the last thing, I needed was well intended roofers around spending a week or so replacing the roof and timbers and drinking our tea whilst I was trying to work underneath it and instead put up with buckets, broken plaster and wet carpets everywhere. Somehow, the falling pieces of wood, plaster and lagging material missed the various sculptures close by around the studio. Including one of the Kings Crowns, a delicate carved resin Knight on horseback ‘master copy’ along with seven roughed out Knights Crests safely placed against the wall just a few feet away. All fortunately escaped without damage as these were the most urgent on-going commissions.
After quickly shoveling and kicking away the broken ceiling plaster from the sodden floor again not easy with just one fully functioning leg. Removing what was left of the plaster and roof insulation precariously hanging down, began trying to empty all five of the large plaster mixing buckets seconded into rain collecting buckets scattered around the worktops and floor, before they got too heavy for me to carry using one of those good old NHS crutches I was kindly supplied with earlier. The falling pieces of plaster and lagging materials also missed the various sculptures in the studio being worked on which had been placed well out of the way of the potential drop zone weeks earlier just in case the worst did happen. After the clear up a white sheet was stretched across the ceiling as a purely cosmetic cover to disguise the broken and hanging roof beams above and within an hour it was back to work more or less as normal.
At the time of ‘roof/foot gate’ I was working on the backlog of eighteen totally unique commissions in both wood and bronze all at the same time as if I didn’t have enough to do, also working on two of my own for the ‘Spirit of Britons’ collection. All of which in three different studios and workshops during this period. These included both a large and small bronze sculpture of a Royal Lion of England, a Knight in full Armour, a Pair of Horses, a Dragon, replicas of the Tower of London and the Belfast Town Hall with Butterfly wood carvings. A wax sea Otter, the Royal Arms, a full-size hand, a set of peacock feathers, a pair of bronze Kingfishers and Otter, a carved resin Mute Swan and Cygnets, an Osprey, an Elephant, a ‘Round Head Helmet and set of Arrows, a Dog, an Eagle, a relief carving of the Battle of Trafalgar, another Dog, three Naval Crowns and a Coronet along with a pair of gilded Crowns for two European Kings. Although when I casually reminded Sue, alright I admit there just might be a bit of crowing going on my part, what some female members of the species tend to say “that us guys cannot multitask? OK” she replied,'' I'll give you that, but then reminded me that apparently, I still cannot manage to wash up properly, or make a decent cup of tea without adult supervision, so it now looks like I am now working on that as well.
The last sculpture from this particular sculpture collection, apart from a bas-relief carving of a scene from the battle of Trafalgar being carved from one of the Victory’s oak framing timbers from one of the warships that was there at the time; HMS Victory which I started over twenty years ago but only recently completed. But the final sculpture of that particular long list of totally different wood, resin and wax son to be bronze sculptures had all been completed, delivered or collected and I had finally caught up with my backlog, which is just as well as we were booked on a trip with Cunard and also took my youngest daughter this time along with her husband and when we docked at Cherbourg for a day out they decided to drag me and my still less than perfect left foot, deep through the bowels of a French Nuclear submarine "As it would be really interesting".
I then realising how long and narrow these nuclear submarines corridors are and how many ladders they have and when you finally do manage to hobble, nay stumble around in the gloom, oh did I mention 'I had a climbing accident' a while back down the length of yet another narrow corridor, trying to duck under yet another batch of metal pipes and cables in the gloom of what would appear to be a massive submarine solely illuminating by one single 10-watt red light bulb. Only to discover in this dim red light, this next even narrow ladder is now going down in the dark to goodness knows were, and the only sounds you can hear in the darkness are the constant chuckles emanating from deep within this metal sea monsters bowels, always somewhere ahead and out of sight, always around the next dark and pipe lined corridor was, ‘Keep up Dad’.
