Historical Sculpture

Angel at the Pool of Bethesda sculpture by Simon O'Rourke at Biddulph Old Hall

Sculpture for Historic Property

Sculpture for Historic Property 420 630 Simon O'Rourke

alsoOne of the things Simon has enjoyed over the years, is creating sculpture for historic property. These projects usually combine Simon’s love of human form with his passion for storytelling. They also add value for the owner in sometimes unexpected ways. Over the years Simon has created many pieces for historic properties, ranging from National Trust homes or places of worship to private home owners. He has also had a season as ‘artist in residence’ at Erddig, a local National Trust property.
This week we share examples from that extensive portfolio, and explore the value of commissioning sculpture for historic property.

Highclere Castle Airman by Simon O'Rourke

The airman at Highclere Castle

Reasons to Commission a Sculpture for Historic Property: Commemoration & Storytelling

There are many reasons to commission a sculpture for your historic property. One of those reasons is to have a commemorative piece, to mark an event or occasion.  The Airman at Highclere Castle (pictured above) is an example of this. He is also an example of another reason for commissioning a sculpture. That is, story telling.  If you ever read our blog about the Highclere Airman, you will know that he tells a part of the story of that property. Although people may be aware of the history of a building, a visual aid telling that story is always powerful. Even traditional school text books become much more interesting with a picture! How much more so when the visual story telling is in 3D?! If your building is open to the public, this enhances their experience, which is always a good thing!

Mungo Park sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

A Tourist Attraction!

Another reason that a sculpture can add value to a historic sculpture, is it can become an attraction in itself. Take Mungo Park for example, photographed above.
This likeness of the Scottish explorer was created in 2014 for a Wetherspoons in Peebles, Park’s home town. It reflects the history of the area, so enhances the experience of the visitor, and helps provide information about the town. It also helps to set that restaurant apart from the others in the area. It’s a focus point for visitors – something unique the other eateries in town don’t have. It’s also fun –  customers also sit alongside Mungo on the bench outside the pub, for a photograph. And we all know the power of a shared photograph on social media!

 

Angel at the Pool of Bethesda sculpture by Simon O'Rourke at Biddulph Old Hall, Sculpture for historic property

Case Study: Angel at the Pool of Bethesda

One of Simon’s favourite sculptures that he has created for a historic property is the Angel at the Pool of Bethesda. She was carved from oak in 2016 as a commission for Biddulph Old Hall.  Although the property has an extensive history dating back to 1480, this commission relates to a 19th Century resident…..

The Story Behind the Sculpture

In 1871, attracted by the romance of the ruins in their moorland setting, artist Robert Bateman took up residence in the hall. He actually painted most of his best works in the Hall between 1871 and 1890. In 1874  he and the love of his life, Caroline Howard, were separated. Then, in 1876, Caroline married the Rev Charles Wilbraham. Bateman was heart broken, and painted The Pool of Bethesda as “an autobiographical cry of anguish”. The commission of the sculpture was to commemorate Robert and Caroline’s memory as part of the house’s story.

To read more about the history of the painting, click here.

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall is an example of sculpture for historic property

Creating the Sculpture

The setting with the angel stepping down a few steps towards a pool of water replicates the Bateman painting. The difficulty for Simon centered around the fact that all he had to work from was a flat 2D image. This meant that to begin with, he had to visualize what the painting would look like in 3D. From there, he then had to create what he was imagining. Which, according to owner Nigel Daly,  “he has done magnificently…. The piece fully represents the sense of Caroline stepping down into the water that Bateman created in the original painting.”

 

Testimonies of the Value Added

Obviously art always enhances or ‘adds’ something to a room, or wherever it’s located. However, in a historic property it does more than this. It captures the attention of the viewer. They are drawn in, as it narrates the story of that place. It also helps them envision, imagine and remember.

Nigel Daly is “thrilled” at the impact of the sculpture:
“Visitors never fail to gasp as they are led through a small octagonal tower from the ruins themselves into the small courtyard with the pool in its centre and Caroline at its head. As time has passed she has weathered beautifully to settle into the time-worn surroundings of the Hall.

The work has been much admired, and such is the skill of the work we are saving up for a second sculpture for the centre of the ruins based on Burne-Jones’s ‘Love Leading the Pilgrim’, which we feel is just up Simon’s street!”

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall

Your Own Commission

If you would like to enhance story-telling and scene-setting with a unique sculpture for your historic property, contact Simon on [email protected].

A Bespoke Tawny Owl Sculpture

A Bespoke Tawny Owl Sculpture 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

One of the things that Simon was known for early on in his career was carving owls! Although he prefers human form, his attention to form, story, structure and detail mean he has created some incredible owls over the years. Some of them have become famous in their own right too, such a Ruby the owl. She’s part of Meadow Park sculpture trail on the Wirral and was actually stolen and – amazingly – returned! This week we look at Simon’s most recent example: a bespoke tawny owl sculpture that will be installed in Pocklington, Yorkshire.

