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Part One - First Draft
Ian G Brennan
Sculptor and Woodcarver to the
British Royal Household
Sculptor Ian G. Brennan. – a proposed
This page was initially intended to just outline the various ups and downs in Ian's career as a sculptor between the 7th May 1984 when his furniture making business burnt down to then shortly after he realised, he was now able to carve for a living right up to the 7th May 2005 when he was invited to Windsor Castle to give a talk about his successful career as a professional sculptor exactly 21 years to the very day later; Ian had finally come of age.
As these various events, incidents and accidents, good and bad, and there are many, both before and after this period have shown to be equally as relevant to his career and outlook to life and continue to unfold today, whether he wanted them to or not and are now also to be included in the proposed Journal/bio. and as such will very briefly outline some of the high and low points of Ian’s career as a professional wood carver and sculptor during the past four decades.
Ian basically had four main careers since leaving school as a teenager. Working in an electronics factory, then as a telegram boy, window cleaner, a labourer/roof tiler on building sites and in his twenties working in an electronics laboratory employed as an assistant research and development Engineer before working for himself as furniture maker and in his mid-thirties for over thirty years as a professional woodcarver and sculptor.
The proposed ‘Oh What Now’ Journal/ bio, Ian is writing; sections of which are shown after this ‘Phoenix Rising’ section; Ian has written in surprisingly a rather candid and often light-hearted way, throughout both the high and low moments and up to the present day.
It is said a man who works with his hands is a labourer, a man who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman, a man who works with his hands, his head and his heart is an artist. In life Ian has been fortunate to have made a living doing all three.
Sculptor Ian G. Brennan. – a proposed Journal/bio
If only Ian could have knew on that fateful day of the fire in 1984 when he was digging amongst the burnt out remains of his furniture making business workshop just after hearing his bank had removed his overdraft facility, was trying to find something, anything that could be salvaged from the fire, to use or sell that exactly 21 years to the very day later, he would be standing in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle in front of a distinguished audience, talking about his totally unexpected new career as a sculptor for the royal household and that everything will eventually work out for the best. Things might not have been quite so worrying at the time; but you don’t do you.
Ian’s sculptures would then be placed on display in Windsor Castle, Westminster Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral, The Royal College of Arms, Museums, Government Buildings, Company Receptions, Board Rooms, Churches, HMS Victory, Cunard Ships, Public Spaces and both Stately and Private Homes all over the World.
As far as this new career as a sculptor was concerned, nothing was planned, events happened as they often have a habit of doing, but in hindsight without these individual events which not only began and develop his career as a professional sculptor, but more importantly as it turned out on reflection all happened in the right order and sequence to each other. Ian has always believed things happen for a reason and when it does, he often has a camera handy to try to photograph or video such events, good or bad or indifferent. All of these events have in their own ways altered his career and aspirations but having always believed it’s a shame if you fall, but a disgrace if you just lay there, Ian, like many people have, you simply carry on the best you can with what you have.
Five years after the fire that effectively forced Ian to change his career in his mid-thirties from a cabinet maker to sculptor, he was officially appointed the ‘Sculptor to the Most Noble Order of the Garter and Honourable Order of the Bath and has since 1989 created amongst other wood and bronze sculptures all the Royal Crowns, Coronets and Crests for two of England’s oldest and highest orders of Chivalry in the World founded in 1348 and more than anyone else since records began and continues to do so today.
Since the late 1980’s Ian has been invited to give Talks and presentations from Church Halls and Theatres to Mayors parlours; Burlington House; Home of the Royal Academy of Art and also in Windsor castle. The first of his talks in Windsor was in St George’s Chapel in front of several hundred rather distinguished people and the next inside the castle dungeons. These talks have also extended to the somewhat more salubrious surroundings when since 1992 and 2019 Ian has averaged two cruises a year giving his illustrated talks and presentations onboard five Cunard Ships and after the talks many have said, you really should write a book about your experiences and after a few decades decided to, when Ian broke his foot and was told to rest it for several weeks, he decided to do just that and even when he was back working normally again continued adding to the text on and off ever when he found a moment and to date is a 250,000 plus word and counting, yet to be edited Journal/Bio of many of the most important and often unusual moments and there have been many even from an early age that have directly and indirectly shaped his character, career and life.
Although Ian is a self-taught woodcarver and sculptor, the simple fact is, if he had not made a mistake renewing his business insurance on his furniture making workshop, which was completely destroyed the fire in 1984, he would have simply replaced all the timber, tools and machinery, moved into new premise and started again and would have most likely never had carved anything and that all his sculptures he has created for the past four decades would I fear, never have existed.
In the end as they say what really defines what we are is how well you rise after falling, well Ian has certainly had opportunities to put this to practice on numerous occasions and still does. Ian’s career path has been strewn with what would appear to be more than his fair share of obstacles placed in his path. Nevertheless, he has met all such things with determination, tenacity, fortitude and sheer dogged termination despite what life might throw at him, especially during the oh so many times as consequence during the more turbulent periods when many financial institutions both large and small have continued to try to place him on the naughty step. However, as these various events, incidents and accidents, good and bad, and there are many, are equally as relevant to his career and outlook to life and continue to unfold whether he wanted them to or not, are now to also be included in his now proposed Journal/bio in which Ian has briefly outline below some of the high and low points of his career during the past five decades, basically covered in fifteen minutes, but what a difference five decades makes.
“Fifty years ago, I left College qualified as an electronic wireman/technician and several years later ended up as an assistant electronic engineer making equipment for the Ministry of Defence. In 1972 I built a log cabin style shed in the back garden to work on and store my cherished 650cc BSA Spitfire motorcycle. After a few days the Spitfire was wheeled out, just for a few weeks and a saw bench was carried in, as the large space in the cabin/shed was commandeered to create a set of furniture for the garden and a coffee table for the lounge. Exactly five decades later still working in the same shed where the chainsaw and band saw now permanent abode has been pressed into the ‘sculpture prep’ room where many of my over three hundred wood, resin and bronze sculptures initially start life and still do today. Thirty years later was appointed sculptor to the Most Honourable Order of the Bath and Honourable Order of the Garter making sculptures for Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle.
I left secondary school in the A stream with my teachers all suggesting I stay on and sit my GCSE's but left school with none as all I really wanted was a motorcycle and needed a job to buy one. Alas the BSA Spitfire and the many other equally cherished motorcycles that followed down its well-worn tracks in the lawn over the years, despite my valiant efforts all remained out in the cold under a series of covers and not one of them made it back into the warmth of the log cabin/shed built for them all. To give me the valuable additional space to make amongst so many other things, sculptures for clients all over the world, Crests and Swords for Knights and Coronets and Crowns for Royalty, so much closer to home…..
Since 1989 Ian has been commissioned to create a wide variety of unique sculptures for the British royal household primarily for the Most Noble Order of the Garter and Most Honourable Order of the Bath which takes an average of five months a year, every year to complete. This wide variety of unique sculptures are then placed on display in Windsor Castle and Westminster Abbey, which often means he is creating Crowns for Kings and Queens, Coronets for Princes and Princesses along with a wide variety of different sculptures from Horses to Eagles, Dogs to Dragons and Crowns, to Swords, Elephants and the Human form. These sculptures are often being worked on in three separate studios and workshops built alongside each other and on one particular occasion many years ago Ian was working on over twenty totally different sculptures and as space was then such a premium and all his workshops and studio in the back garden was full ended up restoring the Crown for King Edward V111 on the dining room table in the lounge.
This simple process of going from one totally different sculpture to another throughout the week not only helps Ian to be more prolific but also enables him to see each one completely afresh. "The total contrast between perhaps one moment working on a life size realistic Eagle carved from wood and in the other workshop a full-size crucifix carved from plaster to be cast in bronze. To the next making a mould of a life-size otter to the next creating a gilded Crown for both British and European Royalty in the studio, is what makes his work so enjoyable".
Although completely unbeknown to Ian at the time his business and plans to expand as a furniture maker was stopped in its tracks when his workshop burnt down on the 7th May 1984 and as a direct result exactly 21 years to the very day later, he would be standing in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle; the principal residence of Queen Elizabeth 11, surrounded by many distinguished guests and around the walls of the Chapel would be over twenty of his sculptures many of Ian’s commissions over the decades have been placed on display in this historic 15th century Chapel. Also set out in the Nave of this medieval chapel; the scene of many royal services, weddings and also the burial place of many monarchs, including King Charles 1st and King Henry V111, would also be placed on display a large collection of Ian’s wood and bronze sculptures exactly twenty-one years earlier he didn’t even know he was capable of creating.
On that day in 2005 Ian G Brennan was invited to Windsor Castle to give a talk about the various aspects of his work as a sculptor. The informal talk which took place in the century’s old nave of St George's Chapel which is not only one of the most revered hallowed Royal shrines of the British Monarchy, but also one of the most beautiful buildings of its kind in the world, rich in history and a place of prayer. The subject of Ian's talk was to be not only about the large variety of different sculptures he has produced for the Royal Household, but also how he was first to discovered his by then unknown ability to be able to carve, after his business was totally destroyed in a fire.
Ian’s workshop on the 7th May 1984; the day of the Workshop Fire – St George’s Chapel Windsor on the 7th May 2005; the day of the Windsor Talk.
After being introduced to the audience in the Chapel by the Dean of Windsor at 2.00 pm, Ian walked to the centre of the St George’s Chapel to begin his talk; in front of him a beautiful ancient fabric frontal which covered the Altar; this Altar cloth was richly embroidered with a stunning image of a Phoenix rising from the Ashes and that day was exactly 21 years to the very day he discovered the beam that was burnt into a shape of a leaping dolphin lying amongst the rubble of his workshop….... Ian had finally come of age.
It is said that some success comes easily, to others they have to work hard for it, but to Ian it came as such a great surprise. No one, especially Ian who had no interest in art at school, would have thought that a fire which totally destroyed his business would at the same time release his dormant and then unknown natural ability to be a sculptor, all quickly followed by many unusual and unexpected twists and turns and not forgetting lucky breaks. He would then go on to receive 130 plus unique sculpture commissions in both wood and bronze from the British Royal Household and that his sculptures would then be found in Castle, Westminster Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral, Museums and private art collections all over the World....
Ian’s sculptures have also been created for television programs and can be found on books and magazine covers and also on a set of Royal Mail Postage Stamps featuring Windsor Castle issued in 2017.
All of which came about quite by chance.
It has often been suggested over the years, especially after giving one of my Talks and Presentations, that I should write it all down but have always felt well, if I did write it down who is actually going to read it. Well obviously, I have to as that’s kind of the tradition, but who else, apart from well, you… so Hi thanks for being there and hope you are well, but first I had better warn you. I have never tried to put ink to paper before and here I am in my early seventies when I should really be getting on with my commissions or maybe having a bit of a nap, instead I find myself with a laptop resting on my lap like they are designed to do, but with my heavily strapped foot raised up on a stool following doctors’ orders having just broken my foot in a climbing accident.
Er, truth be known, I fell off a ladder I was climbing in the back garden trying to cut a branch of a tree. It wasn’t even a big ladder or a tall tree coming to that, but I fell off the ladder anyway which then landed under me and broke my fall and my foot, but that’s yet another story! As I mentioned I know nothing about writing a book but I do know as with any story you are constantly being told, to start right at the beginning, so here goes wish me luck…….
Being seventy and counting I thought I might as well try and quickly analyse, in my case anyway, what difference all or any of the incidents, accidents and hiccups, along with lucky breaks along the way which fortunately as it turned out, all happened in the correct time and sequence to each other in which all have played a part in my particular scheme of things to build a career as a sculptor I had not even thought about doing for a living before. Just to see if it all stacks up before such memories fade. Just like a diary I meant to keep and often refer to in the diary Sue did keep.
These fully illustrated talks I used to give often included all the ups and downs trying to juggle after our once successful furniture making business which in 1984 had just crashed and burnt just as it was about to really take off in which around £25,000 to replace all the three phase woodworking machines, materials tools, timbers, templates and completed orders lost in the blaze, which eventually resulted in a complete change of careers. Initially as a rookie woodcarver three decades later creating a wide variety of well over a hundred sculptures in both wood and bronze for the royal household and endeavouring to outline some of the highlights and lowlights on the way in which I literally have the scars to prove it.
As for the potential title for the Journal/Bio, well one or two titles spring quickly to mind such as: - ‘From the Ashes to Royal Commissions’ or, perhaps more appropriate considering the whole up and down Journey perhaps:
‘Oh, What now’. I then purchased the domain name 'ohwhatnow.co.uk' as I thought the domain name might come in handy, but surprise, surprise six months later even this domain name started causing trouble when I received an email from the registrar for the domain name declaring “ Invalid Address Complaint for Your Domain 'ohwhatnow.co.uk’ ‘This Domain has been put on hold which makes the domain currently not reachable’ Now as the name has clearly drawn attention to itself, it looks like all the signs are there for
‘OH What Now’ and would indeed appear to be most appropriate name for the potential Journal/Bio.
As for that important opening paragraph I heard from those who know about such things you must have for any book, so what about;
‘From the Ashes to Royal Commissions’
I was awoken before dawn by a loud banging on my front door. As I carefully opened the front door the waiting police officer, informed me “My furniture making business had been totally destroyed in a fire and he asked could I meet him down there as soon as possible”
Everything had been turned upside down and just then realised due to the mistake I had made renewing my business insurance, we were not even insured and had now lost everything in the fire.
'Oh, What now'
There was no fan-fare like you often see in films as I watched the Queen enter the room in her magnificent home in Windsor Castle, as Her Majesty then turned around and walked towards me.
Just weeks earlier I had delivered two of my latest commissioned sculptures from the Royal Household to Windsor castle, hoping as with my previously sculptures during the past decade, they would also be met with a favourable response, but always in the back of my mind was the thought when I was initially interviewed for the position of ‘Sculptor to the Most Noble Order of the Bath and Garter. “The Order of the Garter is the highest and oldest order of Chivalry in the world and also a personal gift of the Queen, so effectively every unique sculpture I create for this high Order must be produced ‘on time, to budget and to the very highest possible standards”, so delivering these various sculptures to Windsor was always a very anxiety time for all concerned.
As I was talking to one of my colleagues in Windsor Castle, I felt a hand gently placed upon my shoulder and an equerry quietly said to me,” Mr Brennan, Her Majesty would like to speak with you”…………….
I am not a big book reader and to be fair not a small book reader either, as I tend to go into a bit of a dream reading it and end up trying to write my own ending and have to start all over again. In fact, the last book I actually read from cover to cover was when I was at junior school and if I remember correctly, it was about a whale and had lots of pictures. Although I have read a fair few books over the decades, these are mostly historical and factual books rather than novels.
Nowadays when the radio is not on, I tend to listen more to documentaries, Dramas, Comedies, or Feature Films often on the small TV in the background of my studio whilst I am working, so nowadays it’s often more listening than looking. So, although I may well not be concentrating too much at this stage on exactly how this, yet to be edited Journal\bio, is supposed to be set out and punctuated, decided if I am going to try and write such a ‘Journal’ it will have to be set out in my own way, as that’s the only way I know. Not written by a ghost writer or even a living one, come to that but just by me exactly as events happened, even if it is perhaps not quite the correct way of doing things. But it will of course have lots of pictures. “You often hear people quite rightly proudly stating that they started their business ‘with just £5.00 in their pocket’. I started mine with debts running into five figures and I like many other people have had more than my fair share of Oh What now moments, along with so many more, Oh Wow moments, in which I intend to endeavoured to outline in the proposed Journal/Bio in equal measure, along with many unique photographs to back them up along the way.