I have often been asked how and why I tend to work on so many different sculptures on many different subjects and materials, all at the same time and still seem to get them all well, mostly all, completed in time. Well, I have always managed to be able to work quickly and as far as the carved and painted Crowns, Coronets and Crests for the latest Knights of the Garter and Bath are concerned. I tend to receive an average of six totally unique sculptures a year every year from the royal household and have done so for over thirty years and as are all required to be placed in position at the same time in each of the ceremonies and I feel as all are equally as important as each other, its best work on them at the same time and if possible try and more or less finish and install them at the same time.
If I have the designs for several Crests all in one go which is often the case as they are by design all totally unique, I simply scale up each design to full size on paper, transfer the outline on to the blank prepared timber and basically roughly shape all the different sculptures in the same long day. Then let the roughed-out wood sculptures settle for a while now in the studio bringing them up to room temperature, before carving commences and meanwhile work on something totally different like perhaps moulding a sculpture or chasing and colouring some bronzes. In medieval times, King Edward III was so inspired by tales of King Arthur and the chivalry of the Knights of the Round Table that he set up his own group of honourable Knights. Knights of the Most Noble Order of the Garter and 700 years later it is the oldest and most senior Order of Chivalry in Britain and being appointed a Knight and more recently Ladies of the Garter, is a personal gift of the Queen and with this high honour, they have their Banner, Crown, Coronet or Crest placed on display in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle and for the past thirty-three years amongst other sculptures I have been commissioned to create all the Crowns, Coronets and Crests for the latest Ladies and Knights Garter.
The typical life cycle of creating a Knight of the Garter Crests, in kit form carved from within a 100-year plus lime tree. Three crest having been completed and placed above the Knights Medieval Battle helmets in St George’s chapel, alongside many of the seventy plus such Crests, Crowns and Coronets created during the past three decades all created in the same studio and can each can take around eight to ten weeks to carve, paint and gild, sometimes sooner. I tend to deliver them an hour or so before the historic Castle is open for visitors and all is quiet and still. On one such occasion as it was half-term and took one of my children with me and after delivering the crests to St George’s Chapel, we were kindly given the opportunity to look around the Castle grounds, the royal apartments and we eventually ended up in St George’s Hall recently beautifully restored after the Great Fire in 1992. Looking through the windows the only people around was a troop of Grenadier guards marching past the trees in the massive castle grounds. The magnificent Hall at that moment in time was completely devoid of visitors, a complete contrast to what it will be like in an hour or so time as many of the over a million tourists from all over the world visit Windsor Castle throughout the year.
Windsor home of Her Majesty the Queen, the oldest inhabited castle in the world, an almost mystical place were thousands of visitors each day photographs everything that does or don’t move, including on one or two on this occasion, us driving along this empty narrow road that meanders its way around this historic Castle grounds just before the castle then opens for visitors who began stream through Henry V111’s gate taking in all these images straight from a fairy tale but far more impressive in real life as the Queens guard were now starting to line up for the changing of the guard, as we again continue with our little adventure out on a day trip of a life time that I tend to make once or twice each year working on or delivering a wide variety of different commissions as we first make our way back to the Chapel to say our goodbyes.
Windsor Castle built almost a thousand years ago and driving through the massive Castle grounds with not a pothole or yellow painted line to be seen anywhere, knowing in a few weeks’ time the same view we can see out of the cars open window, as the mode of transport changes from the rather more modern one hundred horse power vehicle which was hopefully driving us home, to the rather older and more sedately two horse powered carriage on Garter Day as the Queen process along these very same route back to her home. Past neat rows of the Grenadier guards standing to attention as the officer on duty calls out ‘royal salute’. The Queen slowly passes by in her Landau carriage pulled by a pair of white horses, past the hundreds of soldiers wearing full ceremonial uniforms, with hundreds of invited guests for the annual Garter ceremony all smartly dressed wearing pretty much everything else, depending on the weather. Two weeks earlier with the Crowns and Crests safely delivered we drove out of Henry V111 gate beneath the heavy looking portcullis to make our escape past the armed police into the modern world we all live in when just for a brief moment the historic mystical spell of centuries past was broken, as yet another Jumbo jet flies low over our heads over the castles round tower on its way perhaps even to Hollywood where the local royalty is rather more contemporary. But where and now looking around the sights that take you right back to Medieval England with perhaps some of us wondering what with all the Normans great skill, ingenuity and planning it must have taken them to build this huge magnificent fortress alongside the river Thames, why it was built right under the flight path of Heathrow airport.