A bespoke tawny owl by Simon O'Rourke for the town of Pocklington, Yorks

The Commission

This bespoke tawny owl is for public display in the town of Pocklington. When it was originally commissioned, the clients came to Simon with an existing Horse Chestnut stump. Their hope was that the owl could be carved from that. However, Simon advised them that it would be unsuitable as Horse Chestnut rots quickly. Instead, they decided to have the owl carved from oak, and to mount it upon the original stump.

To create the owl, Simon paid careful attention to the shape, size and proportions of the owl. He also imitated perfectly the way the feathers fall, and how the lengths and appearance vary on the different body parts. We can see clearly the fluffier chest and legs compared with the sleek, defined tails and wings.

bespoke tawny owl and original by Simon O'Rourke
As the Sculpture Ages….

Wood changes over the years. That means a commission such as this bespoke tawny owl will weather and gradually change in appearance. When Simon creates a sculpture, he takes into account how it will crack in future. This is important, so he can carve in a way that although the appearance will change, the structure will still be sound.
The face below is a perfect example of this. It has small cracks appearing but retains its structure and shape – and will for decades to come!

Face by Simon O'Rourke

Changing and Protecting Colour

Another aspect of this changing appearance that Simon considers, is the colour. All wood will change colour as it ages and is bleached by the sun. Once that happens, the only way to get the colour back is to sand it or re-finish the surface. Long-lasting woods such as oak and sweet chestnut weather nicely and last well without any finish. This means this bespoke tawny owl sculpture didn’t need any additional treatment.

For some sculptures, the bleaching and aging adds to the beauty and aesthetic of the sculpture. Maybe it is part of a forest trail and it needs to blend in with the environment. In other cases, the nature or setting of the sculpture lends itself to the aging process. The Angel at the Pool of Bethesda (included in our review of the decade) is a perfect example of this. It is based on an old painting, and sits in a Biddulph Old Hall, a historic property. The sculpture was left untreated so it would bleach naturally in the sun, and age to fit in with its environment. We love the way it looks two years on….

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall

Angel at the pool of bethesda by simon o'rourke at biddulph old hall

Recommended Treatment

The bespoke tawny owl sculpture is made of oak, so didn’t need treatment. However, if you do want to retain colour of the original sculpture, decking oil applied every 4 months will do this. It acts mostly as a weather proofer, allowing the sculpture to keep its original colour. It also offers UV protection, and has an additional bonus of containing mould inhibitors too. Unlike most other weatherproofing options, the oil is a good choice as it allows the wood to breathe. Over the years Simon has number of different brands . While he doesn’t necessarily have a favourite, he always buys from  www.restexpress.co.uk and recommends them as a supplier.

In addition, if the wood needs an initial treatment of wood preserver, he applies that before the oil. The preserver soaks in like water and prevents surface growth of mould and fungi.

barn owl by simon o'rourke

A Sculpture for Life!

Whenever Simon creates a sculpture, he considers the future appearance and carves and treats so it will last. However, if you do have damage or something that needs re-working, Simon is available for repair, upkeep and restoration. Contact him on [email protected] whether to talk about upkeep of a current sculpture, or a new commission.

Simon O'Rourke creating the Lady of Marbury sculpture

The Marbury Lady Sculpture

The Marbury Lady Sculpture 960 960 Simon O'Rourke

Those of you follow Simon on social media will have already seen his stunning Marbury Lady sculpture.
The sculpture is inspired by a ghost story associated with the former Marbury Estate. People in the area frequently claim to have seen this ghost, as she haunts the park. The most recent sighting is reported as being last year! Simon has carved many figures from books, moviesmyths and legends, but we think this is the first time he has carved a ghost!
We had another reason too for wanting to share her story. The Marbury Lady sculpture is carved from a  tree that died due to salt poisoning. We wanted to share a little more about it to highlight the issue, and hopefully help prevent unnecessary damage and death to other trees.

Simon O'Rourke's Marbury Lady sculpture viewed from the road

The Marbury Lady viewed from the road

The Location:

Marbury Hall was a country house in Marbury, near Northwich. Several houses existed on the site from the 13th century, which formed the seat of the Marbury, Barry and Smith-Barry families, until 1932, and the story behind the mysterious Marbury Lady is connected with James Smith Barry, who inherited the hall in 1787.
The buildings have all fallen into disrepair though and no longer exist on the site. It is now woodland known as Marbury Country Park. 