Initially this was just going to be a partial BIO/Journal of how my unexpected career as sculptor began soon after my furniture making business creating furniture for the local community was transformed into a sculptor creating sculpture for the Royal Household. None of which was of my choosing as things just sort of happened and have continued to do so ever since. The original idea of this BIO was simply to briefly cover this 21year period between the 7th May 1984 when I was standing in the soldering remains of my workshop, trying to work out where to go from here. To the 7th May 2005 when I was standing in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle giving a talk to the distinguished audience having finally realised.
The bio/journal then slowly developed as these things tend to do which continues to grow, day by day when as a middle-aged adult obviously having a mid-life crisis discovering at the same time had an unexpected natural ability to be able to teach myself to carve and cast in a wide variety of different subjects and mediums and as a direct result managed to achieved things in life which I never realised I wanted to do, or would indeed be capable off. Especially having regularly been told in my youth as I was constantly in the shed making small villages and scenery for my model train set day in and day out by my elders, “I should ‘get a life” It although might have taken more two decades to sink in but I feel I have at least given it a go.
I have been self-employed for over forty years now and being self-employed basically means if you don’t work you don’t eat, so us species tend to work a lot, especially when you are totally aware every time the project you are working on is finished you are effectively made redundant with no redundancy pay let alone any sign of a gold watch and moving speech by your former boss. There is no state safety net for us ‘free- lancers’ so if things hit the fan, which I found tended to happen rather too many times for my liking and if there are, I certainly don’t know where they store them and if you think about it if you’re going to be self-employed being a professional ‘artist’, is properly one of the crazier ones which along with getting old, is not for the faint hearted, so if you would prefer not to know about such things, then please look away now.
But if you do, my work is also about working long hours often in my case with foxes and badgers wandering around my feet whilst I am working, arriving from the forest beyond my back garden fence, to keep me company often towards the end of my working day, just as they start theirs. All assisted by meeting a lot of kind and helpful people on the way with considerable help from the above and also from somewhat closer to home. Along with many lucky breaks although what it is they say; the harder you work the luckier you get.
This bio/journal will eventually include the oh so many ‘Sliding door’ and ‘Mind the gap’ moments often involving unexpected amazing opportunities and setbacks, all of which are to be covered with an equal amount of gusto, as they are all part of the same coin. “Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans” as John Lennon once reflected on as a paradox in all our lives. I like many people believe things happen for a reason and everyone has a story to tell, a journey to make, gifts and talents to share and as such there are billions of stories out there and this particular story for the moment briefly outlined below, just happens to be one of them.
Many of these particular moments in time often sent me in a totally different direction and often a direction not of my choosing which mostly somehow often turned out to be the right one. Now working in a wide variety of sculptures in various materials including wood, marble/resin, silver and bronze which has continued four decades later some of which have been placed on display in from leading department stores in Asia to public spaces in the USA. Private art collections all over the world and also much closer to home including such diverse places as Museums, the Grand Lobby on Cunard Ships to onboard HMS Victory. On display in Government buildings, The College of Arms, Westminster Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral and Windsor Castle.
Although constantly being busy with commissions means I don’t get out much although I have been told I am rather prolific probably because ‘I don’t get out much’ but I would be the first to admit what I do for a living is not exactly cutting coal, although as a younger man I have had my fair share of hard manual labour and out in all weathers to earn a crust and still very much respect those who do. But when I do get out I have been to places and met people you often heard or read about as a direct consequence of my day and sometimes night job. As far as art was concerned, I was never really creative as a teenager but have always admired the people that were. The only thing I did then that was sort of creative was to put together balsa wood model kits of small gliders, plastic Airfix model kits or make paper mâché scenery for my model train set.
I started school at the age of five like you did in the early 1950’s and then attended twelve different schools and Colleges all over the World, even once being taught in a makeshift school set up on a troop ship sailing to Singapore. My Father was a Royal Marine Commando with 23 years’ service who travelled and trained all over the world and my mother a very caring, hardworking and determined woman, insisted we as a family of three young children would try and follow him whenever and wherever he was posted and we ended up all living in many different places, including my living with a school friend for several months and then sharing a room with various relations. To then live in Bedsits, Maisonette, Flats and even on a Troopship for a month sailing to yet another different country along with in Army, Air force or Naval Barracks all over the World.
As a child I rarely lived in one place for more than a year. One month in the 1950’s I was living with my Mum and siblings sharing a room in my Nan’s second floor tenement block in the Gorbals in Glasgow. To the next living in the front room in my auntie’s council house in Dover, with a metal Bath hung outside on a hook by the back door and the only toilet was down the bottom of the often-overgrown garden; which ‘was a bit of a jungle, where I was often warned “Don’t go in the long grass, as there ‘might’ be Adders”.
To the next at the age of ten, living on the other side of the World, in a ground floor maisonette flat in a small village in Singapore, where my back garden was literally a jungle, where I was often warned “Don’t go in the long grass, as there ‘might’ be Cobras”. Unfortunately, having always had a love of all kinds of creatures, large and small, on both occasions despite looking really hard, I never found any. Although traveling and living all over the world was very exciting and interesting, I really missed my friends and keeping them both in school and in your new neighbourhoods, but then when you do always lose my latest best friend just months later, when we moved yet again and having to try and make new ones, over and over again from the age of four to fourteen, I found rather difficult.
Starting a new school often mid-term was always something I dreaded as a child and always ended up having to sit outside in the corridor outside the noisy classroom, waiting for the teacher to ‘settle down the class, before being brought in to and then having to stand at the front of the whole class to be introduce to my ‘new’ class, before being shown an empty seat next to someone who often appeared would rather I didn’t. All done in a stony silence with everyone staring at me. I much preferring the quiet life, always have and being painfully shy didn’t help either, but the teachers were always kind to me as were the girls in the class, which then tended to really annoy the boys in the class so I always ended up being bullied or pushed around in the corridors and especially the playground, but you kind of got used to and I never spoke about it to anyone and just put up with it, like you do…….
I was a bit like the two main characters ‘Marty’ and ‘Biff’ in my favourite films franchise ‘Back to the Future’ although I was more like Marty, but without the neat skateboard and guitar skills. That was until one day at the age of nine having just moved to Malta my father arrived to pick me up after school in his army jeep and saw me being pushed around by some of the bigger kids outside the school gates. Who all soon cleared off when they saw my tall tough looking Dad wearing his green beret and army fatigues approaching. My Dad was really not happy about it at all and especially my perceived ‘weak’ response to the bullying situation and he asked me how long this has been going on. I told him it often happens especially when starting a new school midterm, but it wasn’t a problem... He said “It will never happen again Son”…………..… it never did.
As I was always starting or leaving school midterm in a different town or country often arriving without any academic history to show my latest ‘new’ teacher, I was then put in a mid-stream class for the teachers to access my educational capabilities. The often down side was that once I had finally made new friends at the start of a new term in another year and if I initially was placed into the ‘wrong’ class, I was often be put up to another class and had to start all over again and could then only chat to my new/old friends in the corridor or playground. The upside was if I was initially put in C or D stream class and then often put up for the next term, which often would enable me to 'win' book tokens for my perceived ‘achievements’. Although I was not a keen book reader, I did like swapping the tokens for encyclopedias and books on how things are made and work and still have some of them from both classes in Malta and an RAF Class at Changi in Singapore.
Living in our small village in Singapore I made many local friends of many different nationalities and was made very welcome. Many of my great new friends couldn’t speak much English and I could speak even less Chinese and Malay. But we got by really well and I was always kindly invited to join them exploring the village or dense jungle and playing football or cricket on the small bone-dry bare patch of land outside our block of flats, providing I played barefoot like they all did which I was more than happy to do. Then eighteen months later we were of again this time back to the UK, a country I had heard all about but was not too familiar with, as we flew off in the middle of the monsoon season from Changi airport were I used to go to school, on a grey RAF Britannia aircraft and eventually after many refueling stops landed in Heathrow airport during mid-winter were the rail was of so much colder and as a family we all stayed for a few days at the ‘Union Jack Club in London were four decades later I would be invited to give a talk about my work as a sculptor to the royal household.
Having arrived back in the UK along with my mother, sister and young brother were given the large front room at my aunties house in Dover until somewhere until more permanent accommodation turned up and were all made very welcome. My elder sister and I had two further attempts at getting a secondary school in Dover, Kent. I really liked my first senior school which was chosen for me and my sister, but she didn’t so we moved to yet another secondary school several miles away. When we started this school, it was mid-winter but once again we joined midterm and have lived in Singapore for so long we both had really dark sun tans. Trouble was for my sister anyway; she was pulled out in the middle of the playground in front of everyone by a rather loud teacher calling out. “You know you’re not allowed to wear stockings in school young lady” On my first day I once again had to endure the standing at the front of the class as new kid on the block routine, but fortunately with all the ‘life’ skills my father had taught me so well, I soon generated very little interest from the latest ‘Biff ‘character.
On this particular occasion many people in the early 60’s didn’t know or care were Singapore was but on my first day in this very cold part of the world I now found myself in I had to stand in the front of the class, on my first day at school with everyone staring at me and sniggering having to tell everyone, what it was like to live in a country, the other side of the world, were the temperatures were currently in the nineties and then having to point out to everyone on the huge Globe the teacher ‘kindly’ had placed on her table for me, to show everyone. In total silence exactly where Singapore was on the globe and of course I didn’t have a clue.
I was not interested in art at school and only really enjoyed games, woodworking and technical drawing classes in that order and that was about it, but never had any idea what I wanted to do for a living and a career was something other people had and when my ‘careers teacher’ suggested at 15 years old I should start to give some real serious thought about it and did for a while. But I was always a bit of a dreamer and apparently as a child according to some, I didn’t really have a talent for anything that might earn a crust and provide me with a living in the real world. The only real advice I had career wise from my father being a Royal Marine Commando was; “Don’t join up Son, the only thing I am trained to do is kill, which is not much good in civvy street.
I was a teenager growing up in Southern England in the swinging sixties and all that when everything appeared to be so much simpler then. When England won the World Cup at Wembley and it actually did come home. When Cricket was Cricket, players wore white flannels and clapped to acknowledge a batsman’s good performance rather than cheering and high-fiving each other when they got him out. The Beatles were playing live on stage and ‘Elvis hadn’t left the building’. JFK and the Cuban Missile crisis. Man was still walking on the Moon and also on London’s Carnaby Street being Fab. When ‘Mars bars’ and ‘Wagon Wheels’ were much bigger and you could buy just one cigarette with your pocket money from the corner shop on the way to school.
As a teenager you could make a mistake and learn from it, rather than having it brought up in a Google search years later during a job interview. Getting likes on Facebook and losing your phone signal were never an issue. Trolls were something that appeared under a bridge in your favourite story book, not on your phone when you are doing your homework.
Global warming was a real concern coming from wise people no one listened to and ‘Pandemic’ was just a bad Movie you could leave the cinema halfway through.
Mods and Rockers, Hippies, Peace and love, not that I saw much of any of that myself as I was a ‘Rocker’ who spent most of the 60’s trying to keep up with my Mates on a ‘burn up’ with a gang of fellow ‘greasers’ as we were often called, amongst other things! Often riding from one café to another, or to Margate or Brighton on a Bank Holiday Mondays on our motorbikes all meeting up with Mods on their scooters one of which would often turn out to be one of your old school friends who had turned to the dark side. Not having a career or particularly wanting one as I was quite happy moving from one job to another providing it paid a decent wage which was all gone by the end of the week.
On reflection the foundations were laid to my becoming a professional sculptor really started on Good Friday when I was 18 years old. Up till then I was a labourer spending much of my day basically wandering around a massive loading shed with a sack truck working as a ‘stevedore’ in Dover Docks unloading cargo ships. Although the prospects were poor, the money was good until one afternoon during the Easter holidays on my way into town. In an instant my life changed forever as I found myself laying on the side of the road in a crumpled heap having just been knocked off my motorbike by a Van in a hurry. In which both me and the bike took a real battering with the bike ending up 12 inches shorter than it was originally designed to be.
The collision itself although very noisy and rather abrupt was initially painless, but after a short flight over the bonnet and a rather shoddy landing, I ended up in hospital with two badly broken wrists and right arm, along with typical cuts and bruises and a recently gleaming, highly polished but now wrecked 650 cc Triumph Bonneville; my pride and joy, lying motionless alongside me. In the 1960’s you didn’t have to wear a crash helmet and l like many of my friends didn’t always do so, but fortunately for me on this occasion, as it was a particularly cold day and wore mine to keep my ears warm. But once my wrists and arms gave way upon landing, I head butted the road and split my crash helmet.
That Good Friday crash was life changing in many ways, not only had it left me with long scars down my arms and permanent limited movement in both wrists, my right arm now full of pins and a thumb I cannot straighten. It also left me with a small green Disabled card which the consultant handed to me to ‘keep in my pocket’. However, as a direct consequence two years later with the compensation I received for the injuries and loss of earnings waiting for them to mend. I was able to purchase a replacement motorcycle and house for cash which I later sold for a brand-new home with a large garden and a small mortgage, none of which I would have today if I had decided to take the bus into town that afternoon. Nevertheless, ‘getting on my bike’ turned out to be the right decision despite everything that happened and I would eventually end up with not only with a house from which I would start up my own business initially making furniture and later sculpture in small log cabin which I originally built in the garden to store and work on my motorbike.
As a child I never really knew what I wanted to do when I ‘grow up’ and after many different jobs until at the age of 26 when I gave up a good career working in an electronics laboratory and going self-employed working initially in my garden shed making furniture full time, which for a few years previous had enjoying making part time when I finally found my true vocation, until a decade later fate decided otherwise as the premises I then moved into to make my furniture more efficiently in a small industrial unit with a dozen three-phase woodworking machines assisting the process, burnt down just weeks before I was going to expand into even larger premises, take on staff to try and keep up with the constant stream of orders. From making custom made furniture to fitting out pubs, wine bars and people’s kitchens, to building the galley on a historic J Class yacht then overnight the workshop burnt with everything in it................... to be continued.
During the rather inevitable tiresome clear up stage that followed, discovered amongst the rubble a burnt-out rough outline shape of a leaping dolphin amongst the remains of my cabinet making workshop. With every woodworking tools and machinery lost in the fire. The only woodworking tools I then possessed was a small set of wood carving chisels discovered years earlier hidden away in one of the draws of band saw machines cabinet I had bought at auction. At the time I tried to work with them for a few days to see if I could carve something and soon found out I couldn’t and put them back in the canvas roll. I found them on a shelf in the garage when years later they would be the only woodworking tools I possessed.
Having rediscovered the small set of carving chisels with a totally new mindset used them on the burnt dolphin shape and other bits of timber laying around and found it all rather therapeutic and spent many an hour after work carving, not only finishing off the dolphin the fire started, Along with carving other small pieces of mostly elm wood attempting to copy an image of an animal of one sort or another from a photograph in a magazine, whilst sat in front of the television after a hard day’s work often right up to when the programs ended which it used to do in the mid 80’s, helped me take my mind of things and soon discovered it would appear I had a natural ability to carve and learnt to carve along with how to use the vacuum cleaner on the carpet and settee afterwards.