Once again driving through Windsor Great Park where Stags and countless Deer are grazing in the luscious grass when back in another age chivalry was held paramount and the one horse power beneath you saddle and a bag or corn was sufficient to get you home. Rather than the hundred horses and a gallon of unleaded we required as Windsor and its spacious parklands slowly disappeared from the image in the car’s interior mirror and in front I no longer observe the Union Flag flying high upon the round tower gently moving in the breeze, indicating Her Majesty was not in residence unlike the last time we visited. But instead, we see the blue road sign indicating the M3 motorway as I was now looking forward and not back which as a child I was always told to do and to not to worry what’s might be over the horizon, but sometimes even that is often nothing to worry about as on this occasion in 1995 as beyond the horizon was Manhattan which we had visited 24 hours earlier having in 1995 been tasked to give my first Talk onboard the magnificent Ocean-going Liner; the Queen Elizabeth 2.
Eventually arriving back home in the real world, we inhabit although perhaps not quite a typical English country garden when we open our lounge window you can see badgers and not the Grenadier guards wandering past. Above our head’s fly buzzards, not jumbo jets. Badgers and foxes rather than birds feeding on the bird table and also enjoy a King prawn chop suey and special fried rice, the result of an overenthusiastic phone call to the local takeaway. Were the Deer are having a drink from the bird bath and are still grazing but not on the Queen's laws but on Sue’s flowers and the only Stag to be seen at the time was twenty years old and still going strong parked on the drive with our dog lazing around on the back seat watching her world go by before it was time for her daily constitutional. All completely normal in our part of the world at the time along with doing the school run and then working out were the next penny’s coming from.
Fortunately we didn't have to wait that long as new ornate designs for the great and the good continue to arrive just like clockwork following the seasons still beautifully painted on thick vellum paper in bold water colours often highlighted in bright gold leaf and If I am unable to collect them are once again delivered via courier to be worked on soon as, when life in the modern world continues today just as it would have done for the same ends, as my predecessor in the Middle Ages, confirming although time doesn’t stand still, it can often still remain the same, creating and delivering the latest Crowns, Coronets and Crests for the latest Knights of the Bath and Ladies and Knights of the Garter each year, every year since 1989. Over the decades my wife, children and even grandchildren in in one form or another have all been helping out with things and on this occasion time I took my youngest daughter with me to help deliver six of the latest crests to Westminster Abbey in time for the Bath service which originated in the 18th century was then to be held in a few weeks’ time. We were then kindly shown around the Abbey by a kindly member of staff were our extensive fascinating tour ended up in the chapel restroom in Westminster Abbey to have some refreshments were I was able to leave my 14-year-old daughter in the care of some of the kindly chapel staff whilst I made a quick visit into the medieval chapel to discuss where these latest sculptures were going to be placed in the chapel and the next ones were going to be placed. Only to return to find Emma sat on the chair in the staff rest room wearing a big smile and a priceless medieval Princess Battle Helmet. Having lifted the helmet earlier I was aware the metal helmet was really heavy but Emma said the moment it was resting on her shoulders it weighed very little, but I was more relieved that the priceless medieval Battle helmet possibly last worn and tailor made by highly skilled craftsmen fit for a Prince many centuries earlier, was not now having now to be cut off at the local A&E department. It is often said if you wanted to see how tall the Knights of old were, just at their suits of Armour.
Another time when Emma was a teenager is like myself also fascinated by the history of Windsor Castle particularly that of St George’s Chapel and on one visit when I was delivering Crowns and Crests to Windsor Castle, I also took her with me and as we parked right outside this historic Chapel 15th century Chapel, the burial place of 10 monarchs including Henry VIII and Charles I and one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in England. and as the carved and painted crests were placed upon the old oak table in the Chapel as we were we were sat at the table enjoying our tea and biscuits were and then told did you know during the Civil war King Charles 1 was imprisoned here at Windsor Castle and after his trial whilst the scaffold was being prepared for the King who was executed outside Banqueting House in London on 31 January 1649.