For any interested in visiting, it’s a great spot for a walk. You can wander along the mere with splendid views over the water to the church at Great Budworth, or explore the arboretum (the avenues of limes are quite well known) and community orchard. There is also a play area and swimming pool.

The park is cared for by The Friends of Anderton and Marbury (FOAM). They not only look after the park, but have a busy programme of walks, talks, conservation tasks and events. If you are thinking of visiting, it’s definitely worth checking out their website to see what they have happening. It was FOAM who commissioned the Lady of Marbury sculpture, after the death of several of their trees due to salt poisoning.

The Lady of Marbury sculpture by Simon O'Rourke in process

At work on the sculpture

Salt Poisoning

So what is salt poisoning?
Basically if a tree is exposed to too much sodium, it stops the flow of potassium and magnesium. In turn, this stops the tree making chlorophyll. For those who can’t remember their high school science, that’s the ‘green stuff’ needed by plants to turn light from the sun into energy (photosynthesis)! Salt is so effective n this, you can actually use it to intentionally kill a tree –  or any plant!

Salt damage is extremely common, especially in urban areas in the winter when we use salt to de-ice the roads. Spray from the roads hits the tree, as well as being absorbed/spread through running water, and melting ice and snow.

Early sign to watch out for are the edges of the leaves turning brown. At this point it is still possible to reverse damage and prevent death through leaching – basically just adding water to the soil. Good drainage is a key factor too in preventing and curing salt poisoning. If you need to know more, we found this helpful article on reducing the salinity of soil that you might find interesting.

In the case of Marbury Park, the trees were damaged by salt leaking from a split brine pipe.
However, rather than remove them, FOAM decided to give them new life, and commissioned Simon to create something….

Simon O'Rourke creating the Lady of Marbury sculpture

The Story of the Marbury Lady

FOAM wanted one of the damaged trees to represent something of the Marbury Park history. There are several ghost stories connected to the area, but the most well known locally are the variations of The Marbury Lady.

The version Simon chose to tell is of the Egyptian lady. Smith-Barry traveled extensively, and spent much of his time in Italy, Greece and the Levant. It is said that on one of his travels he met with a lovely Egyptian girl. He fell madly in love with her, and when he had to return to England, he told her he would send for her to follow him and make her his wife. As in all good romances though, there was a third person involved, and this is where stories begin to vary. Some say there was an arranged marriage, others a scandal with a housekeeper. Either way, Smith-Barry failed to send for his Egyptian lady…..

Marbury Lady Sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

The Story Continues…..

Some time later it is said that the Egyptian lady came to England. Again, stories vary at this point. Some say she worked as his housekeeper, others that he kept her as a mistress. They all agree though that she asked that when she died, her body be embalmed and kept in the hallway at Marbury Hall. When Smith-Barry died some years later, the family didn’t really want what they considered to be a mummy in a coffin! They arranged a burial, and moved the body to a nearby church. What they did not expect however, was the hauntings that would follow!

In the years (decades now!) that have followed, there have been reportings of sightings of a lady in a white veil, and well as tales of strange sounds and happenings. Whether you believe in ghost stories or not, she makes an interesting subject for a sculpture….

Simon’s Marbury Lady Sculpture

Simon decided to depict the Egyptian lady in his sculpture. However, always creative, he carved her as both a living person AND the ghost! He sculpted the face that faces the road to show the girl alive. Her face is smooth, her expression regal, and proud. The orchard view shows her eyes closed, hands clutching her chest, giving the story of her sad demise. Her face is also covered with fragments of veil which reflect the accounts of sightings of The Marbury Lady.
As well as depicting her in both life and death, Simon did this because he wanted to encourage people not just to view passively, but to physically engage with the sculpture. In carving her this way, people have to physically move round to the other side of the sculpture to see the full story.

The Living depiction of The Marbury Lady by Simon O'Rourke

 

The Marbury Lady, ghost side, Simon O'Rourke

The side depicting the ghostly Marbury Lady

A Test of Skill

Simon had been looking forward to this project ever since it was approved last year. She wasn’t without her challenges though. To begin with, their is the challenge of carving a standing stump, rather than a piece of timber in the workshop. With a piece of timber, it may be tricky to source another ‘perfect’ piece….but it can be done. With a standing stump that is being transformed, there is only one chance! No room for mistakes!

Behind the Veil

The other distinct challenge (and a first for Simon on a commission) was the veiling over the ghostly side. When painting or drawing, it is possible to draw the whole face, then ad the veil over the top. Even in sculpting with clay or similar, the veil is added. In the case of tree carving, Simon could only take away. That meant not only using technical skill and tool like the golden ratio to envision the correct proportions and expression, but being able to do so whilst also imagining where and how the veiling would fall, and taking into account having to leave that behind.