What a difference 24 hours can make
The damage to the workshop was total and not only destroyed all my customer’s orders, the materials, woodworking machines, tools and furniture designs as my then successful furniture making business was effectively stopped in its tracks and it was no longer about expansion; It was now all about survival as my fundamental and primeval role as are most parents and guardians throughout history. was putting food on the table, keeping a roof over our heads and to guard the entrance. Knowing I no longer had walls and a roof let alone an entrance to guard and the only table we now had was left under cover on a patch of grass we had ‘rented’ just for a few days at a Steam Engine rally in a field many miles away and on our pitch was a set of garden furniture and various coffee tables we were hoping to sell at the show ground……….…..…to
The fire brigade had done a great job putting the fire out and damping down afterwards and having wished me luck they left the site and it was all eerily quiet. It was still dark but dawn was about to break as I looked around with pale smoke still rising from parts of the dampened remains of my workshop. Now and again an occasional gust of wind blew little glowing embers into the sky which floated away like tiny Chinese lanterns, but the strong smell of fire and burnt timber was everywhere and appeared to remain with you for days afterwards despite showers and a change of clothes. I wanders around the blackened wasteland that was once my business and the only form of income I had and was amazed how destructive a fire had been to the furniture I had made and the dozen huge heavy once expensive but now blackened and burnt out three-phase woodworking machines I had made them with and it felt like being back as a child stood right in the middle of a massive bonfire on bonfire night after it had cooled down, kicking over the still hot in part embers ,trying to find any potatoes and chestnuts you threw into it to roast you might have missed……...
The Steam rally had been going really well as far as sales and orders were concerned, but now realizing things were going to be different, but couldn’t possibly know in a few years’ time just how different things were going to be. All I knew for sure at the time this was all going to mean working even long hours if that was possible, through the day into the night trying to play catch and cope with the rather shaky financial future a not only to provide an income, but also to attempt to pacify and constantly reassure my rather justifiably over anxious customers, creditors, especially my soon to be ex-bank manager basically borrowing an old theatrical saying. 'It will be alright on the night’. I wasn’t quite sure how but somehow it usually does.
There was nothing more to be done standing there in the rubble in the dawn's early light as I had to get back home to try and explain to Sue somehow what had just happened. Sue had been doing really well at the Show selling our furniture and taking in new orders at the showground, whilst I had been preparing and assembling others in the back of the Van or carrying the sold garden furniture and coffee table to the people’s cars in the car park and at least we had a bit of money from the sales, but making more furniture was obviously going to be a bit of a problem, but at least I was insured……….. Well, I thought I was.
It appeared I had made a really silly mistake with my insurance renewal policy and then realised I was no longer insured and then it all started to get really interesting in more ways than one. Firstly, the bank I held my business account with for almost a decade quite understandably under the circumstances decided not to renew my overdraft facility and subsequently any plans I had to continue to run, let alone expand my furniture making business, take on staff was all put on hold…..…
A few years later having rebuilt the furniture making business, replacing orders lost in the fire and steadying the finances somewhat, decided due to the newfound interest in my carvings decided to change horses’ mid-stream from being a professional self-taught furniture maker to a professional self-taught woodcarver, although I was initially carving by the ‘seat of my pants’ and learning on the job as I went along for the first year or so anyway and soon found after carefully researching the subject beforehand. I did not feel the need to make sketches, as once studying the subject in question, I could hold the potential sculpture clearly in my mind within the block of timber or stone and it became just a case of cutting away everything that doesn’t belong to the sculpture. It’s a bit of a party trick really but not much fun at a party.
Having made furniture for a decade or so before I started carving, gave me the advantage of knowing my way around timbers, their properties, strength and weakness, which was a massive help when I first started wood carving. I have not had a carving lesson in my life, listened to any advice or ready any book on the subject, although I would be the first to admit such things may well have come in rather useful on more than one occasions in the past, but I have even as a young child often managed to get by in life on the premise of, if all else fails, read the instructions. As was explained earlier, I believe everything happens for a reason but for me it appears to be happening all the time and if it isn’t, then you are almost kind of just waiting for it to happen. I much prefer the quiet life but with many such almost bizarre moments I will also be outlining in the journal/bio have fortunately kind of worked out surprisingly well, touch wood and to be fair without too much real pre-planning by me.
When I first started carving for the first couple of years the carvings were mostly wildlife experimental, learning to carve pieces and left as that. I kept the first two and my mother ‘borrowed’ some others she liked to put on her shelf, as I was a furniture maker and carving small objects out of off cuts as carving was just my mind of the serious financial issues caused by the workshop fire and they also added a bit of interest to my furniture displays at craft shows and the like, but were still not a serious potential career change during the first year or so until one day whilst exhibiting my furniture and carvings together a lady took a lot of interest in the carvings and commissioned a pair of small leaping dolphins to go either side of her 'Welsh Dresser'. She then turned one of my carvings over and suggested I should sign and date them. Something I had never given any thought to before but then decided to do so with all my other carvings.
Although I didn’t have the right carving chisel to carefully carve small lettering, I did have a high-speed router with a V shaped cutter on which carved your name and date with the cutter as quickly as you could write it with a pen. I usually used the cutter for bevelling the edges of some of my furniture which it was designed for, but also worked fine with the often delicate carvings you had spent weeks working on base jammed tight in the vice. But nevertheless, still had a few rather scary moments with the razor-sharp v cutter spinning around at tens of thousands of revolutions per minutes and tended to concentrated more on hanging on to the router and consequently a few times managed to get the date wrong like you sometimes you did write out a cheque out in the old days when you used to do such things. But it didn’t really matter as these early carvings were just experimental pieces as and weren’t for sale anyway, although one or two of these lack of concentration moments and getting the date wrong was rather unexpectedly sold before I managed to get hold of the special carving chisel required for lettering and then the scary router was quickly put back in the draw where it belonged and things all calmed down a bit.
For the first year or so the subjects carved were of wildlife firstly the Leaping Dolphin and the finishing of it was inspired by the Fire, quickly followed by a similar Dolphin just to see if the first was just a fluke, it wasn’t. The next, carving number two was a small Otter and then a Grizzly Bear carved from elm and a 'running fox' which was carved from a block of Yew in fact for the first year it was mostly simple one-piece wildlife wood carvings and then sat in the dentist waiting roof waiting a filling, I come across a black and white photograph in a magazine of Michelangelo’s marble masterpiece of ‘David’ The dentist receptionist kindly allowed me to keep the magazine and once again everything changed.
The last time I saw that image of the statue of David was three decades earlier as in my first year as a teenager when in art class our popular art teacher unfurled a much larger photograph of 'David' he had pinned to the classroom wall, much to much sniggering from the class as he explained what a real master at his art can achieve. Although I enjoyed his lessons I was also in playing both the school's football and cricket teams and if we had important matches coming up, art classes was the first lesson that took the hit for extra practice sessions, but his lessons about Renaissance art and the fine detail achieved were inspirational even for someone who' only real interested then was playing sport and riding the old 350cc Panther motorbikes my friend and I used to 'borrow' from his dad when he was working on there farm. Three decades later with my new second hand carving chisels, I decided to try and carve the human form and thought if you are going to start learning about carving the human form from someone you might as well start with the best.
I found the detail such masters, particularly Michelangelo's, achieved in their work most inspiring and I attempted to replicate the best I could with my very limited ability. The scale, detail and proportions used by Michelangelo in creating ‘David’. I thought I would try and make a copy of it as best I could at the time although I had only been carving for less than a year or so. With my newly discovered carving skills and a set of well used but perfectly adequate old wood gouges found at the back of the drawer in the drawer of a butcher's meat cutting band saw cabinet which was soon converted with a new blade to a wood bandsaw, I purchased at a local auction house. Particularly helpful to this ‘learning how to create a sculpture phase’ from within a solid block, was studying photographs of Michelangelo's unfinished sculptures I could use to try and get an idea at the early stage of how he created his masterpieces from within one solid block of marble. Working on these carvings particularly my ‘David’ were at the time only meant to be a carving exercise and nothing more and as far as ‘David’ was concerned if completed it could never be as expected to be anything more than a rather amateur copy of someone else's rather special creation. After studying carefully the black and white photograph from the magazine soon realised with lessons learnt during 1985 onwards, continue to create exceptional fine detail especially carving the plaster shoes and wax hands for a larger than life bronze statue two decades later.
‘David’ in Florence and David my unfinished rather amature ‘practice’ woodcarving
It was not only the fine detail Michelangelo constantly achieved in his work but also through research studied the technique and proportions especially for a large statue to be viewed from below. Apparently as David was intended to be views from below, it was carved with ‘eschewed ideal proportionally’ and he carved the head arms and hands much larger than the torso and legs to create the illusion that David is alert and poised for action and if these proportions and detail were good enough for Michelangelo it was good enough for me and all my future larger figures were carved using similar proportions and fine detail and although I new I was no Michelangelo, we do share the same birth sign.
At the time I only had the one black and white image of ‘David’ taken from the front to work from at the time, which is never ideal to try and get a likeness of anything especially in three-dimensions was unable to see the back view to finish it. But I had learnt all I needed to know at the time for a carving exercise so in 1995 although far from finished especially the detail with valuable carving lessons learnt this David carving was abandoned and simply forgotten about, but the detail and proportions of his sculptures especially for large sculptures to be viewed from below very useful for similar standing statue commissions I received which remained with me.
Particularly trying to emulate the very fine detail Michelangelo managed to achieve six centuries earlier initially in my wildlife sculptures in 1985 and then a few years later my human sculptures began to take over and continued to follow the detail and proportions Michelangelo achieve especially when I was working directly with clay, plaster and wax in which you can achieve even fine detail for the finished bronze sculptures. So much so two decades later in larger than life standing figures, especially with the statue up on a high plinth and as these shoes were at eye level so it was well worth all the late nights after carving such fine details right down to like the creases and stitching on the carved plaster and then molded bronze shoes.
Twice life size plaster shoes -The ‘Serengeti scene’ - 1985/6 (30 inches long unfinished)
The carved Serengeti Scene’ and ‘David’ were both started around 1985 was also being worked on and off for a further few years, but as both were merely training exercises and with lessons learnt they were abandoned unfinished and simply collecting dust at the back of the studio. My ‘practice’ ‘learning’ to carve ‘David’ was my first attempt at carving the human form which I started a year after I first started woodcarving and although it was never finished as commissions for my wildlife carvings started to arrive, having learnt a lot especially carving from one solid block just like Michelangelo did so well in marble. Years later I had the opportunity to actually see the David statue in full three dimensions for the first time or at least the plaster copy in Florence at the Piazza Vecchio in front of the Palazzo Vecchio and was finally able to see how a master carver really works just as my old art teacher at secondary school explained so well.
Most days over the weeks and months of the year I am to be found in overalls often working seven days a week and only stopping to go for a walk through the woods on to the shore and often watch the Cruise ships sailing past and in the early days wondering what it would be like to go on one and then years later spending over two decades sailing all over on several of them having been invited on board as a Guest speaker with Cunard. and then finding out. Or just visit family and friends and maybe deliver sculptures to London and Windsor, otherwise each day apart from the odd incident or accident on the way are pretty much the same which is how my wife Suzanne and I prefer it.
The wide variety of commissions for the past forty years in both subject and materials partially thanks to the internet are literally sent all over the world and as such I have been issued with my own Government Export number. For the past few years as needed, unless one particular sculpture is really urgent, I often found working on nine or ten totally different subjects and materials often at the same time, when creating the Crowns, Coronets and Crests for the annual Order of the Garter service and creating the all the Crests for the Order of the Bath service which is held every four years coincides. All are initially prepared/roughed out in what was once the garden shed/motorbike workshop, then in three totally separate studios and workshops and during the past thirty-two years and I’m often flitting from one sculpture and material to the other throughout the day and often into the night, where I am joined in the garden and also the studio by the local wildlife including squirrels, deer, foxes and badgers from the woodland adjoining my studio and often found wander around my studio whilst I am working.
At the end of the day for the most part it’s basically just me and a chisel but I like to keep busy so I like to pace myself and enjoy what I am doing, but still often end up having to turn down more commissions than I am able to accept. As I believed if someone was kind enough to commission a piece of my work, then call me old fashioned, perhaps somewhat naïve in the modern world, but I feel I should actually physically carve the original sculpture or master copy myself or at least as much of it as practical.
Possibly the most important thing of all to be a professional carver was to have an innate natural ability to see in three-dimension’s objects you were attempting to replicate something hidden away inside a block of timber or stone and when you do you can then simply remove the excess material surrounding the subject and nothing else, first time, every time and if you make a mistake and remove the wrong piece carving from a solid block of wood or stone, the piece is often ruined. Ian explained “With practice and care, actually releasing the chosen subject intact from deep within a block is not that difficult to do really, when in your mind’s eye you can literally see the finished object hiding deep inside the block. A natural gift of seeing things in three dimensions was obviously something I was born with and assumed everyone could do if they wanted to and some can, but it took a fire and 34 years of age for me to realise I could actually make a living from it and for almost forty years have done so.
Just a few examples of wooden sculptures trapped inside centuries old timbers finally being exposed to the light of day, within the first decade or so of carving. A rather useful natural gift in my particular line of work granted, but I would be the first to admit a pretty useless one as I have found when stranded in the middle of the countryside with your car bonnet going nowhere, as I am hopeless when it comes to fixing cars.”
Fortunately, I have always been able to work quickly even in my past life working in dockyards, building sites and factories but more so now being self-employed working for yourself for obvious reasons especially when you work from home and as such tend to always be ‘working’, but when Sue or the children wants to pop in for a chat or with a cup of tea the studio is literally two yards from the back door as obviously family time is equally important.
Our ‘holidays’ for the past twenty-five years despite having been very shy as a young child and teenager have mostly involved my giving a fully illustrated talk with Cunard about my work and experiences which I had been doing for Cunard since 1992 which is rather surprising really being a rather shy person most of my life rather enjoy doing so, I don’t use notes on my talks as proper speakers do as the many photos. I kind of say it all anyway and prefer not to use a podium, except to rest my laptop on. I also like to wear a singer’s head mike, as I tend to kind of stand on the stage waving my arms around a bit and lean against the podium or grimly hang on to if the sea is rough. I then just talk to the audience as if I am just chatting to my mates, albeit with the added advantage of being the only one with a microphone and no one else can get a word in edgeways.
My career was never planned although I studied electronics and worked on UK weapons systems and the Satellite programs in the late sixties to the mid-seventies and ended up an assistant engineer working 9 to 5 in a research lab in a large electronics company, with a good salary, pension, sick and holiday pay and when Bank Holidays really meant something, to then deciding in my mid twenties much to some of my families concern to go self-employed making furniture in my garden shed with none of the above advantages. It is always rather difficult to do as a freelancer, let alone an artist so trying to keep up with the commissions means I don’t get out much. That is why giving Talks with Cunard is one way of actually having to stop working, especially as it is only a 15-minute drive from my front door to the ship in Southampton dock. I can often hear the ships whistles as they sail down Southampton water, as our house and studio are only a few miles away as the crow flies. Apart from these trips I had been working on silver, bronze, wood, resin or silver sculptures literally almost without a proper break so a few years ago, decided to also work on my ‘Spirit of Britons’ collection which is being created entirely from old, once discarded, but often historical British objects and materials, I have collected over the decades, which I have been working on and off in my ‘spare time’.