Two of the crests on my workbench in the studio and less than two hours later in St George's Chapel
Apparently, the King’s dismembered body was then smuggled into the Chapel here at Windsor and it is said he was laid down on this table and his head was sewn back on. Yet another but perhaps rather bizarre example of why I like creating sculptures destined for such places is the fascinating history which often surrounds them. He then went on to explain Charles 1’s body was then interned under the floor in the choir alongside Henry V111 tomb. We were then shown a picture of the scene of the King's body being secretly smuggled into St George’s Chapel by his royalist supporters. This image no doubt quickly painted at the time by a medieval paparazzi hiding in the bushes and soon realised if you really want to see or hear about some of Britain’s real hidden treasures really is to take a 14-year-old child with you.
The Choir and outside St George’s Chapel -
When I do leave my workspace behind me it is often back to the past where I am literally following in the footsteps of people who were actually making history we now look back on with a certain amount of nostalgia and romance but still fully aware that a common illness in those days could often prove fatal but today be easily treated with a small dose of penicillin from the local chemist. As I was often being left alone working in a silent room full of history for many hours, if only walls could talk. Occasionally in the past tasked with restoring or replicating wood carvings from a time when what we now regard as ‘Great Masters' were being hung on the walls was to them ‘modern art’. Replicating and restoring objects created by artisans from the past who really knew what they were doing, now working in an era where too many things are disposable and often end up in landfill, which were then often built to last and my commission had often been to try and insure it does.
But back to the here and now with Coronets and Crests safely delivered In a few weeks’ time we were once again kindly invited back at Windsor castle for the annual instillation of new Knights of the Garter service to enable me to see the crowns and Crests that I had spent half the year creating in my studio carefully crafted beneath an old roof which really needed replacing, now placed beneath the beautiful fan vaulted even older ceiling in St George's Chapel, often hailed as one of the finest displays of Gothic architecture in the World. Being a rather frequent visitor to the Castle albeit, conversing, creating or delivering various heraldic and more realistic sculptures, along with the carved oak Pascal stand destined for the high altar in St George’s chapel and the next moment giving Talks in such historic surroundings as St George’s Chapel eliminated by huge beautiful stained glass windows where colourful light has shone through to illuminate the naive since the 15th century. To the dungeons beneath the castle were daylight though the tiny narrow slits in the thick stone walls rarely does although on the upside in the rather dim light my powerpoint presentation showed ipa lot better.
These latest Ladies and Knights of the Garter was officially announced from Buckingham Palace on the 23rd April; St George’s day and months later the first of the designs would often arrive beautifully painted in two diminutions and I would then spend much of the rest of the year recreating these intricate designs to three-dimensions and then once again a three hour drive there and back I would deliver them all to Windsor Castle in time for the historic instillation of the latest Ladies and Knights of the Garter on Garter day, usually the second Monday in June and for the next thirty plus years and fortunately all these various unique commissions for the royal household all went according to plan that was until 2019, when things didn’t………….
I started full time employment in 1965 relying on the aspirations of others until exactly 200 years after the United States of America gained its own independence, I gained mine in July 1976 a month after I handed in my notice then employed as an assistant engineer in an electronics laboratory looking to someone else’s aspirations, as I left and began looking to my own, living off my own resources making furniture and a decade or so later creating sculptures which I have been doing through thick and thin ever since. Working with and for people from all over the world but mostly closer to home particularly the royal household and in. However on a rather cautionary tale which it took all of three decades for me to realise. Creating sculptures for royalty can really age you.
The Crown for the King Juan Carlos of Spain 1990 - The Coronet for Baroness Margaret Thatcher 1995 – The Royal Crests for Prince William 2005 – The Crown for King Felipe of Spain 2019
For the past four or five years depending how urgent the sculpture might be. I then go back to the carved Crests for a few weeks or months until each or all are finished and then they are prepared, polished or painted in the studio all in one go and whilst the paint or gilding is drying, work on another sculpture in another workshop and so on. Wood and plaster dust in the air obviously don’t go well if you’re painting or gilding in the same room, so that’s mostly done in the studio. It’s a bit like a factory really, the only thing it lacks is a conveyor belt and a restroom, not that I would have the time to use a restroom. But the system works really well and If I get a bit bored working on one, I can quickly move onto something completely different and then come back to the ‘boring’ one, complexly refreshed and raring to go and try and get it right first time so no previous time is lost.