Tools of the Trade

As always, he cut as far down as he could with his larger Stihl chainsaws, before using manpatools angle grinder followed by the saburrtooth bits (especially the large flame bit) to finish the detail and texture. We’re sure you can imagine too, working at the top of all that scaffolding, the cordless saws with backpack for holding the battery pack (Stihl) were essential!

Looking at the finished sculpture though, you can see Simon rose to the challenges, and created something absolutely unique, relevant to the area, and enthralling for the viewer. Thank you to Filmage.co.uk for the video!

Here's the time lapse video of the Marbury Lady! Thanks to filmage.co.uk for the excellent editing!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Wednesday, 5 February 2020

We think this is one of Simon’s best examples of sculpting female form, and certainly stands alongside his Spirit of Ecstasy, Angel at the Pool of Bethesda and Viking Raid. Which are your favourite of Simon’s female sculptures? Why not comment below and let us know?!

And, as always, if you have a damaged tree that you would like to breathe new life into, email [email protected] to talk about some possibilities.

Ayrton Senna Tribute Sculpture

Ayrton Senna Tribute Sculpture 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

When we think about ‘celebrity deaths’ over the last 25 years, many tragic or difficult stories come to mind. We think of many phenomenally talented individuals where we lament the loss, and the potential unfulfilled. None more so than Brazilian F1 driver, Ayrton Senna.
2019 marked 25 years since his tragic death at the San Marino Grand Prix. Anniversary tributes appeared in the media over the year, and caught Simon’s attention as he remembered ‘F1’s darkest weekend‘. Fascinated by Senna’s character and story, Simon decided to create his own memorial to the legend: this Ayrton Senna Tribute Sculpture.

Ayrton Senna Tribute sculpture by Simon O'Rourke

Choosing the Timber

Simon wanted the sculpture to not only look like a fitting tribute, but to also reflect, tell or share some of Senna’s story. For that reason, he took his time selecting the wood.

Eventually he found a piece of oak through a local farmer that he decided was perfect. However, it wasn’t just the size and shape that made it ‘the one’. Simon was looking for a piece of timber which had shared some of its lifetime with Senna himself.

Knowing the date this particular oak was felled meant Simon could count the growth rings and find the piece of timber that was alive and growing during Senna’s lifetime. This led to a unique feature on his Ayrton Senna tribute sculpture. Simon has marked out on Senna’s shoulder the growth rings for 1960-1994; the 34 years of Senna’s life.

growth rings for senna's lifetime marked on the ayrton senna tribute sculpture by simon o'rourke

Reflecting Character

When Simon carves a real person, his concern is not just for the physical features – although that is immensely important to him. He is also concerned about reflecting the character of the person. That meant Simon had to get to know afresh the character he had seen on screen as a teenager. Books, photographs, interviews, articles and documentaries helped re-introduce Simon to the person of Ayrton Senna.
It became clear that Senna was charismatic but also enigmatic, thoughtful and pensive.
He was sensible and intentional – but also playful.
It was these qualities which, ironically, meant Senna was chosen to head up a group of drivers dedicated to making the sport to make it safer, the weekend of his death.
Simon chose to reflect these characteristics by giving his  Ayrton Senna tribute sculpture a serene posture and gaze, but with a real twinkle in his eye.

Simon o'Rourke working on the eyes of his Ayrton Senna tribute sculpture

Working on getting that twinkle and expression right

Ayrton Senna by Simon O'Rourke in progress

Sculpting the Face

As we talked about in our blog about the golden ratio, sculpting faces is always a challenge. It is always so much harder too when Simon can’t meet the person. As Simon says:
“It’s always difficult working from photos. You’re constantly having to evaluate the structure of the face based on multiple light sources and camera lens distortion. Two photos of the same person can look vastly different. You have to understand the structure of the human face to make those decisions on depth and form.”

It’s clear the time spent studying, measuring and re-evaluating has paid off though, as the likeness to images of Senna is uncanny, and the sculpture is instantly recognisable as the Brazilian legend.

Images of Ayrton Senna in the workshop of Simon O'Rourke

Some of the images Simon worked from for his Ayrton Senna tribute sculpture

Finished Ayrton Senna tribute sculpture in the workshop by simon o'rourke

The finished piece in the workshop

On Display

Unlike many of Simon’s pieces, this Senna homage was a passion project rather than a specific commission. Thanks to the Wahoo Group and Real Five Networking though, rather than remain in the workshop, the sculpture is currently available for the public to view. Their support and connections meant that in December, the sculpture is now being exhibited at Mews of Mayfair; a beautiful restaurant and bar in Mayfair. If you’re visiting London, why not book yourselves in for a delicious meal and take a look? We’d love it if you got any photos or selfies with the sculpture if you could tag us too!