What a difference a decade makes. In the mid-nineteen eighties trying to make a living displaying my wares from the back of my old van on a layby in the middle of nowhere with the children on the roof keeping lookout, to a decade later displaying my somewhat different wares from an old suitcase on the QE2 in the middle of the Ocean where further similarities with ‘Del Boy’ from ‘Only fools and horses’ hopefully ends.
My first set of wood carvings literally started being carved and stood amongst the ashes of my burnt-out furniture making business. These were all small carvings, including the first carvings I ever completed, a pair of dolphins and otter,
sea lion all carved from elm and running fox all carved from yew. My first exhibition of these wood sculptures in 1985 and were laid out on a highly varnished garden table in a layby in a country lane in the middle of nowhere, with Sue handing out our leaflets as the layby was close to a Craft show we could no longer afford the exhibition fee to set up a pitch in the show ground to sell our furniture, which was then mostly being made standing amongst the rubble of my burnt-out workshop, but close to the Show ground we were hoping to get some passing interest and soon did………
A decade later I found myself exhibiting my wood sculptures laid out on a blue velvet dining table laid in the Queens Room on the QE2 in the middle of the Ocean, with Sue giving out our sculpture postcards. Months later my sculptures were placed on display in various prestigious London Art galleries, Museums and in Henry V11’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey and St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. Working from my studio with most of my commissions being wildlife subjects in one form or another from several workshops I built in my back garden which backs onto a nature reserve in which Deer, Foxes and Badgers for decades have visited the garden and also inside my studio whilst I am working. Working from home as many have discovered since Covid, tends to mean you work longer hours as work that just needs to be completed appears to always be somewhere in your eye line, so going having a bit of a break thousands of miles away on a Cruise ship you would think would at least elevate that particular issue, which is exactly what my wife thought and it mostly does…….
However, occasionally when running late on a commission and when Sue wasn’t looking, I would often sneak a sculpture or two into the suitcase to work on throughout the voyage. On one occasion working in the cabin putting the finishing touches to a coronet destined for Windsor Castle. On another sat on a lounger on the sun deck on the QE2 in the shade of a lifeboat carving part of the Cunard Crest ‘master copy’ for her sister ship the Queen Victoria then being built in Italy. Or sat on a bench in the sun with a fellow passenger on a cruise on the now finished Queen Victoria, carving a white marble resin ‘master copy’ of a ‘Lion of England’ sculpture which the foundry was waiting to make a start on bronze limited-edition casting upon my return. Sat on a smart wooden bench on this small expensive piece of land the locals call home and we call Monaco or is it Monte-Carlo, another place so good they named it twice.
Monti Carlo, a town I had heard about from my son Scott who is one of the managers in a F1 World championship racing team. My being a proud Dad of three children and five grandchildren who have all coped surprisingly well knowing that their father and grandfather is a professional artist, when at school all their friends’ dads no doubt had proper jobs and despite it all, along with my son, my eldest daughter Jody works for the NHS and my youngest daughter Emma is a Civil servant. On a day trip’ to Monte Carlo, right in front of us were gleaming new Bentleys and Ferraris vying for a space to park on which for one day of the year is part of the famous racing track for the Monaco Grand Prix This narrow road nay race circuit which takes many weeks to prepare for race day and many weeks to dismantle again to store away afterwards for next time. Behind the line of very expensive cars is the small harbour where you can see even more expensive yachts also trying to park, alongside those much larger yacht costing many millions of pounds that have already managed to do so but still going nowhere including hopefully our much larger Ship Queen Victoria until we are safely back onboard, overshadowing them all carefully parked alongside whilst we slept. Sue and the passenger’s wife then decide to go shopping in this rather plush little town of Monaco or is it Monte-Carlo as we sit and watch both Ladies disappear into the throngs of other passengers all with similar looking dark sunglasses and large floppy hats clutching their handbags. Many other husbands and partners also sat outside the smart boutique awaiting their fate. Eventually both wives return with just a smile and a fridge magnet, but each with a story to tell..
The lion carving having been worked on all the time I sat there chatting away to my new best friend, just like my mother used to doing her knitting in the armchair, was then placed upon a small marble wall and I photographed the lion on holiday before placed into my grip along with the small carving knife and scalpel I had been using to detail the lion’s features, to no doubt once again confuse the ships security staff when they spot it on the ex-ray machine as we board the Ship, just as the gilded coronet placed inside the blue embossed ‘crown jewellers’ box I had recently completed for a Prince. We say our goodbyes and then go our separate ways but first decide whilst we are here to have a quick walk around town and the waterfront before eventually making our way back onto the ship for lunch and a sunbath and later as Sue prepares for dinner, I prepare my talk as the next day is at sea. Before looking forward to going to the Theatre but quietly also looking forward after yet another exhausting working trip to getting back home again for a well-earned rest.
The wide variety of around 350 sculpture commissions for the past three decades plus, are created in a variety of different materials, including wood, marble resin, silver and bronze and fortunately all go according to plan and completed on time, although to be fair I have never taken on any commission I wasn’t convincing I could do it real justice, but sometimes life can get in the way and one or two unfortunately didn’t work out as planned which will also be covered in this proposed Journal with equal vigour as both are sides of the same coin.
The wide variety of unique commissions during almost four decades have varied from creating in fine detail a sculpture of a Hawk originally carved from wood to be moulded and then cast in solid sterling silver. To spend almost a year carving from mahogany the starboard side entrance port on HMS Victory. Creating Coats of Arms and over one hundred and thirty Crowns, Crests and Coronets and a pair of Knight Swords for Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle. To create an eight feet high bronze statue of a Mute Swan protecting her Cygnets for Lakeland in Florida, along with creating from marble/resin sculptures such as this Knight in armour to be moulded and also cast in bronze.
Since 1989, I have been working exclusively on sculpture commissions for the royal household which tends to take an average of five months a year, every year, so it doesn’t leave a lot of time to work on other commissions let alone working on exhibition pieces. The last time I exhibited in an art gallery was in 1997 and since then many of my sculptures in both wood and bronze were partially put on the back burner for decades. For over thirty years as a professional sculptor, I have also been commissioned to create a wide variety of sculptures for both Private and Corporate clients, along with the one hundred and thirty plus unique sculptures for the British Royal Household. These commissions have included creating sculptures for over one hundred Knights, three British Prime Ministers, twenty-eight British and European Kings, Queens, Princes, Princesses, Earls, Lords and an Emperor, like you do…….
My wife Suzanne will also add to this particular section in places as we go along. Sue is one of the strongest willed, determined, patient and kindest people I have ever met and is usually unfazed outwardly anyway, through most off the ups and especially downs during the past four decades, but without her unwavering support things would have been so very different especially during the troubling times during the first decade or so with little money coming in and little prospects of that changing anytime soon. Particularly during my transition period from a professional carpenter to cabinet maker then through the trials and tribulations and financial problems to becoming a professional wood carver and sculptor. Sue never once asked me to get a proper job but I suspect on more than one occasion was rather tempted to do so.
She once said living with me during the past forty years has often been like her riding pillion on my motorbike going at high speed down the road, her not always really knowing where we are going and to be fair often I didn’t either. With her hanging on tightly around my waist through the whole experience, often with her eyes firmly shut, hoping for the best although still fearing the worst, but again that was something we both agreed upon as I really didn’t enjoy riding pillion at all. I did it once on my mates’ similar powerful motorcycle in the 1960’s at high speed down a twisty road as he gave me a lift home as my bike was in the garage. Never ever again, as if anything untoward was going to happen I always wanted to try and be in control as best I could and have mostly done so.
Apart from a few unfortunate moments such as when one such moment in November in 2016 when I was standing on stage in the Theatre on the Queen Mary 2 about to give a talk about my work as a professional sculptor when all this natural ability to carve, I had and a lot more, was gone in a flash when as I had a stroke which affected my vision and couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face but 45 minutes later managing to finish my Talk before being assisted of the stage and back to the cabin …. but that’s another story.
These past four decades of working for a living is often full of complete contradictions both in career, work life and home life which started in giving up a good safe career working in electronics to giving all that up to make furniture in my log cabin style shed for a living making furniture for the local community to giving all that up making sculpture for Royalty in the same shed. Then it often varied from one moment not getting out much working in my studio alongside the shed building up a collection of sculptures and once complete spent the next year d as artist in residence and doing many radio, TV and media interviews promoting the various exhibitions up and down the country and then not being in much.
Typical working days over the months and years for me as a professional wood carver and sculptor also working in resin, silver and bronze has varied from one day waving a chainsaw around like a sword trying to extract some inanimate object hiding away deep inside a massive log kindly gifted by the council as they were often trees blew down in storm in a woodland not so far away. On one occasion from a tree that literally weighed a ton created an eight feet high Bald Eagle that weighed considerably less when the Eagle was not so quietly awakened from where it laid for over a century by the deafening sound of a chainsaw I hired for a week and soon realised having never do anything like this before, it would take considerably longer.
But as I was unable to afford to hire the chainsaw for even a few days longer at the time. On Monday morning as I drove towards the hire company to return the chainsaw to the industrial estate in Hampshire, I could see thick black smoke rising in the direction of the tool hire company. The fire crews were damping down the burnt out remains of the tool hire company and speaking with the owner he asked "Would you mind hanging onto the chainsaw for a bit, as we obviously have a problem and I haven’t got anywhere to put it right now. It would be a real help”. Well, what can you do? The poor man was in trouble so you just have to try and help out! With the chainsaw back home again in a few days the eagle sculpture was fully roughed out and the chainsaw was put to one side awaiting its return and the carving chisels took over. Five months later the Eagle, all eight feet high wings unfurled, head up, eyes open and its beak agape. Emerged from where it has lain in the dark into the light.
The Eagle was then rather ignominiously towed on the back of an extra-long four wheeled newly hired trailer from one museum to another being pulled behind my estate car which although old and had seen better days, it always started first time and earned its keep. The Eagle stood fully fledged alongside HMS Victory for yet another ‘photo opportunity’ for a touring exhibition of my sculptures throughout the year organised by the museum service. Ironically enough a decade or so later, I would end up spending a year working on the Victory replacing the starboard side entrance port during its restoration program. In 1765 it took almost 7 years to build HMS Victory and over 250 years to restore it.
A year later as I thought it might be a good idea at the time spent almost seventeen years on and off in my ‘spare time’ created a 1;57 scale replica of the sole surviving 18th century ‘Ship of the Line’ entirely carved from the warship’s original centuries old oak timbers, that were initially dropped through an opening in the lower gun deck initially into awaiting skip below, during Nelson’s Flagships restoration program. With the beams deemed unrestorable were kindly donated by the Dockyard. It took seven years to build HMS Victory in 1865 and almost three times longer for me to build the HMS Victory replica. Today around 15% of the Nelson’s Victory is made from original Victory oak, whereas 100% of the replica is made from original Victory oak. In that case some might say, which Victory is the replica!
Another day could well involve staring in awe at the workings of the artisans in the art foundry as they once again turn your delicate Swan wood sculpture that might take many months to create and the weight of a couple of bags of sugar. Mould it and then transform the Swan into a limited-edition bronze sculpture you can barely lift. To then transform this virtually life size Mute Swan I carved a decade year earlier from within a centuries old lime tree that blew down in Storm winds in a field in Southern England. The Swan was then flown in a plywood crate I assembled on my drive, to an art foundry in the USA who cleverly enlarged it and then cast the Swan in bronze to be placed alongside a lake in Florida. Before shipping the almost life size Swan woodcarving back to the UK where it was then placed in storage alongside the life size Bald Eagle wood sculpture, the Victory Sculpture and a few other unique sculptures awaiting the right moment to appear again out of the dark into the light.
The original Swan carved from within a massive tree, moulded and then enlarged in bronze.
Or another day, packing other life size s bronze wildlife sculptures onto small ‘sack’ trucks and into well-worn suitcases having been booked in as a ‘guest speaker’ for the umpteenth time on a ‘trip of a lifetime’ one of Cunard’s magnificent Ships for a working holiday being the epitome at the time of a so called ‘starving artist’ meant we would be unable to afford and if a members of the family wanted to come along for the ride to also enjoy the five-star service, laying out on the sun deck watching the sea go by getting a tan, whilst I was standing on the stage in the spotlight, watching the slides go by earning our keep.
Having been invited by Cunard all expenses paid to fly to New York, to join the QE2 and sail the Atlantic back home to Southampton, just by give a fully illustrated talk simply about what I do for a living and how it all came about which to be fair is not really that difficult to do. The weeklong trip also gave us all free food and lodging for the week as we arrived at JFK airport with just a hundred dollars in my pocket for the cab to the docks, along with a credit card that stopped working months earlier as we were still desperately trying to recover from the financial implications of a new career and enforced banking change several years earlier but although almost arriving late at the dockside but still in the nick of time, as we nearly missed the boat……. but that yet another story……...
Further Trips as a guest speaker from 1992 – 2019 has fortunately been far less fraught and averaged around two sometimes three trips a year most years, sailing the seven seas and a few Oceans thrown in which have varied from four to twenty seven day trips there and back most of which ordinarily we could not have afforded at the time without my speaking for my supper. Sailing as far north as Iceland and as far south as Madeira and the Canaries Isles. As far east as Greece and as far west as the USA. Along with many trips inbetween to Russia and most of Europe that had a Port large enough to dock a massive luxury passenger Ship. In fact, in almost every country that we were able to travel there and back within thirty days. We even had a day trip to New York and back on the QE2 once as we no longer fly to join or leave a ship anymore since the first trip in 1995. Nothing to do with Cunard or the airline who has always played their part exceptionally well, it was basically my not thinking it through and allowing enough time for the transfer from the aircraft to the QE2 in a place I have never been to before. Although I did manage to get it right all the other times as the Ship was always more just a 20 minute drive from our front door and we just left the car close to the Ship where it was always waiting for us upon our return……...
Another day was getting up before the milk to drive the 120 odd miles to deliver a sculpture or three for an exhibition in an art gallery or museum, which took years to create which all should all going well take according to the map would take too much of the day getting there and back in another trusty but often rusty estate car. Then driving to London for an exhibition in Art galleries before the commuters get up decide to do the same thing and often get lost on the way wondering why the place you're looking for always appears to be in the crease of your A to Z and just wishing someone would invent the Sat-Nav. I was just a country boy having an exciting day out in the big city not really knowing where I was going but giving it a good crack at finding out, but my navigation skills were as always left wanting and it appeared people following behind were beginning to notice.