During 2018/19 The commissions were for a wide spectrum of clients, in both resin, wood and bronze which included a local craftsman, two directors of an art foundry, an Australian professor, a Marshal of the RAF, an Admiral, four Knights of the Realm, three Lords, a former Olympic Gold Medallist and two European Kings and three others. The Crown for King Felipe V1 of Spain was completed in May 2018, twenty-nine years after I produced a similar Crown for the King's Father, King Juan Carlos which was placed in St George’s Chapel. In early June 2019 the Crown also being worked on was created for King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and was placed alongside the similar Crown I produced thirty year earlier for the King's Mother, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.
As I still had not mastered the crutches with any degree of confidence or clearly any natural ability, I was left to a purely supervisory role in the seating position finished gilding the Kings Crown. Naturally enough I was also under just a bit of pressure from on high, kindly enquiring to the progress of my recovery and nine of these Sculptures planned to be installed in Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle which I had promised would be completed in time a year earlier prior to roof and broken foot gate. In all the thirty years I have been creating all these Crowns, Coronets and Crests for these installation ceremonies I have never been late and didn’t want to start now, so no pressure.
Finally, despite everything the roof had thrown at me all these various sculptures were all completed, approved and ready to be installed for both of these ancient and historic Ceremonies and informed the Castle the remaining Kings Crown and Garter Crests will be completed as promised for the Garter service in St George’s Chapel at Windsor in a few weeks’ time. This Medieval ceremony was to be attended by HM The Queen, The Prince of Wales and various other members of the Royal Family. Ladies and Knights of the Garter along with the two European Kings one of who’s Crowns had already been completed and delivered to the Castle earlier. Which was just as well as in May, I had what initially might appear to some to be a rather ‘chilling’ communication from Windsor Castle and perhaps reminiscent of the fearful days of old for some dethroned Kings and Queens, as I was informed a scaffold will be erected for me in the Castle on the 3rd of June’!
Fortunately, however, in my case that actually meant, that the scaffold; health and safety again here, was being placed in St George’s Chapel to enable my latest Crowns and Crests to be safely placed on display high up on the Knights helmets in the Chapel, for the installation service, were all now to be collected this time by a kind gentleman from the Castle and as it turned out the scaffold will now be erected for the gentleman instead, C’est la Vie……….
My sculptures were now all placed in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle with its thousand-year history with thick plush carpets on the floors and gilded plaster moulding on the ceilings and on the walls are adorned with old masters whereas just a week ago these brightly coloured sculptures were in my studio with the old carpets on the floors which were about to be placed in the skip when we moved house for one of the children, The plaster on the ceiling was falling down and on the studio wall appeared to be an image of a ‘Phoenix rising’ or something rather similar which had mysteriously appeared overnight on the damp studio walls in black mold.
But I know my place, always have and that particular day it wasn’t working in the studio in the cold and damp and with all those more urgent commissions completed after making an early start finished the paint and gilding several crests which were now drying and hardening off in the sun, decided to take the afternoon off, which then stretched out to almost three weeks to work on one of my own sculptures, something not commissioned and especially without an urgent completion date.
With a scalpel in one hand and a resin Mute Swan in the other I once again decanted into the adjoining wax/plaster roof with big glass windows all round and a clear view of a pair of foxes now feeding on the bird table, lard squashed into a tree high enough for the birds so the foxes cannot reach it, but the quarrels still can and yet another Deer caught eating Sue’s flowers which were not really grown for them although little details like that wouldn’t appear to bother the Deer, a tiny bit.