Bust of Ayrton Senna by Simon O'Rourke

Continuing a Legacy

During his lifetime Senna was dedicated to far more than just being the best in his sport. He also had a passion and felt a sense of responsibility to use his position to better the lives of children in his native Brazil. As such, he was also a philanthropist, the creator of Senninha, and had talked with his sister before his final trip to Italy about creating a charity. His sister honoured that conversation, and has built the Ayrton Senna Foundation.

Keeping in that spirit, Simon has chosen to sell this Ayrton Senna tribute sculpture in a sealed bid auction. A significant portion of the winning bid will then be donated to the Grand Prix Trust. This charity provides support for Formula 1’s helping team personnel, trackside or factory-based, to put their lives back on track when things go wrong. We believe from all the research into Senna’s life that this would be a cause that he himself would have been behind.

You can place you bid by visiting www.treecarving.co.uk/senna/  where there is an online bidding form at the bottom of the article.

 

World War I Memorial Soldier

World War I Memorial Soldier 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

This coming Sunday is Remembrance Day: a day to remember those who lost their lives in war.
We don’t take that sacrifice lightly, so it’s always an honour when Simon receives a war memorial commission.  Whether it’s a statue or a giant poppy, it’s an opportunity to both do his best as an expression of his own respect thankfulness. It’s also an opportunity to help others remember and be thankful. His best known example is probably the Airman at Highclere Castle. However, today, we’re going to revisit this World War I memorial soldier.

World War I Memorial Soldier, Astley Park

The Commission.

The World War I Memorial Soldier was commissioned by Chorley Council, and is installed in Astley Park. It is not their only tribute to those who died during war, and guests can take part in a  whole World War One experience which includes this Garden of Reflection. Estimates suggest nine to 11 million military personnel died during World War I. This soldier standing alone though encourages us to think not of the masses, but of the individual soldier who lost his life. The son, brother, uncle, friend.

World War One memorial soldier by Simon O'Rourke Chorley

The Soldier

Looking at this soldier, it is easy to see some of the cost of war. The slump of his shoulders, and slightly hunched posture speaks of a fatigue. Maybe a disenchantment. His disheveled uniform and minimal weaponry tells us of men ill-prepared for the horrors of battle. And his face makes it clear he has seen loss and pain. The weathering of the wood and imperfections that appear over time, only enhance this portrait. This is not a soldier freshly out of boot camp, immaculate and passionate about his calling. This is a man who has given up everything and seen too much. And this man, and the millions like him are what we remember, with thanks.

World War I soldier by Simon O'Rourke, Chorley

Lest We Forget

This World War One memorial soldier is only one of thousands of tributes around the country. We hope that as people look at this one, Simon’s skill in portraying this soldier’s story through sculpture will speak to them. That it will help people to think about what it is that was lost, not in terms of millions, but the cost to each family of ‘the one’.

Of course, we couldn’t JUST revisit this soldier. Another name for remembrance day is ‘poppy day’, so to finish, we naturally had to include some of the poppies he has made. Skilled as Simon is with human form, these sculptures have also helped to catch attention and capture beautifully the flowers which appeared in Flanders after World War I.

Poppy scultpure by Simon O'Rourke

Giant poppy outside wrexham museum by Simon O'Rourke

Giant poppy in 2014

If you are interested in having your own memorial carved by Simon, why not email us on [email protected]

Whether it’s a specific person or thing, or something general, Simon is able to use his skills, imagination, creativity and attention to history and detail to create something perfect for your tribute.

Queen of the South Legends Unveiled

Queen of the South Legends Unveiled 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Back in May we started sharing videos and photos of a statue of three footballers that Simon was working on. Five months later, we’re proud to see the statue of the Queen of the South legends finally installed and unveiled!

Queen of the South Legends statue by Simon O'Rourke unveiled in Dumfries

Queen of the South Legends Statue unveiled October 2019

The Commission

The statue was commissioned by The People’s Project and stands outside the Queen of the South stadium in Dumfries. The People’s Project exists to help rekindle community within Dumfries. It does this through practical projects, funding of community initiatives, and creating opportunities to remind people of the heritage of their town. This statue isn’t their first commission, and they have also restored or commissioned statues of Robert De Bruce, and Peter Pan.

This particular commission commemorates three of the legends of Queen of the South FC: Billy Houliston, Alan Ball, and Stephen Dobbie. Each player represents a different era, achievement and contribution to the club. To find out more about each player, visit http://www.qosfc.com/news-4765. We think it’s always inspiring to read about passion t,alent and dedication, even if football may not be your thing!