I had been invited to exhibit my mostly large bronze wildlife sculptures then in Mayfair’s rather prestigious area of town and had been told and was due to get to the gallery by 9.00 am so I didn’t want to be late. I have never driven to London before and for me it was all one big adventure, far away from the small quiet world I have inhabited for the past 50 years, living in a village which was mainly known for yachting where getting a mooring on the Hamble River is always a premium. Also once known for growing strawberries where the huge strawberry field is now just a large green field to walk your dog and have a seat and watch the visiting yachts sail up and down looking for somewhere to park. Also known for fishing and still has a neat row of fisherman’s cottages built along the front of the river now owned by people who don’t fish. The village once help build Ships for Nelson’s Fleet and the trees planted centuries ago grown for the thriving shipbuilding industry for boats yards long closed, but life goes on as these very trees are still thriving at the bottom of my back garden as part of the forest through which is just and short walk away is the sea and the Isle of White just a few nautical miles away, so I suspect London is going to be a massive culture shock, but at least I was getting out.
This was to be my first outing of the 6 feet high bronze ‘Osprey catching a Pike’ a 5 feet high Swimming Otter along with its stable mate a similar size bronze Leaping Panther and a virtually life size Mute ‘Swan protecting her Cygnets’ along with several smaller wood and bronze sculptures all carefully crammed into the back and front of my estate car so there was no room for Sue my normal navigator, as there was a life size bronze swimming otter in her front seat with half of its long tail and left leg hanging out of the wound down window. Inside the car wasn’t a lot better as there were large and small sculptures everywhere all neatly packed inside filling every space apart from the driver’s seat which I suppose I would require. The car wasn’t quite long enough for the life size Osprey laying down and ended up with half of the Osprey’s long pair of slender wings hanging out of the back of the car and the now padded tail gate roped down partially resting on its wings. But we were good to go with the first large wildlife bronzes I have ever produced off to the big city for their first exhibition along with their hapless often lost driver from the sticks, wishing he was back home again.
After over an hour’s drive along the A3 until that particular road ran out and found myself on a new much busier road just a few miles from my intended destination in the centre of London Mayfair, as the rush hour traffic finally caught up and starts to form a convoy behind me with drivers who actually know where they were going, if only they could get past that slow driver with mud all over his wheel arches and a ‘Welcome to the New Forest’ sticker stuck in his rear window, who to his horror suddenly realise the left turn he had drawn on the piece of paper stuck to the car dashboard with gaffer tape the night before, turns out to be yet another No Entry and as had to try and pull over to work out the next move; don’t you just hate it when that happens. Then the oh so familiar chorus of car horns once again starts up again from exasperated drivers stuck behind me and my artwork having a a day out when just for a moment it sounds like I am no longer lost in the centre of London in the rush hour, but back in Rome at any time; one of my favourite places.
Somehow, despite my best efforts to navigate I arrived at a left turn that existed and I could go actually drive down and slowly did so when the car that had been tailgating me for most of the last mile but probably put off getting any closer by the image of two feet or so of metal wings hanging out the back of my car, tooted his horn and waved, or I think he waved as I turned left and he didn’t as I actually made it onto the right road near to the gallery first time. One of life’s little miracles but oh so very welcome, although I had to stop on double yellow lines near to the gallery as there was a van parked right outside with a couple of guys sitting inside eating their breakfast or something, chatting away.
I was warned by the gallery owner that traffic wardens patrol the area and to keep your eye out for them. I have never seen one in real life before as there would not be a lot of call for traffic wardens in my neck of the woods, but thought they cannot be all that bad as the Beatles made a great song about one of them. But I had heard stories. Then to my horror in the rear mirror I spotted one of these very species all in black with an ominous yellow line around the cap I was warned about, patrolling my way. What to do. If I did a runner, I would probably never find my way back again especially as I wasn’t sure how I managed to get here the first time around anyway, so I remained rooted firmly to the spot still parked on top of the double yellow lines, awaiting my inevitable fate.
The smartly dressed but very official looking lady stopped, looked at me and then inside the car packed with much of my life’s work, both half in and half outside the car and said “I suppose you can see the yellow lines” I said yes sorry about that, but I need to unload these sculptures into the gallery over there but there’s a Van parked in the space outside. Without saying a word, she took her heavy looking notepad full of parking tickets out of her black bag as I began to wondered what a parking ticket in Mayfair of all places was going to cost and do you get any discount for cash, not that I had any as I used the last to fill the car up.
The warden then walked over to the Van and its occupants who were still happily chatting away, stopped and tapped her heavy pad on the driver’s window and said something to the driver inside and the Van was off. Not quite with screeching tyres and leaving a cloud of white smoke behind, but pretty much. The Traffic warden then calmly walked back to me, smiled and said, “my circuit usually takes an hour” I thanked her and then in but a moment later she was gone as was and I in much less than an hour I was unloaded and back in the car and out of there. Back to the land where trees, not traffic dominate the horizon, where even the air smells different especially in the cow’s field nearby and getting caught in a tail back is usually down to a tractor pulling a combined harvester. Where strangers apologize to you if you accidentally bump into them in the village store and smile and say good morning when you pass them in the street and a place where traffic wardens might wish to retire.
The exhibition at the London gallery which fortunately went really well and was oh so different from my first art exhibition with my small wildlife wood carvings on top of a purpose made shelf unit I made to set them out placed on a solid elm garden table set out in a layby alongside our old Transit van, with the children on the roof keeping lookout. Just a few hundred yards from a Craft Show we didn’t have any spare cash for us to exhibit inside at the time, hoping for some passing interest, we soon did. At lunch time we were all in the back of the Van with Sue making a hot lunch on the camping stove when a policeman poked his head around the open back door and simply said, “You shouldn’t be here should you.” I said “Sorry about that we will pack it all up and be on our way” he then said “We will be back in four hours, make sure your gone” and then drove away leaving us to finish our lunch which was great as we then still had three and a half hours ‘trading’ but still made sure we didn’t return to the same layby next time but still reassured with the knowledge that most people on this small green and blue planet we all live on together are rather kind and helpful when they can despite what we may have heard to the contrary.
I contacted various craft show organizers and offered to give a carving demonstration alongside my furniture and carving display instead of an exhibitor’s entrance fee, which proved rather successful for all concerned and the next exhibition ended up on the grass in a large craft tent actually inside the Craft Show giving a carving demonstration and talking to the visitors, which I enjoyed doing anyway which not only gave us free access to all the craft shows but didn’t lose any time whilst exhibiting, as I could simply get on carving something, I could hopefully sell at the next craft show. These exhibitions during the next decade progressed from Craft shows to Museums as well as being invited to exhibit in a number of major Department stores in London and even on one occasion in a private exhibition at Garrards the Crown Jewellers in Mayfair. Along with being exhibited in historic Stately Homes and on one charity event ended up exhibiting a large collection of ‘Birds of Prey’ sculptures on the top of the wings of a WW2 Supermarine Spitfire in a RAF museum in Kent. In 1990 the museum service also toured a large collection of my wood sculptures in various museums throughout the year.
Craft Show - Stately Home - Major Department store in London - RAF Museum - Mall gallery
To then exhibit in a room not quite so private near the Aviary in London Zoo with birds of prey flying around inside. To the Queens room near the Lido on the QE2 where the floor wasn’t always rock steady especially transiting Biscay, with sea birds flying around outside. Another of my sculpture exhibitions was in Burlington House; Home of the Royal Academy of Arts whilst I was giving a talk and the next in St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle; Home of HM the Queen and within a decade I was also exhibiting in various museums across the country and various art Galleries across London. Just over a decade after discovering I could actually carve for a living, I decided to stop exhibiting anywhere apart from a few museums with my last exhibition in an art gallery was in the ‘Mall Gallery’ in London just a few hundred yards from Buckingham Palace. A long way to travel from my original small exhibition of wood carvings a decade earlier all set out on one of my garden tables in a layby deep in the English countryside with the children sat on the roof keeping lookout and Sue or I depending on who’s turn it was, inside the Van cooking lunch on a camping stove and then some of our next exhibitions were set out on silk covered dining room tables in the resplendent Queens room aboard the QE2 whilst dinner was being prepared for us by some of the worlds finest Chefs below us.
Finally, after a decade of many successful and not quite so successful exhibitions where the sculptures didn’t always see the night out, or in a wide variety of venues up and down the land and also way out at sea. Then as commissions kept me so busy, having stopped exhibiting in art galleries and as I no longer needed to promote such events, around two decades ago I also stopped giving press interviews apart from one or two and totally dropped out of all such arty activities apart from being rather honoured to be invited to open one or two art groups and exhibitions which in my early days I would not have dared to apply to join let alone feel worthy to exhibit in. I was also honoured to be asked to give a talk about my work early on in my career as a professional wood carver at a group meeting of a guild of woodcarvers who actually knew what they were doing and having never bothered with the social media thingy and just concentrated on working on commissions as that was my job, alongside some of my own projects that was creating sculptures for the future from historic materials reclaimed from the past.
As my wood sculptures and bronze master copies are for the most part handmade and created in very fine detail, they often take time to complete, despite the fact I have always been able to work quickly and often a ten-hour day every day when required . Particularly in the case of my large wood sculptures which often start using a tree surgeon's chainsaw and finishing with a conventional surgeon’s scalpel. Along with using a wide variety of other tools and machines in between although at one point I still had a two-year waiting period for my work which in the early days I wished I could have afforded to buy and as such were only on display in the lounge until they found a more permanent home by someone that could.
One day I would be getting up before the milkman to drive to a parkland in the middle of nowhere to create a ten feet high Bald Eagle from between the fork of a centuries old lime tree that blew down in Storm winds just to see if I could do it, although I didn’t really have the time to try. The Eagle in flight was always inside the massive tree trunk and it just took a chainsaw I hired, wearing safety equipment my brother-in-law kindly brought me for Christmas and five days working on site turning the massive tree weighing a ton into a roughed-out Eagle shape that two passing strangers and me could just about lift into the back of my car. Working from dawn to dusk with a chainsaw in freezing cold weather and I hate the cold, often with the progress being closely observed by a trio of male dog walkers before they go to work and later in the evening upon their return. One morning midweek when I had carved away as much of the trunk as I could see and all three of the gentlemen kindly agreed to help me lift and roll over the massive tree trunk that weighed the same as my car, to then enable me work on the other side to reduce the weight to enable me to put it in the back of it.
All three dogs were tied up to tree that obviously had stronger roots than the trees that blew over days earlier and between the four of us all holding a part of the massive trunk, decided the best way would be to take the strain and together on the count of three lift the really heavy tree trunk way up, briefly pause and then lift it higher and then roll it right over onto its other side, simple you would have thought, well I did, but not for everyone it would appear got the memo.
We each took a deep breath and taking the strain to lift the immovable object from whence it lay all originally part of the master plan, when someone went on two, who goes on two, no one goes on two, except perhaps one overeager volunteer who quickly called out oops sorry, but now with the log completely imbalance it came crashing back down to earth with such a bang which frightened the life out of us grownups and also set the dogs off but fortunately not the dog owners and we tried again. This time we all went on three in unison like a well-oiled machine and the immovable object rolled over and quietly lay there, as per plan and photo two, shown below. The next morning, I was once again up bright and early standing on top of the log with the chainsaw trying to work out where the other half of the eagle was now positioned underneath the log to make sure I didn't cut the wrong bit of the eagle off and continued working creating something from nothing. Alas these three wise men from afar, my new brothers in arms with their dogs loyally alongside them. These very same men who had been watching me create the Eagle in kit form, with great interest, every day from day one, were never to be seen again… strange that.
Five months later the eagle wood sculpture was finished, bleached and stained and having started life growing up in the dark in a parkland in the middle of nowhere, just created as a bit of a challenge, at one point ended in the middle of a reed bed closer to home for an ambitious photographer for yet another a photo opportunity and then spent a year on exhibition being toured around various Museums prior to being sold for a five-figure sum to a businessman for his company reception and eventually being placed on display at one end of his massive swimming pool at his luxury home.
A few decades later having decided I would never carve another one, was fortunately able to purchasing it back for a series of exhibitions planned in the future but, in the end didn’t have the time and energy to do so and my being nothing if not inconsistent, eventually the Eagle found itself once again motionless in the dark having been placed along with many others in storage in the middle of somewhere, where it remains today as part of my potential ‘Retrospective Collection’ will include the ‘Spirit of Britain’s’ ‘Touch a piece of History’ collection consisting of over thirty totally unique sculptures created using a wildly diverse collection of old once discarded materials and transforming often old, original, historic and iconic British objects and materials into sculpture form. All relative in one way or another to its original source often using materials rescued in one form or another and often from one skip or another.
Although I stopped exhibiting in art galleries in 1997 somehow finding the time, I have spent many weeks each year working alongside commissions on my potential ‘Retrospective Collection of over forty pieces which include the first two woodcarvings I ever finished. In my enforced down time, the first two items I ever turned on a hospital wood turning lathe whilst recovering from crush injuries and the first paintings I produced as a teenager which was of racing motorbikes painted on two sheets of A3 paper with both arms in plaster whilst recovering from a motorbike accident and three decades later the prototype of the first Crown I ever produced commissioned by the royal household and several other prototypes and original carved ‘master copies’ used for moulding and casting in bronze. Along with a selection of both large and small early and more recent wood and bronze sculptures.
This unique collection has also been created from a wide variety of materials from many different periods in British history, created from objects, millions of years apart. More recently from a 1940’s Spitfire when the Nation was undergoing great peril; to the Jurassic period when the Nation was undergoing great change. Although throughout this often-traumatic period within the British Isles the original function for this material has long gone but its history and enduring Spirit within remains intact. It was once said by Michelangelo with marble but is the same for wood’ the sculpture was always inside the marble, it simply required releasing by the artist’
the remains of one old oak beam removed from the burnt timber from the roof of
St Georges’ Hall in Windsor Castle in 1992. Almost a thousand years have
passed since this original oak beam was being worked on by a craftsman
building the roof for St George’s Hall and as a former roofer in my teens,
sixty years later having split open the same old roof beam was able to carve an
image of ‘St George Slaying a Dragon’ on one half of the oak beam. The
other half has the concave mirror image and the beam still closes up again,
giving the impression it was always in the tree, which of course it was.
Another relief carving from timbers from the Windsor fire was a scene of the fire which was carved from within one of a 17 century Knight of the Garter now burnt wooden shield that was once placed on the walls of St George’s Hall. ' A View from the Redoubtable’ is carved from original pieces of oak removed from an oak frame from Lord Nelson’s Flagship HMS Victory hull during the restoration program in the 1990’s. This bas-relief carving was one of a pair of proposed carved Victory oak ‘Trafalgar scenes’ started in the early 1990’s. The other Trafalgar scene depicting the Fleet in the distance was placed on display in the Royal Naval Museum for a decade and then displayed on Victory’s middle gun deck for a further decade. The original long copper nail has been left in position exactly as it had been hammered into the Victory’s oak frame to attach oak hull side planking by the shipwrights when the Victory was being built in the 18th century by men of Kent having since been carved by another man of Kent over two and a half centuries later.
Something apparently in today's world of three D printers which could potentially make carvers and sculptors going the way of Dodo’s and hot metal press printers of old, when rather quaintly sculptures were once created by hand with a chisel and mallet and has taken many months to do so when it would appear can now be made overnight whilst you sleep. Although I like to think there will always be people that spend many a year creating a small model town or the Houses of Parliament or a Battleship from matchsticks, or indeed to carve a replica of a Ship of the Line in full sail all carved from original timbers removed from the Ship it replicates, both of which would take a rather complex printer and a lot longer than overnight to create a replica especially the Victory with all its carved ropes and rigging using its original centuries old Victory oak.