The Deer tends to casually wander in from the forest beyond the garden fence, take a quick look around and make a beeline straight to the Chrysanthemums. The flowers you wait all year to bloom and when they are at their very best, they arrive usually working in pairs, stop, have a quick look around and then just stare at you staring at them. I know they are going to do it; they know they are going to do it, and then one breaks away and makes for the first chrysanthemum and then casually takes a bite staring right at you just feet away with its huge unblinking brown eyes and oh so slowly chews it without a care in the world. To the Deer it was just a tasty snack, but to Sue the gardener it is so much more than that and with the garden blooms alas no more who will once again get the blame well obviously me again.
The view from the window whilst I work is constantly changing and if I leave the door open which I tend to do if I am working in the summer the wildlife often just wanders in and is yet another reason why I have lived in this house for over 50 years, but if you don't leave the door open mid-summer and if you are working in wax on a hot day during the summer and don't leave the doors and windows open. I had started carving the Mute Swan protecting her Cygnets from white resin a decade or so ago and it was looking pretty forlorn at the back of the studio literally collecting dust and decided I would actually try and finish it was to be the ‘master copy’ for a potential bronze casting. Although it was unfinished with not a lot of detail in it as yet, so I decided to make quick alginate mold of it, cast it in green casting wax and then add all the fine detail to the wax which is as it much easier and quicker to work in and eventually have this hollow Swan cast directly in bronze without further work. I then spent a few weeks working on the wax Swan in the plaster/wax room adding some of the detail but it still required a few more weeks to finish it off properly, but this was June and we heard it was going to be a real hot day, in the mid 30’s, apparently the hottest days in England ever, so we decided we would take yet another a day off, the second of the year and go for a long walk through the woods and along the sea shore alongside Southampton waters get a bit of the cool sea breeze and watch the Ships sail past.
However, this being Covid year and big worry for everyone everywhere the shore was empty and there were no cruise ships full of exciting passengers going on holiday to be seen, as many of them were anchored off shore passengers a few miles away. When we returned from our casual stole getting our ‘exercise’ out in the fresh but very warm air as instructed to do by the government on the daily Covid updates and after a nice quiet uneventful day back home again it was still really hot as we walked into the south facing garden to top up the bird bath. Looking over into the plaster/wax carving room which apart from the roof and floor is all glass so it has a great light to work from, it looked like the wax Mute Swan had disappeared.
My first reaction was Oh what now before getting closer and discovered the soft green casting wax I had carved the Swan had inadvertently done what soft casting wax was designed to do when it gets hot, melt. In my eagerness to have an actual day off from work and certainly not used to the whole taking a day off concept I had forgotten to leave the windows open before we left in the morning on what turned out was to turn out to be the hottest recorded day in England, which had converted the normally quite cool wax room into a hot house and in a classic case of me not thinking things through, the once regal Mute Swan was now a just a few inches high and a former image of its true self, now partially hanging over the edge of the workshop still dripping hot wax onto the floor as it appeared gravity was once again playing a part in my daily life.
The wax Mute Swan I had been working on and detailing for many weeks and once completed was then to be moulded as the ‘master copy’ for a limited-edition bronze mother appeared to have turned itself into a three-dimensional Swan version of Salvador Dali's melting watch paintings all during my watch. As a particular fan of his melted watch paintings, I suddenly now found myself with a sort of 3D version of a painting once created by Dali now appearing to have a sculpture created by Mother Nature. The once hollow Swan wax sculpture once melted in the heat has now been frozen in time and cast in bronze.
As for my small part of the ‘Global Warming’ sculpture process, all I really had to do was first open all the windows and door and basically just stabilising the wax carving best I could so the wings didn’t continue on their downward journey and actually fall right off, which I feel another ten minutes or so in those hot house conditions they probably would have done just that. The following morning after giving it a lot of thought I decided to leave it as far as possible as it was found partially hanging over the edge of the worktop on its inevitable journey south.