Stephen Dobbie with his likeness at the unveiling of the Queen of the South Legends by Simon O'Rourke

Current player Stephen Dobbie with his likeness at the unveiling

Making the Statue

This statue was always going to be a challenge. The original goal was to make the three life-sized players out of one piece of oak:

About to begin a project that will be a big challenge… And for once it isn't a dragon!!Three life size footballers in one log…

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Wednesday, 22 May 2019

If you watched the video, you would have seen Simon refer to a crack throughout the timber. That obviously meant he had to react immediately, and think about how to work with and around that crack. In the beginning this seemed to have a simple solution. Just turn the trunk upside down!

In addition though, he had to think not only about what that crack is like in the moment, but what would happen in years to come. It turned out that when he considered the Scottish weather, that crack was going to create some problems. Simon ended up having to cut out one player, and use a second piece of timber, as you can see in the next video. Every cloud has a silver lining though! Removing that player helped Simon overcome one of the other challenges in a 360° statue – reaching the backs of the other players!

An update on the footballers!!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Monday, 1 July 2019

Queen of the South FC statue in process after a player had been removed, allowing Simon to access the backs of the other players

The statue in process after a player had been removed, allowing Simon to access the backs of the other players

Creating a Likeness

As well as technical challenges, there was then the task of creating an accurate likeness. As we’ve mentioned in this blog, this means not only dealing with correct shape and ratio, but also the challenge of depth. In this case too, it also has to be true to life, and there isn’t as much artistic license. Especially in the case of a statue like this where the purpose is to honour people, Simon always wishes to capture them in a way which is accurate and tells a story of who they really are. For those who wonder how possible that is when using power tools, this comparison says it all!

Close up of Billy Houliston statue with one of the photos Simon worked from to create The Queen of the South legends

Billy Houliston statue with one of the photos Simon worked from

Creating Community – Not Just a Statue.

Part of the purpose of this statue was to commemorate the Queen of the South legends. It is has a bigger purpose that goes beyond this though.

The reason for commemorating these players is to remind the Dumfries community of their heritage. To remind them of town and community achievements they can be proud of. It reminds them of things they have in common like the love of a sport or a hero. It gives a focus for unity and remembering positive moments in their community. For the younger person looking at these players immortalised in wood, it gives something to aspire to. And for the older generation, it can bring about a sense of nostalgia and ‘the good old days’ that brings joy and encouragement. The kits from the different eras clearly show achievements across the years and history, and so it helps unite generations in a mutual appreciate of their team and its history.

Stephen Dobbie and club officials at the unveiling of the Queen of the South legends statue by Simon o'Rourke

Stephen Dobbie and club officials at the unveiling

And so, statues like this are more than just pieces of art to be admired. They also help unite, inspire, and promote community. Even the simple act of coming together for an unveiling ceremony helps create all these things.

If you are part of a town, club, society or community and would like to explore a similar idea, why not send us a message? As always, Simon is available on [email protected] to talk about your vision, hopes and the practical details.

Downton Revisited: The Highclere Castle Airman

Downton Revisited: The Highclere Castle Airman 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
The Visit

No, our blog title doesn’t refer to the movie released this weekend. We mean the real life setting for the series and movie: Highclere Castle. The castle is part of Lady and Lord Carnavon’s estate and is located in Hampshire, over 200 miles from the fictional setting. But for the fans of the series who enjoy a good tear-jerker, today’s blog about visiting the Highclere Castle Airman is just as good!

You may remember that last year Simon and Dan worked on a memorial for the Highclere Estate. For those who need a refresher, the project was a sculpture of a WWII airman and a series of benches that were unveiled at the Highclere Heroes weekend. They were made as a tribute to the airmen who lost their lives in the eight plane crashes that occurred there during WWII.  The benches even featured actual wreckage from one of the B17s that crashed on the estate. This weekend Simon and Liz had the privilege of visiting to see how the Highclere Castle airman is doing.

Keep reading to find out what that entails for Simon, but also a wonderful ‘plot twist’!

Simon and Liz O'Rourke at Highclere Castle, home of his airman sculpture

Simon and Liz at Highclere

Highclere Castle Airman with the house in the background

The beautiful setting for the airman and benches

The ‘Check Up’

Simon looks out for a few things when checking on a sculpture. One is obviously any damage that needs repairing. Thankfully there is no damage to either the airman or benches. That is, except for the inevitable bird deposits! He also reports that the Sculpture is weathering nicely. It’s already turned a lovely silvery grey colour, which was the intention.
When Simon re-visits a sculpture, he also looks at where the wood has opened up. When he is carving, he has to calculate where cracks will appear as it ages, and take this into account. Using wood in the right way can ensures it doesn’t split across the face or important parts of the sculpture as the wood dries. Again, thankfully all is well!