Other sculptures have been created entirely from combining original material from two of the most iconic British Weapons of War. Nelson’s Flagship HMS Victory and an original armoured laminated glass armoured windscreen removed from a damaged 1940’s Supermarine Spitfire set in an oak frame carved from original Victory oak. Having always rather enjoyed the challenge of working with such old materials which might otherwise be simply disposed of but an attempt to once again create something from nothing.
One day I might be working all hours in my studio as usual wearing overalls that had seen better days whilst creating the carved and painted Crest for Sir Edmund Hillary; the first man to climb mount Everest who first kindly sent me from his home in New Zealand a photograph of Sir Edmund holding the ice axe he climbed Everest with to replicate for his Knights Crest. At the same time, I was also creating the gilded Coronet for Margaret Thatcher; The first female British Prime Minister. Who had both been awarded the Queen's highest personal honour to be appointed as a Lady and Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter and I was commissioned to create symbols in three -dimensions of their high achievements in real life. Namely there Coronet and Crest to be placed above there stall (seat) in St Georges’ Chapel Windsor Castle.
Another day working on the commission to create the Royal Crest for HRH Prince William; The Duke of Cambridge which was being carved alongside the 1/57 scale Victory sculptures. carved from the original Victory oak, which has taken on and off almost 17 years to do so just because it hasn't been done before, although to be fair properly for a good reason!
Next I was delivering in the boot of my car Prince William's royal Crest and Sword along with Sir Edmund Hillary’s Crest and Margaret Thatcher’s Coronet to be placed above their Stalls (seats) in the Chapel where they sit during the historic medieval Order of the Garter service. Along with the over seventy different Crests Coronets and Crowns, I have been commissioned to also be placed in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle during the past thirty plus years. A few weeks later having kindly been invited to Windsor Castle to attend the medieval ceremony with HM The Queen installing the Latest Ladies and Royal Knights of the Order of the Garter having now smartened up wearing a neatly cleaned and pressed morning suit hired for the Day.
Another day I might be found taking a bit of a break from working in the studio under a large skylight when the sun shines and a row fluorescent lighting when it doesn’t hold a razor-sharp chisel in one hand and a heavy wooden mallet in the other both working together in complete harmony creating a realistic wildlife sculpture replicating a creature I have never seen in real life. In contrast to some other commissions such as sculptures of Deer, foxes and badgers often to be found wandering around my garden and inside my studio, whilst I am working with these wild animals being close enough to touch. Wild yes but not really wild in the angry sense, well not even slightly miffed really, but I still dare not risk it. The commission on this occasion was to carve a realistic life size badger for a client to be placed in his lounge at his home in Kent. To the next creating a somewhat smaller white and blue carved and painted badger for the royal household to be placed upon a medieval Knights helmet in Windsor Castle. Both whilst the real thing was quite happily wandering around the studio which left no excuses for my not getting it correct.
Often having a bit of a break away from it all quietly sat on a stool outside my studio on this occasion getting a bit of fresh air waiting for my newly poured marble/resin creation to slowly harden before I start to trim the excess resin away. When I heard noises away in the darkness as something large appeared to be moving my way from the forest beyond the back fence and down the alleyway between the house and studio. It would appear from the ensuing commotion a trio of some of Britain’s larger creatures of the night appeared to be having a bit of a domestic.
Three badgers then arrived out of the darkness and into the light of the security lights and cameras stopping just a few feet away from where I was sitting minding my own business but now, I would appear to be about to become involved in theirs. Unperturbed the trio of furry creatures were still ‘talking’ to each other with low intermittent growling sounds just like our dogs used to make play fighting and just like our daughters’ dogs still does today, all whilst I was trying to be nonchalant about the whole thing and not getting involved in a domestic as I staring aimlessly right over their heads as if I hadn’t noticed anything. The sow badger ‘Patch’ yes, we do have names for most of our visitors from their homes in the Forest looking up at me, opened her mouth and resumed growling again with the same undulating sounds. Stopped and quickly restarted the conversation for a few more minutes as the other two badgers quietly looked on at us both. It felt like they were almost waiting for me to say something, anything, awkward; But alas my badger is a tad rusty and instead made a grab for the tub of bird nuts I keep nearby as a standby for such moments and quickly scattered a handful around in front of them which they eagerly tucked into.
Once the peanuts were gone the boar badger and his younger family member moved off looking for richer pickings elsewhere as both badgers were quickly replaced by a hungry Vixen waiting in the wings having arriving quietly from the garden beyond, both now shamelessly eying up the kitchen door I had inadvertently left wide open with a badgers welcome mat in the entrance when to my horror the sow badger turned and casually walked right past me and over the mat without a backward glance on through the open door closely followed by the Vixen quietly following the badger’s tail, as the badger continued to walk into the kitchen following her nose.
It would appear now both these wild creatures of the night were now about to break one of Sue’s strictest rules. “Your little furry friends can visit you in the garden and studio as much as you like but they are Not allowed in the house, Especially the kitchen”. Yeh, I know, I know, but them are the rules. I therefore suspect one of us was now in real trouble and I fear it wouldn’t be the one with the short furry legs, long claws and black and white facial hair, closely followed by her red-haired wingman in hot pursuit. Well, what to do!
I was mesmerised and froze on the stool like you would, still sat there anxiously watching everything almost in slow motion unfolding right before my eyes in a scene rarely seen on any recording of a David Attenborough wildlife film, then playing live straight from the wild and then in my kitchen as the badger and fox in close pursuit, started to casually stroll across the kitchen floor without a care in the world unlike there concerned observer sitting just feet away as the distinctive sound of sharp claws taping a tune on the hard flooring as the badger to my horror then turned left and started to make her way slowly and now silently down the hallway carpet towards the lounge where Sue would no doubt be sitting quietly watching the television, still waiting for the cup of tea I promised her ages ago, totally oblivious to the fact she was about to have an unexpected visitor join her, maybe two..........
Although these creatures of the night know me well and quite rightly see me as totally harmless and a bit of a soft touch really especially when they have their young with them and there are peanuts and the remains of the Sunday roast around and take no notice of me if there aren’t, as they are often found wander around my studio whilst I am working. But although Sue does know the badgers and foxes, but not to talk to, so I fear it might all be a bit of surprise all round when they all unexpectedly meet up and who do you think will get all the blame………well me of course……….
The next showing HM The Queen's daughter Princess Anne the relief carving commissioned for my local Church just before I make a start on creating the Princess’s coronet which was later delivered to Windsor Castle.
Princess Anne The Princess Royal along with the finished village scene and the Princess’s coronet
The next day out I could well be driving up to Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle on a journey I have made so many times during these past thirty-three years delivering sculptures commissioned by the royal household all so very much different than the ones I delivered the year before. Driving up to the magnificent Henry V111 gate to Windsor Castle and noticed the royal standard was flying high on the round tower signifying Her Majesty was in residence. I stopped close up to the solid steel bollards that once again had blocked my progress into the castle when I was approached by a police officer on duty holding a clipboard with my name and car registration neatly printed on it. Once the usual security checks were completed, he smiles wished me a good day as the bollards that had once blocked my progress slowly disappears into the ground enabling me to drive through the massive stone entrance and under the huge heavy looking portcullis that has helped kept undesirables out of the castle since the Middle Ages. Then driving past one of the rather sterner looking but equally smartly dressed police officers, this time touting a semi-automatic rifle in his hands and a buttoned-down revolver on his hip which is the rather more modern way of doing such things.
The armed officer kindly steps out of my way and allows me to drive right into the castle grounds where I park up in my usual place to unload my sculptures, just before the castle opens for visitors. As I got out of my car, I remembered Sue rather reassuring words as I left home exactly one hour and 20 minutes earlier, that I had scrubbed up rather well now wearing a smart jacket that don’t often see the light of day all completely out of place to my normal comfortable working attire in the studio wearing often dusty, paint and glue covered overalls that do all with hardly a smart tie or shinny shoes to be seen anywhere.
I was relieved to observe as I opened the boot the two large sculptures along with the gilded coronet recently created for HM The Queen’s daughter, Princess Anne, The Princess Royal had survived the journey despite what felt like there was is a bump in every road which feels like it’s often the case when I am carrying months of often fragile sculptures in the back from my front door to the Castle's entrance and was relieved to see they remained unscathed. I stood there holding the Princess Royal’s gilded Coronet and watched a troop of immaculately dressed soldiers of the Queens guards, an image straight from the tourists’ posters of London, briskly marching up the hill towards me when I also notice an unsuspecting tourist first through the gates, as the castle had just opened for visitors, runs up castle hill and immediately stops right in front of the briskly marching soldiers, to try and take a quick selfie, but soon moves out of the way, selfie less, as the troop of soldiers continue their unstoppable march past me up castle hill towards the royal apartments, to relieve their comrades at attention on sentry duty outside the royal apartments.
Another day might be sharing a glass of wine in Windsor castle with HM The Queen discussing one of my latest such commission just one of the one hundred and thirty plus such sculptures for Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle which on that particular occasion on St George’s day at the Castle, was to create the gilded royal crest for the Queen's grandson Prince William the Duke of Cambridge, similar to the design I had created years earlier for the Queens two sons; the Duke of York and the Duke of Wessex, along with creating the coronet for her daughter Princess Anne the Princess Royal; like you do.
Prince Williams completed Royal Crest – the two similar Crests for the Duke of York and The Duke of Wessex being delivered to Windsor Castle along with the Coronet for the Princess Royal.
all of this and oh so much more was yet to come, as this history and colour was in the future and first it would appear in 1984 Sue and I would have to first suffer all the worries, indignities and vagaries of life just like many of us from many different continents in many different forms tend to have to go through at some point or another as
these things are sent to test us apparently. I had been busily working away in my old workshop, one of over a dozen small independent business start-ups in several old buildings in a former mushroom growing business on a small piece of land between two villages in southern Hampshire. Days later one of them, my cabinet making business burnt down and overnight and everything changed.
On the 7th May 1984 watching the dawn rise as I stood amongst the blackened still warm glowing rubble of my now destroyed furniture and machinery with the pungent damp smell left by the firefighter’s hose amongst the now damp burnt out remains of my furniture making business lying around everywhere. If I had could have seen two decades into the future l that as a direct consequence of my inability to fill in my business insurance renewal form correctly and as a direct consequence, I would manage to achieve things which I never once realised I would ever be capable off, in my then uncharted new world as a sculptor and woodcarver to the British Royal Household. However, if I had managed to renewed my insurance correctly like I had done so many times before in the past with the insurance I would have simply replaced my machines, tools and timber and simply moved into the new workshop I was planning to do anyway and would most likely never have carved anything, and over three hundred plus sculptures I had created since would most likely never have existed.
Discovering I no longer had insurance and all I had to work with two large stacks of seasoning Cedar wood although caught in the fire which was relatively undamaged enabled me to still make some simple pieces of furniture now with hired hand tools in my garden shed just as I started a decade earlier along with some larger blocks of timber stored under cover in the back garden and half a dozen carving chisels that were left in the garage along with the will, determination and necessity to try and rebuild my business in some form or another. It was now simply all about financial survival and just trying to get through the day and often through the night. I was then also on the lookout for a new ex-bank manager with a lot of optimism, patience and the willingness to take over my overdraft.
This particular event later turned out to be the first of many strange and unexpected turning points during the following thirty plus years, on a journey I had no intentions of going on were it not for the workshop fire. Although unbeknown to me at the time many of these various vital stepping stones had already been laid in my earlier years including as they say many character-building opportunities as a young child and looking back in hindsight although all the signs were there, I still didn’t see it coming but felt maybe I should have.
The foundations of my career as a sculptor really started as an eighteen-year-old barely out of school when I was badly injured after being knocked off my motorcycle by a Van that didn’t see me coming and was unable to work for over a year. But with the compensation I received for my injuries and loss of earnings two years later it enabled me to buy a house which I never would have afforded to do otherwise. Although many of my friends at the time suggested I use the money to have a great holiday and a top of the range music centre, maybe buy an expensive sports car along with a replacement motorcycle the list was endless with all the normal things a typical teenager who now had more money than sense might do and could have afforded them all. But instead put the compensation into buying a new house with a big garden along with a new motorbike, which my mother said at the time was the first sensible thing I ever did, apart from buying another motorbike.
I purchase the house as a twenty year-old with little real experience living in the real world and had never lived on his own before which would a decade later assist my transformation from an assistant electronics engineer initially working on contracts for the M.O.D, into a professional wood carver and sculptor for Royalty which actually all started almost ‘Phoenix like’ on the day of the fire, as the first series of woodcarvings I ever completed literally started life standing amongst the ashes of my burnt-out carpenter’s workshop with whatever tools I could muster at the time, working all hours out in all weathers amongst and standing upon the remains of my former workshop which the previous day had all the standard but vital amenities going for it. Power for heating, lighting and to run the dozen or so heavy three phase woodworking machines, along with tools, timber, a radio and somewhere to plug the kettle in for the obligatory cup of tea, sandwiches and pot noodles. In fact, all you would expect in a busy workshop with necessary luxuries like walls and a roof. To the next day working in the same spot with none of the above vital essentials, especially walls and a roof.
But life and work go on and on with power tools hired from down the road and electricity kindly borrowed from my neighbour until it got too dark to safely see what I was doing. As I had orders lost in the fire to replace, along with an overdraft to maintain normally rather patiently being overseen by my local bank manager who since the fire had been bypassed and was now carefully being monitored by the bank’s head office who quickly lost patience and was soon to requested I take my overdraft elsewhere and then having to try and find a new bank manager to take it over.
Standing in the rubble of burnt-out once expensive efficient machines from the past trying to clear a space to work from in the future standing in the middle of a pile of burnt blackened timbers which a few days earlier was an expensive almost completely paid for solid oak fitted kitchen which the customer was admiring just weeks earlier now waiting for it to be delivered and fitted in his home, once I had fitted the remaining mahogany units of a J Class yacht, also now lost in the fire. When a car pulled up alongside me, the driver wound down the window and simply said, “It wasn’t in there was it?”. Standing as I was on his kitchen's blackened burnt out remains, I told him it was. but not that I was actually standing on what was left of it. I then explained the difficulties I was having from the bank, but quickly said I would start to replace the kitchen as soon as possible. But still acutely aware of the reality of the situation, I no longer had insurance and the kitchen which he had virtually paid for in full, was finished, polished and ready for delivery and installation but now literally burnt to ashes and going nowhere anytime soon.
The gentleman parked his car up and eventually got out and walked towards me with a piece of paper in his hand which I thought might be the contract and confirmation of the stage payments already he had paid for my building his kitchen. But it was a cheque for £1000 and said “I hope this helps keep the bank off your back for a while. We can wait for the kitchen” Now there was a person I had known for just a few months who through his thoughtful, nay generous actions had saved the day with a cheque which would enable me to buy some time with the bank who I had known for a decade, who’s was head office was now trying to do the complete opposite. …………
The priority was now to try and find a new bank manager who hadn’t see me coming with a lot of optimism, patience, and the willingness to allow me an overdraft and loan to basically enable me to provide power tools and materials of my trade to continue making furniture I had orders for. But now distinctly lacking a workshop with walls, electricity and especially a roof. I had managed to make three appointments with different bank managers on the same day which you could easily do in the 1980’s. The appointments were spaced out between 10.00am and 3.00 pm hoping I would be able to cancel two of them. I started trekking up and down the high street in my smart cloths and shiny shoes like a traveling salesman with nothing to sell and not knowing when my stock would be available even if I did have any and the only thing, I had to offer was a full order book half of which was mostly paid for but was then lost in the fire and was going to have to be the first orders to be replaced now effectively for free. In a workshop with no walls or roof and no woodworking machines, tools or timber to make them with, even if I had a power supply to plug them all into. But I did have an impressive full-colour furniture portfolio from furniture past all built in happier, more productive times neatly placed in a folder. So, how difficult could that be……...