The hollow wax swan at that stage wasn’t finished anyway, only some of the detail had been added and I could have then finished it in the wax I suppose, but that was not the point I really wanted it look more or less as nature intended, but with a few adjustments here and there to strength it and that was it. This potential Mute Swan ‘global warning’ sculpture created in 2020 is my latest but most unexpected sculpture. But this particular melting art concept, was not created by Darley, but by Nature, so maybe without getting too carried away like I tend to do, or is it a symptom of global warming in its own right, or was it simply because I forgot to open the windows, on the hottest day of the year in England, to a small room surrounded entirely by glass, containing a soft wax hollow work in progress sculpture, which ended up doing what casting wax does best, melt. Anyway, the ‘melted’ ‘global warming’ Swan was in December 2020 cast in bronze, perhaps as a permanent symbol of my not seeing the bigger picture, or perhaps because it is a bit different and I can. The following year it also inspired me to create a series of melted sculptures including an elephant and sea otter working on them alongside my proper job. Fortunately, I still had more commissions coming in both heraldic and realistic sculptures in a wide variety of materials, literally from all over the world and much closer to home and although I had promised Sue and myself to finally start acting like the old age pensioner I am, when officially I should have retired five years ago but with enquiries coming in all the time mostly for sculptures I had never created before and enjoy a challenge well what can you do, I have got to do something……..
But the next year I promised myself and my family, yet again I would actually take things a bit ore easy and definitely get out much more from now on, stop to smell the roses, that sort of thing and you know I almost believed it myself at one point, I really did and then we had Covid 19, so, here I am back home again having now been told to stay in by the Government and well I have got to do something……..
2020, was not only the year of Covid, but also the year we had the return of the Star that guided three wise men to Bethlehem, first alignment of Jupiter and Saturn 800 years ago. The phenomenon on December the 21st when the planets appear to overlap in the sky, almost like a beacon of light and hope to eliminate the darkness.
In Warsash, on a typical rainy ‘rainbow’ weather day, you can always guarantee, if there is to be a rainbow in the area, it is always in the same place, every time, directly over the Church. It could all be just a coincidence of course, who knows, certainly not me, I’m just an old man who doesn't get out much, but I have done and I do know one thing, through these rather difficult times, things will get better…... they usually do.
These photos are one the easiest photographs for anyone to take, you just need to be there, on a ‘rainbow’ day, with a camera and a brolly of course, but it does make me wonder what came first. When the Church was built in 1870, they chose that exact spot to build the church, as rainbows, a symbol of faith and hope always appear there, or did the rainbows now appear almost like a ‘protective bubble’ over the Church.
I have spent the past forty years initially working in my garden ‘shed’ creating a wide variety of wood and bronze sculptures that have been sent all over the world.
Also, on what may well be said to be my main ‘bread and butter’ line which every small business requires which in my case is spending an average of five months, each year every year since 1989 creating a wide variety of sculptures in wood and bronze for the royal household. My other commissions during these past forty years being self-employed have probably earnt on average what a Premiership Footballer earns in forty weeks, but at least I have home advantage every week which to us is what it has always been about.
Our holidays since 1992 right up to the Covid era have mainly been spent cruising the World along with members of my family who cared to join us courtesy of Cunard, just for standing on stage telling anyone that cared to listen what I do for a living. All of which in a way was once rather eloquently summed up by my youngest daughter being faced with her first public speaking address to a large audience for the first time in her new career and walked out onto the stage apparently with the thought ..well, if Dad can do it, anyone can do it.
Now we are well into 2021 and a year into lockdown and working from home just like I have been doing for almost four decades now so I am getting quite used to it now. My broken foot with a few weeks of rest and a bit of recuperation has been repaired and with a few sheets of plywood and a bit of timber so has the studio roof so we are up and running. Commissions are well underway, all running to schedule apart from one or two which soon will be and the replacement roof just needs a rainless sky and re-felting and we are good to go and today looks like the day to go for it. Opening the lounge curtains notice we have three socially distantancing waiting for their breakfast so what can you do and with both mine and the foxie families breakfast also done and dusted it was then back up the ladder crawling around on the studio roof in my seventies wearing new knee pads purchased for next to nothing on line which would have been really useful as a much younger man in my teens doing the very same thing with far less effort on a customer’s roof.