Highclere Castle Airman by Simon O'Rourke

The airman

Highclere Castle Airman by Simon O'Rourke

Reflecting on the project

The estate is a beautiful place to  enjoy the British countryside, and the Highclere Castle Airman is located in a particularly tranquil spot. As Simon and Liz were able to sit and enjoy both countryside and sculpture, they took some time to reflect on the project.

The O’Rourkes still feel extremely honoured to have been involved in this memorial. They hope that people will be able to enjoy the sculpture and benches in this setting for years to come. They’re also still extremely grateful to Lord and lady Carnarvon for commissioning Simon and Dan, and for their hospitality to them. As at the original unveiling,  it was very moving for them to be in a place so many sacrificed their lives for others, and to be part of a project that makes that history a visible and ‘living memory’ for others.

Simon, Liz and Dan weren’t the only ones moved by this lovely tribute commissioned by Lady Carnarvon. Several news outlets picked up on the sculpture, but also some of the stories behind it. The BBC article focused on the story of Len Nitti; a serviceman who miraculously survived a crash. The Daily Post focused on the project itself, as does the Daily Mail who also reflect on how the commission was an example of life and art imitating each other, and mirrored the final scenes of Downton Abbey.

B17 Benches, part of the Highclere Castle Aiurman memorial by Simon O'Rourke and Dan Barnes

The ‘B17 benches by Dan Barnes featuring shrapnel from crashed planes

The 'B17 benches by Dan Barnes featuring shrapnel from crashed planes. Part of the Highclere Castle Airman memorial

The ‘B17 benches by Dan Barnes featuring shrapnel from crashed planes

And then…..

And now for that beautiful plot twist!

Simon and Liz met with families of the airmen who lost their lives as part of the project – a very meaningful part of the Highclere Castle Airman story for them. So much so in fact, they are still in touch with one of the families today. There was one family that they didn’t get to meet at the time though. The family of William Dutton were the only family who were unable to make the unveiling weekend last year. 2nd Lt Dutton died on May 5th 1945 in the B17 Flying Fortress. In fact, it’s parts from his plane that are in the bench legs!
Life is full of surprises though. Completely unexpectedly,  Simon and Liz got to meet Nancy Dutton Sanders this weekend – William Dutton’s sister!

Simon O'Rourke meets sister of deceased Highclere Castle Airman

Meeting with Nancy Dutton Sanders

It added a poignancy and beauty to the visit. As always, meeting the ‘real life people’ behind the stories, makes all of us feel afresh a thankfulness for those who fought in wars for our freedom. For Simon and Liz, meeting families and seeing how much it means to them to have their loved ones honoured, is also a privilege and a joy, and adds real purpose to a project. How much more fun when it is totally unexpected!

This really ‘made’ the visit. We only hope that people viewing Highclere on the Big Screen this weekend get as much of a happy ending!

The Rauschwitz Angel

The Rauschwitz Angel 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Germany has a big tree carving tradition, and throughout the year there are events, festivals and competitions. We love that we get to be part of these events and the tree carving community. Each time we participate we meet wonderful people and grow friendships whilst helping to maintain the tradition. Simon’s recent Rauschwitz Angel carving was one of those opportunities.

The Rauschwitz Angel is from one of the newer events in the Tree Carving calendar. The event is hosted by Rauschwitzer Wood Culture Community and is run by Christian Schmidt – a talented tree carver himself. It featured several artists creating exhibits, as well as a speed carving competition.

The location was an open air church in Rauschwitz. The ‘walls’ of the church are trees, and there is a clear space between them, with benches for the congregation to sit on. The task this year for all the participants was to carve an angel for the end of each of the church benches.

Rauschwitz Church Angel by Simon O'Rourke

Rauschwitz Angel by Simon O’Rourke – notice the photobomb by @poppystihl!

The angel ‘theme’ tied the carvings together, and created the effect of an exhibition. Whilst there was incredible diversity as each artist was free to carve their own interpretation, there is also a real unity as they all carved the same subject. Obviously, this makes for a good exhibit! This diversity within unity is a also great depiction of what church is supposed to be too.

Rather than just focus on Simon’s sculpture, we thought we would also share some others from the event. What do you like about each, and why? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Griffon Ramsey angel

Angel by Griffon Ramsey

Angel at Rauschwitz by Dieter Kruger

Angel by Andrej Lochel

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Viewing Our Lady of Pen Llyn

Viewing Our Lady of Pen Llyn 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
Our Lady of Pen Llyn

One of the beautiful things about art, is that while the artist may have a vision or message, it speaks to people in different ways as they view. Our recent sculpture Our Lady of Pen Llyn is no different, so we wanted to share some thoughts others have had, and invite you to comment too.