Well, a lot more difficult than you would think, as some of the bank interviews lasted longer than the others but the results were the same but there was always another day in another town with a completely reworked sales pitch. On the negative side I still had a bank overdraft that needed rehoming and let's face it that’s what banks do, well most of them anyway but having always been a jar is half full, optimistic type of person which is pretty much a given for anyone self-employed person and I still had my insert in good old yellow pages to help with orders and a new phone which was amazingly quickly installed by a friendly BT engineer fixed to the only wall still standing upright. A phone that I could easily unplug again to take home overnight and soon enough when the phone rang and the potential customers I had never met before arrived at my workshop which admittedly now looked a lot different in real life than described in yellow pages as they found me standing in the blackened burnt-out rubble to discuss their potential new solid pine fitted kitchen, stating I would obviously require the normal deposit for materials and stage payments as the work progressed, but for some reason they never got back and decided best not to lead with the yellow pages option at the next bank interview.
Instead, I decided to lead with my portfolio and the fact that all my customers, just ordinary folk like myself who had their furniture orders virtually paid for but lost in the fire but all fully understood the problems and were still all prepared to wait for their orders to be remade which they all did as they had faith in me completing their orders and one customer had even giving me a further deposit to help do so and eventually a few more banks later one kind enlightened bank manager with all of the above qualities fortunately did. From the fire in 1984 right up to the end of that decade it was all about financial survival and rebuilding the furniture business by making furniture that was what I was best at and had a garden full of various timber along with customers. The timber was then sawn up and prepared with hired power tools mostly amongst the rubble of my old workshop using an extension lead kindly thrown over the wall by my kind next-door neighbour and I was back in business within hours, sort off. But after a few days my workshop space now open to the elements was also far game to the fly tippers and it was slowly turning into the local rubbish dump and arrived at the crack of dawn to maximum the natural free daylight a work space had first had to be cleared each morning amongst the rubbish so I could set out my workmate and tools. Once again making furniture and fitting out kitchens and wine bars as before and later also preparing my new found woodcarvings 'side-line'.
Within a week the dozen or so heavy three phase woodworking machines once worth tens of thousands of pounds and literally running like a saw but now going for a song were collected by the scrap merchants for the princely sum of £96, not a fortune but still vital and helped and paid for hiring various power tools for a couple of weeks. Apparently it was decided that they weren't to going to rebuild the workshop but instead use the land for parking, but I was able to work there for a while which was kind of them but if I built a workshop or some kind of large lean-to I would have to pay rent which is fair enough so I worked outside in all weathers without a roof and despite the common perception it always rains in England, well it doesn't always and didn't that period which was great but it did snow, a lot and I hate the cold. But preparing furniture and carvings continued for some time outside in the fresh air. But my new workspace did have heating as a large oil drum someone had dumped was quickly commandeered and had small holes drilled into the side and was full of wood offcuts in no time and the fire kept me and half the guys in the other workshops warm during the cold lunch breaks and the old shovel, I used most morning to clear a space to work, was quickly reassigned for roasting potatoes and chestnuts on in the fire and helped keep us fed. Once the chain-sawing, cutting and planning the timber at the old workshop was finished for the day it was back working in the shed preparing them and assembling them on the lawn or in the garage or a kind neighbours’ garage, or in the back of the van parked on the drive and or also under the temporary shelter rigged up in the back garden wherever there was enough space.
A while later John, a mechanic friend of mine, had taken over the large workshop I had been planning to move into when I had the fire but could no longer afford the rent we then shared for a while. John, his tools, welding gear and cars he was working on were right at the front of the workshop. Separated from my dusty noisy machines and wood shavings by a huge plastic curtain stretched across the middle. It was sometimes hectic and we made appointments with each other to bring our own customers around when the other wasn't working there and it worked well and then rumours started to go around that the land all our workshops were on had been sold for house building and the small businesses on the site slowly started to move away to pastures new. We both stayed put for a while longer as the workshop had three phase power already set up and managed to get hold of a good cheap second hand saw bench and planer /thicknesser and was almost in business again making furniture full time just as my wood carvings also started to take off part time and a decision had to be made which one to concentrate on. It was initially really difficult to decide to finally let go of a furniture making business that for a decade had earned its keep really well and still had months of orders and enquiries coming in all the time. But to then give it all up and take yet another risk especially at the time on a new found carving career I felt I just needed to do, that one day just ‘might’ work as well as the furniture side was doing. To risk it all woodcarving even though commissions were slowly coming in. Or do I look for a new workshop, take on a lease and staff which I was about to do before the fire, or do I build a studio at home and hope carving commissions continue.
What finally helped make up my mind which way to jump was when I had an assorted set of rustic garden furniture made from whole slices of elm trees straight from the saw mills, my original ‘bread and butter’ line which always sold well. Along with a pair of pine bar stools and three large thick slices of elm style coffee tables, a months’ work all placed outside a village shop all left on sale or return basis which had worked really well for both of us for a few years without any problem. One night the shopkeeper forgot to take it all in and it was all stolen and apparently none of my furniture was insured, as they were left outside all night unattended! The local police in the days prior to CCTV didn’t hold out much hope of getting any of it back and what with one thing or another, we decide to finally let go of the making furniture side of our business as at least all my woodcarvings weren’t going to get stolen on display in an art gallery.
I stopped advertising in yellow pages and the like and we sold the Transit van so there was definitely no going back now and finally put all my energy into woodcarving. But as I have mentioned before I am nothing if not inconsistent and when I need to. I did occasionally go back making furniture on and off, right up to the end of the 1980’s but I was wandering around van less and had to deliver my furniture as well as some of the large wood sculptures roped on the back of our Triumph Stag, as it was then our only form of transport we had. The early Stag which we had for decades was used more as a bit of a summer toy as we used our Transit van most days of the week. Fortunately, interest in my carving was also still going by leaps and bounds and towards the end of the 1980’s resisted further temptations to make more furniture and instead totally moved away from my former workshop and the shared workshop several miles away and decided to build myself a studio in the back garden instead and the conversion was complete and once again found myself back working in my shed in the garden again as I was a decade earlier making furniture, but this time woodcarving.
There was always some piece of furniture being assembled in the shed or garage and the only obvious place for me left to carve the fine detail I wanted to achieve undercover was in the lounge and as such when the local television wanted to run stories about my carving and how it came about they wanted to film things as they were actually being carved as they should, often being started in the rubble of my old workshop, being prepped in the shed and the smaller wood sculptures being carved in the lounge and the larger ones in the garden. As the interest in the carvings via the local newspapers and television programs also started to go national as did the number of commissions and I realised I really needed to build some form of studio to work from if I wanted to be taken seriously............. to be continued.
Whilst I was carving and started selling my up-and-coming woodcarving, mostly wildlife sculptures and at one point when work completely dried up as I feared it might and at one stage and once again put postcards in the local shops and takeaways advertising my furniture like we used to do and even decided to start up a window cleaning round in the local area which I had done as a teenager in Kent as everyone needs a window cleaner, ask my wife and having printed of a bundle of leaflets to drop in local letter boxes during the coming week when I had a call from a Craft Agency who had saw me carving on the Television and had a client that wanted some wood carving restoration work done. This then led onto other similar projects mainly restoring carved panels and sculptures from a bygone age and bringing them back to practical use in the here and now. Other contacts and projects soon followed from restoring antique picture and mirror frames from Southwick house, where D Day was planned during WW2 to spending almost a year helping restore Lord Nelson’s 18th century Flagship HMS Victory. Restoring The Prince of Wales and Diana the Princess of Wales Garden bench once placed in the private garden in Kensington Palace; Ironically the first item I ever made in my back garden was a garden bench and the last object I ever restored in my back garden bench was a garden bench and a decade ago I decided to stop undertaking further restoration projects with the last such project being restoring the former royal Knight of the Garter King Edward 111’s Crown.
My first set of garden furniture which started my furniture making business and Prince of Wales and Diana the Princess of Wales, garden bench
Once again, the former motorbike storage log cabin/shed with its thick timber lined walls and roof was now turned into a relatively sound proof sculpture preparations room and I was good to go and towards the end of the 1980’s when I had my first sculpture exhibition in London which was shortly followed by a feature in the Times Newspaper and then my first sculpture commissions from the royal household arrived in 1989 and then everything
This section below which I will eventually fill the gaps when I get a moment to fill in all the missing parts and there are many, strange, sometimes bizarre, incidents, accidents and coincidences, both good and bad during the past four decades. First as a carpenter working for the local community, to a decade later a sculptor working for the royal household much further away. It took almost a decade of trials and tribulations far too numerous to mention but I will endeavour to outline some of them both good and not so good which in my case assisted in my becoming a professional woodcarver and later sculptor also working in bronze, marble/resin and sterling silver. Sculptures not only commissioned for royalty, former British Prime ministers but many other people I would not ordinarily have had the opportunity and privilege to meet let alone work for in my past life as a jobbing carpenter and cabinet maker working on my own…..
Often being in the right place at the right time including when as a rookie wood sculptor when a local newspaper ran a feature about my work which was spotted by a gallery owner in London’s Mayfair that ended up with my first exhibition in an Art Gallery, just a few years after I started carving. To my first feature in a national newspaper a few years later which was spotted by a member of the royal household. All just five years after the fire which started it all as HM The King of Spain was granted the highest honour bestowed by HM The Queen of being appointed a Royal Knight of the Garter and I was commissioned to create the Kings Crown which was then placed on display in Windsor Castle and for the following thirty plus years virtually every carved sculpture in a wide variety of materials, styles and subjects are created for Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle which continues today.
The result of the first meeting in London with the royal household ended up creating one hundred and thirty plus unique sculptures during the past thirty-three years, and counting. Then as sales, commissions and experience increased which necessitated my looking for much larger trees to work from along with much larger carving chisels to work with to create life size one- piece wildlife wood sculptures in very fine detail, when a kind lady I never met before but had heard about my work then sold/gifted me her entire collection of almost two hundred brand new wood and stone carving chisels, clay and wax working tools, mallets, vices etc which her husband gave her as a rather generous Christmas present when she thought she would like to try carving before realising carving was not for her. With one high quality carving chisel alone worth around £15, her entire collection of chisels was something I simply could not afford at the time, but she kindly sold all of it for a nominal fee, which I could afford ……..
I first exhibited my furniture and wood carvings in a layby just a few hundred yards from a large well-advertised craft fair which I also couldn’t afford to exhibit in hoping we might attract passing interest from people going to the craft show and sat outside the Van carving which proved rather popular with people who pulled in which prompted me contacted Craft shows offering to give a carving demonstration alongside my furniture and carvings in exchange for free entry to the shows, which worked really well all concerned until in 2000 deciding to stopped exhibiting at Craft shows and concentrated just on art galleries and museums as it wasn’t possible to give the time and energy doing all three.
As the carvings got larger so did the interest in my demonstrating them and these demonstrations which started in a layby, ended up a decade later as the artist in residence in museums. There was also a lot of interest from various art galleries but wood carvings take time to create and you cannot sell commissioned sculpture which paid the bills and also place them on display in an art gallery to sell, when they are one-off wood sculptures. But you can quite easily exhibit the same sculptures that have been sold if they are one of a limited-edition bronze, but I couldn’t afford to produce both wood and bronze at the time. A classic catch twenty-two situation. I also need a large wood sculpture created like my usual wood carvings in very fine detail as a centre piece for my exhibition which I was told by someone that knew about such things, would also apparently make a great ‘photo opportunity.’
Although Sue and I were still trying to recover from the massive financial implications of the workshop fire several years earlier but I still rather liked the idea of attempting to creating much larger highly detailed wood sculptures from a massive tree but would take so much longer to achieve and at the same time possibly reduce the amount of people who might want or had the room to display such large sculptures. So, it was therefore a big decision to go big as and thought it would take eight important, nay vital things to happen first. My new but weary Bank manager continues to support an overdraft and loan facility to enable me the time and finances to put this large collection of wood sculptures together. Rather than just carving something to pay the gas bill or mortgage for both good and necessary causes, but nevertheless also being able to get a large collection together for an exhibition, which in the end was a lot easier than I originally thought possible. Now having the finance in place for a year or so courtesy of a bank manager with vision and deep pockets gave me the time and resources to turn these massive trees, once destined to be pulped and turned into cardboard the paper mill could sell. Instead, turned into realistic sculptures the galleries could hopefully sell.
The third out of the eight logistical issues properly the most important and most difficult to achieve would be to find a supply of massive timber to work/practice carving on something that fits all the above criteria. Not quite so easy as such trees like that would quite rightly have preservation orders on them and if not why not, then we had the Hurricane force winds in 1984 that hit southern England and massive timbers I would dream about were literally found lying around everywhere readily available. More massive trees you could shake a stick at. The moment I first realised I could carve sculptures from on piece of timber I always wanted to carve an Osprey in flight after taking a special interest as the se rare birds were being reintroduced back in the wild at the time and I just knew there was a life size Osprey in flight hiding away in one of these massive trees out there somewhere and there was.
The supply of 1984 ‘windfall’ lime trees in Kent and just one cedar wood logs from the ‘windfall’ trees in Hampshire in 1990. The life size Osprey catching a Pike limewood sculpture before and afterwards. The Osprey was roughed out as per photo three to enable it to be taken home in the back of the car and was left as it was for a few years to get on with commissions that actually paid the bills. Logistical problem number Four: A chainsaw of my own which in the end I would hire when needed, so that was easy. Five; A man with a Hiab crane to lift them off the roads and parks which was not quite so easy so I have to come back to that. Number Six: A place to then store dozens of these massive logs, another tricky one. Seven somewhere to work on them to try and carve one or four of these massive sculptures of goodness knows what yet, where a chainsaw going day and night won’t disturb the neighbours and especially not too far away so I can get home for tea. Not too much to ask you would think and you are quite right, when a quick phone call to a relative who worked on a farm and Peter C told me they had a place to store my newly acquired ten feet x three feet wide logs and he would throw in a fork lift truck when required to roll the massive logs over when and if, something not even on my initial logistics list.
All I really desperately required of the eight or is it the ninth logistic issues, hard to keep up with the potential issues at the time as the more you ticked them off more joined on the other end, but the most important issue remaining and without it nothing works. This was the complete lack of the Hiab crane and driver who was the most popular and busiest person around at the time, lifting other people’s massive logs of roads, parks and in gardens. Let alone hopefully in my case lifting a dozen of my newly acquired massive tree trunks and delivering them to a farm way beyond the horizon, before these prize trees were also cut up, pulped and turned into something some might say was more useful. But without this mystical elusive duo of a Hiab crane and driver, the whole carving huge unique one-piece sculptures from within, great exhibition centre piece, photo opportunity dream scenario, just wouldn’t get off the ground, literally as alas a Hiab, I simply didn’t have……. But I knew a man that did.
