The Spirit of Britons collection - Background Information Page
Sculptor Ian G Brennan has always rather enjoyed the challenge of trying to create something from nothing. All the sculptures created for the Spirit of Britons’ sculptures using this diverse collection of old once scrapped materials could no doubt have been made, quicker and easier using brand new off the shelf materials if available, but all would have all been totally devoid of any age and history, so what would have been the point of that.
When Ian was a child raised mainly in Dover in Southern England in the early 1950’s during the post rationing error and the make do and mend period you soon learnt not to waste anything you found lying around and in the remains of old bomb sites they used to play in, so even in at the age of ten such as used an old piece of a packing crate to make a wooden sword to battle his similarly armed friends with. Little did Ian know at the time, fifty years later he would be commissioned to make a sword for the future King of England.
When he was a teenager in the 60’s being around and occasionally working in the building trade helping to restore old buildings, so much old interesting, sometimes ornate plaster or old finely carved pieces of timbers were being removed from these old buildings and usually ended up in a skip or in an oil drum simply warming our hands, a small part of British Heritage was once again being lost forever.
Ian felt then and does so today it is such a waste, so in his own small way, first as a restorer and later as a professional sculptor he has attempted to preserve a small part of British History in one form or another to give it a new lease of life using some of this discarded but often historic material if and when the opportunity arose and it arose quite often. The sculptures within these materials have always been there, the, material just required uncovering and sometimes rearranging.
In the case of HMS Victory around 10-15% of the ship we see today is original timbers from the day she was launched in 1765. Over the centuries approximately 1,600 tons of original Victory timbers have been removed from the ship and replaced ,either through battle damage, updating, restoration, woodworm, rot or general wear and tear. The eventual fate of such timbers subsequently removed from the ship during the past 250 years have amongst other things been, begged, borrowed, bartered sold, with two decades ago, 35 Tons of Victory oak being sold off by the MOD to one Company alone. Victory oak has also been used in the past as firewood, traded, mislaid, donated to charities, placed on exhibition, given as gifts, turned into souvenirs, furniture, and other wooden objects, with 47 of these 3,200,000 pounds of original Victory oak; a mear drop in the Ocean, was used to carve the Victory Sculpture.
From 1984 onwards working as a professional woodcarver and restorer working on a wide variety of often historic restoration programs, over the decades he occasionally ended up with various old pieces of somewhat material especially timber most of which were well past its sell by date, that were either unrestorable or surplus to requirements, which were subsequently made available to him. In the case of old timbers received as both larger pieces, or simply as smaller off-cuts, but were all old and in various state of disrepair. Or in the case of the original 1940’s Supermarine Spitfire armoured glass windscreen, which Ian was given in 1983.
The one thing most of these various old and historic materials had in common was they were once again surplice to requirement; no longer ‘fit for purpose’ as they say and any originally discarded materials were then either purchased, gifted or on occasions, rather than Ian accepting a fee for the particular commission working with these historic objects, he could keep any materials left over.
Sometimes the clients would request Ian try and create a carving from part of the materials, so the ancient bartering system practised all over the world of simply exchanging labour, skills, objects, or services in place of cash, once again comes into play.
This ancient, traditional method of working continued for Ian in the early 1990’s when he was commissioned to help restore HMS Victory. He was later given some old battered, original ships beams that were also deemed unrestorable and surplice to requirements. All were different shapes, size and condition with most of the timbers showed signs of worm damage and rot and many also contained pieces of bolts or metal still attached. They had been removed from Victory’s hull mostly from the lower gun deck area during the Ships restoration program.
Carved Victory oak panel 1 – ‘The Trafalgar Scene’ - Carved Victory oak panel 2
The pair of bas-relief carvings donated for the BBC ‘Children in Need’ program and the five feet long ‘Battle of Trafalgar’ shown on display in the Royal Naval Museum Portsmouth.
The carvings Ian produced included these pair of larger Victory oak bas-relief carvings which were then donated on behalf of the Dockyard Staff and Ship’s Crew for the BBC ‘Children in Need’ program. Later Ian then carved these five feet long ‘Battle of Trafalgar’ scene from one large oak beam removed from the Victory’s lower gun deck, which was later gifted for display in the Royal Naval Museum in the Dockyard; shown below. However eventually, as time and taxes wait for no one Ian put the obsession to work out the complexities of carving from these old ship timbers and get on with his much-delayed commissions.
So as to impact as little as possible from the original found condition of the materials used in the ‘Spirit of Britons’ collection; sculptures such as ‘Fire in the Hall’ and ‘Family Seat’ required rather less impute from Ian, than ‘A view from Redoubtable’ and ‘Victory sculpture’ which required considerably more effort.
Centuries old Oak Ship Timbers which in the early 1990’s was removed during restoration from HMS Victory’s Hull and were simply dropped into a skip placed alongside the Ship before being stored alongside other such Victory oak and copper in the basement of the Georgeann building which was close by. This original Victory oak and copper was later removed and much of it was sold off by the MOD before the building itself was demolished to make way for building the new ‘Mary Rose’ Museum. Almost two Decades later some of these old Ships original timbers were ‘recycled’ by Ian, into a smaller scale version of itself and when a neighbour replaced his old 1970’s Mahogany framed Conservatory and threw it along with the timbers in a his skip Ian was kindly offered all the seasoned mahogany planks and turned them into a sculptured display cabinet to house the Victory Sculpture.
Ian still finds history is all around if you care to look, even when he is working peering though his studio window, across his back garden into the woods beyond, he can see the many dozens of now massive oak and Scots Pine timbers still growing which were originally planted centuries ago to supply the local ship building industry on the nearby Hamble river, that once built various wooden ships including some for Nelson’s Fleet.
These once busy yards during the Napoleonic wars era-built warships such as HMS Hotspur which was built less than a mile from where Ian built his sculpture of HMS Victory. Along with HMS Elephant, which was a 74-gun third-rate ship of the line built in Bursledon a mile or so further down the river. In 1801 Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson chose HMS Elephant as his flagship due to amongst other lings its shallow draft required during the Battle of Copenhagen and it was on this ship that he is said to have put his telescope to his blind eye and claimed not to be able to see a signal ordering him to withdraw.
In the case of the original 1940’s Supermarine Spitfire armoured glass windscreen, which Ian received as a way of a gift in 1984 from an old friend who once co-owned a scrap yard in the middle 1950’s and amongst things they subsequently scrapped during this period was old MOD equipment and vehicles, including damaged or surplice WW2 aircraft. The eventual result was to be the ‘One of the Few’ sculpture which like all the others were produced in Ian’s studio in Warsash, a Hampshire village 10 seconds away as the Spitfire flies; from the former Supermarine factory where they were original designed and built in the 1930’s.