Our Lady of Pen Llyn displayed at St Peter's, Pwllheli

Our Lady of Pen Llyn displayed at St Peter’s, Pwllheli

 

Reflecting On The Sculpture

One viewer has commented on the serenity of her expression, and a kind of wisdom and depth in her eyes.
Father Huw Bryant (the man behind the redevelopment project that led to the commission) has shared some of his thoughts in the statue description found at the church:

“One of the main features of the statue is Mary’s open handed pose. The Open Hand Image represents a hand open to give, as well as open to receive. Mary gave herself fully to the will of God, and she received the Holy Spirit. She gave the world her Son on the cross and she received the consolation of Joy in the resurrection. She lived with those hands open, open in trust, open in faith. Something we can emulate, to live with open hands, to not only give, but to receive as well. Out of living with open hands comes fresh new growth.  Living with open hands is an expression of an open mind, open heart, and open will.  Not only does living with open hands bring forth beauty but it is also the source of the passion of compassion. The flames of love are not stifled but are fanned into all-consuming, all-embracing, all-inclusive, unconditional love.”

Here her open hands are more visible

A Fountain of Grace

He adds:

Another feature worth contemplating is the plinth which is carved from Welsh Oak. It is designed to represent a fountain on which Mary sits. This is a representation of the Holy Well on Uwchmynydd and links to the vision of her, unique to that place. The fountain is that fountain of grace which Mary unlocks for us through her Yes to God as she bares our Christ into the world. A fountain, like that well on Uwchmynydd which is open for us today, for all to drink from it’s pure waters and thirst no more.”

Close up of the plinth mentioned by Father Huw

Of course, photos often don’t do justice to a piece of art. For those who would like a better visual, but can’t see the statue during her tour, our friends at Public-Art UK have created this fantastic 3D image for you to see.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about our sculpture, and what aspects speak most to you. Why not leave us a comment below?

 

 

Huskycup Flashback: Miners & Vikings

Huskycup Flashback: Miners & Vikings 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

It canIn a week’s time (8th-10th June) Simon and his wife Liz will be in Germany for The Huskycup.
The Huskycup is an annual event in Blockhausen with demonstrations, exhibits, and a speed-carving competition. At one time it was a competition, but is now a more relaxed demonstration and exhibition event. Artists pair up over the week to create something that ties in with the theme, without the pressure of competition. Simon has often participated, and took first place in 2016 with our first Huskycup Flashback: Viking Raid

Viking Raid, Huskycup 2016

Viking Raid, Huskycup 2016

About Huskycup 2019

Simon will partner with Japanese artist Keji Kedokoro for this year’s event. They will join five other teams to produce the best sculpture they can over the two days. This year’s theme is especially fitting for 2019 for us – Dragons!

The teams can produce anything their imagination allows! It can be realistic, comic, imagined or recognisable from a movie or TV show. The choice is theirs! We’ve seen Simon create amazing dragons in all those styles, so we can’t wait to see what he makes this time!

Until then, here’s another Huskycup flashback: The Bergmen (Miners)….

Simon O'Rourke's Bergmen in progress at Huskycup 2018s

Simon O’Rourke’s Bergmen in progress at Huskycup 2018

Revisiting Huskycup 2018

Simon’s challenge was to recreate a likeness of 15th Century German miners. He loves sculpting human form, so this was a project he could really sink his teeth into. This carve allowed him to show his skill in creating not only lifelike human form, but also historically accurate, realistic clothing through details like buttons on the uniform or the sense of movement of the cloth.

Simon O'Rourke miner carving

Working on details of the miners at Huskycup 2018

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Simon’s inspiration for his human form sculpting comes from Rodin and Bernini. Both are artists known for their use of texture, and for pioneering a style where they created motion and ‘story’ in their sculptures. Simon was faithful to that ideal when he carved these miners. Rather than being presented in a pose, they invite us into a story. It’s pretty clear these re-enactment 15th century Bergmen are delighted with their likeness!

The finished Miners, Huskycup 2018

The finished Miners, Huskycup 2018

Looking Forward

As well as the opportunity to carve, one of the fantastic parts of events like this is the community. The website shows it is going to be an amazing event. There will be great food and drink and entertainment. The speed carve features Germany against a combined Czech Republic and Slovakian team – who are keen to win after their defeat to Germany last time. There will be various demonstrations and craft stands as well as machinery exhibits and even glass work. We just hope the weather co-operates!

We’ll be sharing Simon’s work and news from the event on our Facebook and Instagram.  We wish all the artists good luck, and look forward to sharing with you the finished dragon!

Huskycup 2018

Simon is available for competitions, events and commissioned work. Email [email protected] or use the form on our contact page for information, quotes and availability.