Eventually I had dozens of massive trees to practice alongside a Barn in the middle of nowhere to learn to carve big. I had never tried to carve large one-piece realistic sculptures despite having never done so on such a scale before, especially in those days being a one-man band still learning all the cords. Although to be fair, I had been doing exactly the same thing with smaller carvings from smaller blocks of wood or stone for a few years which is exactly the same technique, just a lot heavier as being able to quite naturally see the object you are attempting to replicate within the solid block of stone or wood, I mean how difficult can it be.
Most of my early wood sculptures were large wildlife studies not only because I like wildlife which I do, but fortunately so do most people and they sold rather well which is what it’s all about if you wanted in my case to be a professional wood carver and sculptor. Mostly life size one-piece sculptures and now had the opportunity to ‘experiment’ creating in many different woods. Lime, walnut, tulip, oak, cedar and yew, as they had become available everywhere. In fact, everything was now in place working on future exhibition pieces alongside my commissions that were actually paying the bills trying working all hours to complete a large unique collection of wood sculptures. that one day might do the same thing.
I still had the odd moment when things were really tight financially, who doesn’t, but we got though it as you usually do but my commissions were quickly using this up this rare supply of large trees I had been given from the Storm winds in 1987 was all but exhausted and now finding suitable massive trees that would be available to buy for large sculpture commissions let alone exhibition pieces was even more difficult because of the Storm destroying so many suitable trees a few years back and once again just like the old days I made a few visits to the local saw mill and phoned a few more much further away as I needed large long wide suitable logs that haven’t been or weren’t already destined for slicing into planks, for two particularly large carving commissions but without success and then we had the Storm winds in 1990 that hit southern England and massive timbers were literally found lying around everywhere with more massive trees you could shake yet another stick at.
These massive trees that were once again blown over in their thousands and although I am a bit of a ‘tree hugger’ and much prefer to see trees growing tall and strong in all their glory but far too many had blown down that suddenly had become available and now had an opportunity to preserve the trees in another form when I can I do so, namely carving large highly detailed one-piece sculptures and these fallen timbers inadvertently provided a huge stock of in-expensive carving timber all kindly donated from local councils, land owners, private homeowners and these large trees to help create sculptures from private homes, company receptions .Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle and so many other places for many years to come............ to be continued.
A small selection of mostly commissioned wood sculptures created by the 1990 Storms winds
Everything was now in place to make a start on working on the first three large sculptures to be initially carved on site from the 1990 Storm winds. A life size Bald Eagle was to be roughed out from within the fork of one of these centuries old lime trees although it wasn’t a commission, I just wanted to see if I could do it as the tree was just lying there, doing nothing but blocking a path and was now available. Followed by a life size carving Risen Christ for a local Church which was a commission along with another totally different style of life size Bald Eagle commission for an American Company, which only just fitted in the studio. Unlike the Bald Eagle carved from within the fork of the tree which wouldn’t.
The free publicity and photo opportunity the sculptures were constantly receiving was also generating a lot of interest from all quarters including the museum service who put a yearlong exhibition of my work in various museums, but I was also still trying to get a large collection of sculptures together for a series of promised London art gallery exhibitions. Many galleried had suggested I also create large similar styled bronze wildlife sculptures with the same detail as my woodcarvings and although the notion was appealing, the reality was once again the time and cost involved to also create similar bronze sculptures made it impossible at the time and I decided to remain a professional carver which is what I was best at.
Especially for the first time I was having to turn down more commissions than I could possibly accept as I continued to work on the collection which included another life size but this time a living room size ‘Osprey catching a trout’ intended to be my centre piece along with an almost life size Mute Swan protecting her Cygnets’ both were carved from lime wood as you could achieve the finest detail and carve feathers that actually looked like real feathers. Along with a pair of life size swimming Otters, one carved from Tulipwood the other from Walnut the same size and similar style almost like large bookends. A half size leaping Panther carved from English walnut which has exceptional colour and grain patterns. A Tawny Owl carved from within a willow Log and several other mostly wildlife sculptures again all carved from these massive lime trees blown down in the Storm winds and things started to move forward really quick in the art world often in a direction I knew not were................... to be continued.
The life size Osprey quickly almost achieved it main purpose firstly being featured in the Times newspaper and then being spotted by a member of the Royal Household which led to a phone call and a visit to London and eventually I ended up creating aver one hundred and thirty plus unique sculptures for Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle and also to achieved it main purpose of being the ‘centre piece’ of an art exhibition. Although I stopped exhibiting in Craft Shows years ago, I was asked if the organizers of one event in the show ground if they could borrow the large ‘Mute Swan protecting her Cygnets’ which was then voted the best exhibit at a large County Craft Show in Hampshire which won the £500 first prize of superb woodworking tools in a competition I didn’t know existed. A few years later the Mute Swan was shipped to the USA, replicated, enlarged and transformed into an eight feet high bronze sculpture now placed outside alongside a large lake in Florida. The original Swan wood sculpture back home again from its trip overseas was then placed in storage for over a decade and might be seen again if I finally managed to get around to setting up the intended ‘Retrospective ‘exhibition ‘which would be my first art exhibition in almost two decades.
The ‘Phoenix from the Ashes’ story has always generated a lot of interest in the media, especially on a ‘slow news day’ and if I had an art exhibition coming up the interest by the media was most helpful for the various art exhibitions getting free publicity in both local and national newspapers and television programs and ended up giving live TV and radio interviews almost every other day during this period and for someone who didn’t get out much, I was never in promoting them all.
A new neighbour Richard C moved in and came over for a coffee. I was working on the ‘Osprey catching a Trout sculpture. Richard worked for the Times newspaper and thought the large sculpture might be of interest to the paper, they were and the next day sent a photographer down and a few days later in 1989 I was featured in the Times as mentioned above. The phone then was then really busy with enquiries and one of the callers was from the Royal Household who had also seen the article and my wood carvings on exhibition and invited me to London to discuss the possibilities of my producing sculptures for Windsor Castle and Westminster Abbey. I then created around five unique sculptures each year, every year and still continues thirty-three years later, all being worked on alongside my other commissions and exhibition pieces …….
However, London was calling once again and Sue and I decided to once again ‘not eat’ for a few years to try creating a large collection of wood sculptures together and venture back into the world of fine art knowing it would still take months and years to prepare for. Once again having to work on the premise you cannot create a collection of wood sculptures, then sell them to pay the bills and exhibit the same sculptures for sale in an art gallery, unless of course they were limited edition bronzes, which I didn’t have and due to the time and cost to have my sculptures moulded and cast in bronze, not likely to any time soon. As once again lean times were ahead as my favourite very helpful and enlightened Bank Manager Colin C was promoted to head office and the ‘new broom’ replacement, soon to be yet another ex-bank manager was far less impressed with my concentrating on building up a large collection of art works at the expense of turning down commissions and thus not always paying my bills each month, every month right on time. A very common problem for most artist throughout history and in my case, it looked like once again I had managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of Victory, when I had a phone call from Portsmouth Naval Dockyard inviting me to work on Lord Nelson’s famous 18th century Ship of the Line helping with the restoration of the warship and had somehow managed to snatch Victory from the jaws of defeat................. to be continued.
Although I prefer to create my own original sculptures today and not replicating others peoples work creating centuries ago rather surprisingly was pleased to be able to be involved in a number of rather special restoration projects, none more so than when spending almost a year carving from mahogany the replacement starboard side entrance port on 'Admiral Lord Nelson’s Flagship’ HMS Victory' Entrance port then placed on the starboard side of the middle gun-deck of the historic 104 gun First Rate Warship which was originally built in 1765.
Lord Nelson’s Flagship HMS Victory with the replacement scrollwork carving
A few days earlier I could be found at home having lunch sat in the lounge in front of the television with the remote control working out what side to watch the next found myself in Portsmouth Naval Dockyard in number 4 boat house sat on a 18th century cannon in front of a massive slab of mahogany working out my next move with a number 8 gouge. Although I stopped being involved with restoration projects for a decade now, over the years I have been involved with many, including working with the Museum service and English Heritage, along with being involved in a project after the ‘Great fire’ at Windsor Castle. I don't class myself as an expert restorer or that I know too much about the often highly skilled process involved. If I did work on such projects, it's mainly just as a woodcarver and also on occasions replicating old carvings in wood or sculptures in bronze.
My main role is to be able to repair or replicate old carvings or sculptures from the past to preserve them for the future and help in my own small way keeping a piece of British history alive. My talent, if you can call it that, is for the most part an ability to replicate in wood or bronze an exact replica of an object from a bygone age that was either missing, badly damaged or is in an advanced stage of decay. Often using similar or in a number of occasions the same hand tools my counterpart would have used many centuries ago, often blending my new replacement carvings into their originals without seeing the join.
It was never my intention getting involved with restoration other people’s work as I prefer to create my own, but needs must and ended up repairing and replace missing carvings and mouldings from damaged antique wooden carved panels along with my replicate various missing ornate carved sections of an intricately carved antique picture frame often working from an old photograph. I soon found out then it’s one thing to carve a subject you have a real interest in. Quite another to try and repair, or replicate someone else’s work. Especially when it was created centuries ago by some really clever people. But getting up close and personal with a true artist that worked centuries ago having to study their style and carving technique to enable you to accurately replicate it, you could also learn how it used to be done and soon realised that is what being a carver for hire is it's all about.
A year later my work on the Victory replacing the massive entrance port was done and painted and placed on board the historic warships starboard side and if you ever go on board my carving is usually the first, or last thing you bang your head on, depending which side you enter or leave the ship and I was back doing the school runs and also in the studio adding to the collection of wood sculptures for the various art exhibitions planned.
Finally, the large collection of both large and small wood sculptures including the life size ‘Osprey catching a Pike' once featured in the Times were finally placed on exhibition firstly in a Bournemouth Art gallery. The interest from the media in the whole exhibition with a wide collection of different art works, was very encouraging for all concerned. The Friday night private and press preview prior to the Saturday exhibition opening day was rather exciting and standing room only. I had spent many years working on the dozen or so both large and small sculptures and there was much riding on it for everyone not only for myself but also for my latest potential ex Bank Manager whose patience after all this time with my overdraft not getting any smaller, was wearing a tad thin which was hardly surprisingly really, as I’m not sure I would have lent me any money even if I had any at the time. But the exhibition pieces were complete, polished and safely delivered and beautifully displayed around the art gallery and after all those years of long hours with no days off We had finally done it. We now had to see if all the widespread interest in the media and the well-attended private preview actually turns into sales or commissions which at the end of the day is what trying to be a professional artist in the real world and actually paying the bills with your efforts.
All art is subjective obviously and I have never created anything especially my artwork as an ego trip. I simply do it because I enjoy it and it’s my job but in the early days on the odd quiet moments doubt sometimes crept in, especially what I know about art. I am self-taught woodcarver and just five years earlier I was living in an another world as self-taught cabinet maker and had just completed the custom-made solid mahogany Galley for the J Class yacht Velsheda and the following day spent eight hours on board maneuverer up and down the Solent as the historic classic yacht, the first yacht I have ever sailed on as it tacked from port to starboard and then back again with the massive main sail catching all the wind and the attention of other boat users there was a lot of both that day.
I then went below deck into the galley trying to hang on to something, as the ceiling became the side of the yacht and then the ceiling once again, hoping the heavy cabinets I had just made and bolted on the side and deck of the racing yacht defying all known laws of gravity and was now being tested to its very limits, didn’t all come crashing down. At one point we were sailing down the Solent at great speed with the main sail filled with wind that was increasing all the time at almost a 45-degree angle as I was keeping out of the way of the crew as the sea was occasionally flowing over my trainers and with a bit of swell right up to my knees at one point, quietly hoping they did actually know what they were doing, fortunately they did.
The Velsheda decades later in the Solent - The Velsheda in 1984 with my mahogany galley fitted and my top unit to replace the one lost in the workshop fire
We then had my village home to the left of me and the Isle of White to the right and I was stuck in the middle with wet socks and trainers when I found myself being loudly called out by the yachts skipper who was hanging desperately onto the huge ships wheel at the time as it appeared I had been ‘pressed’ as a crew member, like many men who crewed Nelson warships centuries decades earlier on these very same waters. Instructed to quickly turn that big silver handle right in front of me which was completely unmanned at the time as instructed which I knew for not and turned it. Much quicker, than that was the next command as apparently, we were leaning over a bit too far when even I as a seasoned land-lubber who doesn’t get out much had kind of worked that out for myself as my trainers were now permanently under the Solent as were my jeans encased as they were in bright yellow waterproofs I was supplied with when I first got onboard, along with a small life preserver with a little silver coloured whistle attached no doubt used to play something to try and keep the morale up during such traumatic moments. Then the chrome handle locked and the hull slowly came back up and stayed that way for a while, until the next time and the time after that, as the racing yacht was being put through its paces to the extreme as me and the big silver handle thingy became one and safe in the knowledge, I could now proudly add to my ever-increasing CV containing so many other things I didn’t know I could do. I have now crewed a Classic 1930's J Class Racing Yacht.
Back on dry land several years later now at the stage of not wanting to open my bank statements as it was never good reading so everything we had and a lot more we didn’t have was riding on this particular art exhibition and the following ones in another gallery in another town. It was a very anxious time all round and I didn’t have to wait long for some news…. Julie the owner of the gallery phoned me up early on Saturday morning and rather excitedly told me. All my sculptures on display in the Gallery had been stolen……….
Apparently, in the early hours a large Van simply pulled up on the pavement right outside the gallery window. A man got out with a long iron bar and simply smashed the heavy plate glass window and many of the art works on display were then stolen or smashed in the process as the shattered heavy plate glass window fell into the gallery damaging everything it touched in the process and what art works remained were quickly loaded up in the Van. Fortunately, my centrepiece a life size ‘Osprey catching a Trout’ which had featured in the Times newspaper and received a lot of interest fortunately was not on display in the gallery at the time due to the sculptures size and the risk of it getting damaged during the cramped press and private preview in the gallery and had been placed in another room and not found by the night stalkers, with a van and big metal pole and thus not stolen.
However, the Bournemouth police were most efficient and within a week or so had managed to get a few of the exhibits back including the pair of large swimming Otters and my still having my centrepiece the life size ‘Osprey catching a Trout’ and a few other sculptures which were still being worked on in my studio at the time had my main exhibition piece for the next art gallery in what was to be a series of exhibitions. A few weeks later I set up another exhibition in another gallery in another town many miles away. Once again, the press launch and private preview was most encouraging and the large Osprey and the pair of Otters were prominently displayed and fortunately once again created a lot of interest and again it was a very anxious time all round and I didn’t have to wait long for some news. The owner of the gallery phoned me up early in the morning and rather excitedly told me, all my sculptures on display in the Gallery, had been stolen…...
Including the Osprey and the pair of Otters once again, in fact every sculpture I ‘used’ to own were gone. It was all getting really silly now, I had now lost or damaged the whole collection of sculptures taking many years of hard work putting together were now lost in two art gallery thefts, but at least I was insured …….
Well, I thought I was………...
To be continued: Page Two
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