Foxes breakfast also sorted and they have all moved off from whence they came as do I armed with a hammer, nails, roofing felt and a wing and a prayer as I continue with the repairs to the studio roof before it starts to rain which it does just before lunch when the roof was quickly covered with the tarpaulin and the afternoon was now spent inside the studio beneath its new roof but alas still without a single roll of felt added but instead adding a coat of primer to a Crown fit for a King and at the end of yet a another long day. Now adding the gilding when a boar badger on sole patrol wanders in not at all remotely concerned about social distancing just looking for breakfast at the beginning of his long night shift just after I finished my equally arduous day shift, as life goes on. A few handfuls of soft meaty chunks our dogs used to love are now inside the badger that still does, as the ultimate natural left-over food disposal unit then silently runs off into the night, head held high with the chicken carcass from the Sunday roast held tight in its jaws to share with his mate back in the set built more sensible than us much further away from its very noisy spring time neighbours, the Foxie family and thus ending yet another typical day, baring accidents in the Brennan household creating sculptures for people you often read about created by someone hardly anyone has heard off…… It’s a job my friend, but not as we know it. Moving on……....
I am now concentrating on my proper job firstly working in the ‘preps’ shed on the latest commissions from the Royal Household the designs of which arrived bright and early in the New year heralding a potential busy year as both the Order of the Bath service normally held every four years meets up this year with the annual Order of the Garter service and I have been notified Coronets and Crests will be required for both of these ancient ceremonies to be attended by members of the Royal Family. A year which is also the year of HM The Queen's Platinum Jubilee, so if it's anything like the Golden Jubilee it could potentially be a busy time all round.
The first three commissions from the royal household for the year arrived by courier bright and earlier this time was creating a fully three-dimensional sculptures of a Snow Leopard and an Eagle in Flight, both for Westminster Abbey and for Windsor Castle the first of these commissions which was completed in time for the Platinum jubilee celebrations was creating the bejewelled gilded Coronet for HRH. The Duchess of Cornwall, Queen Consort for the United Kingdom and Commonwealth ……. like you do.
This BIO/Journal ‘Oh what now’ has yet to be finished, but I am working on it.
Or, to quote one of Britons Greats - Sir Winston Churchill;
‘This may not be the end, it may not even be the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning’
Or, to Quote one of Hollywood’s - Terminator 101;
I’ll be back;
The ‘Coming-of Age’ section of the following chapters when complete; will probably be the most relevant section of the whole journal/bio as it will eventually cover not only my career a professional sculptor working on a wide variety of subjects and materials, the inspiration to become a sculptor within a fire and the destruction it caused and developed often completely by chance when often as a teenager when asked what I wanted to do when I grow up and really didn’t have a clue and then in my late twenties finally realised it was to be a carpenter, just like my grandfather until on the 7th May 1984 fate decided otherwise. As I was standing amongst the burnt out remains of my workshop and the dozen or so of my large three phase woodworking machines along with my only form of income and amongst the burnt our rubble and smell of blackened timber, noticed a burnt outline shape of a leaping dolphin and discovered my true vocation.
However, if I had renewed my business insurance correctly this time, I would have simply replaced all my tools, machines and timber, moved into the workshop I was planning to do in a few weeks’ time, take on staff to help with my full order book in the once flourishing cabinet making business and simply started again and would have most likely never have carved professionally and the over three hundred sculptures that I have produced since would most likely not have existed.
Success is not how high you climb, but how long you can hang on.
Potential Chapters yet to be completed
'Coming of Age'
‘Back to my roots’.
‘My Moment of Epiphany.’
‘The trials and tribulations creating a life size Eagle’.
‘Working for and with the Royal Household’.
'At Home with British Wildlife'
‘Somewhat more unusual commissions
Various restoration projects:
‘Working on HMS Victory’.
‘The Present Day and Beyond’
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Selected Commissions Link BIO Part One BIO Part Two BIO Part Three
Artist Information HMS Victory Sculpture Upcycled sculptures Wood/Bronze Sculptures HMS Victory
Garter Knights Crests Bath Knights Crests Creating a Crest/Arms Short TV Films Index