Historical Sculpture

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.

 

 

 

 

Y Ddraig Derw: An Adventure Worth Telling

Y Ddraig Derw: An Adventure Worth Telling 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

“IT SIMPLY ISN’T AN ADVENTURE WORTH TELLING IF THERE AREN’T ANY DRAGONS
A quick internet search shows nobody really knows who said this any more. Whoever it was, it still holds true that there is something about a dragon story which captures imagination. That’s even more true in Wales, where dragons have been linked with the identity of the nation since the 600AD! And it certainly seems the case with Y Ddraig Derw who has gone viral this week!

Y ddraig derw in Bethesday, North Wales

An Adventure Worth Telling

We already shared that this year has a bit of ‘dragon’ theme for us, and last week saw us working on another dragon sculpture. This time, Simon carved on location in beautiful North Wales, and it has been named ‘Y Ddraig Derw‘ (The Oak Dragon) by locals.
This dragon captured the attention and hearts of people who saw it in person and online, even before it was finished,and we’ve been overwhelmed by the positive messages, and the number of people sharing online. It even appeared in the Daily Post  and BBC!
We’re grateful and humbled, but also delighted so many of you have already been able to enjoy our Dragon of Bethesda.

The Commission

Several years ago, a 200 year old oak split, and half that fell was lying across a rock.  Sometimes in carving, we find the tree and sometimes the tree finds us! In this case it was the latter. This piece of timber was simply begging to be carved! Everything about it was perfect, from the type of tree, the length, positioning and its 30″ diameter. The commission itself came from the owner of the arboretum close to Bangor, Dr Alofs.

 Fallen oak that was to be transformed into Y ddraig derw

 

The Process

Y Ddraig Derw took six days to complete, making the most of the hours of daylight that we had. Simon completed the entire dragon on-site rather than transporting things from the workshop. This meant carrying large pieces up to the site use for the wings and legs. Definitely a good work out!
With wood that large and heavy, the process of incorporating them into the sculpture isn’t easy, but with patience and team work, we got there! The first few days focused on the head and then the shape and movement in the body, with the last two focused on texture and details. For those who would like to see more of the process, we uploaded video like this one during the week on our Facebook page.

The Finished Dragon

The finished sculpture is about 25′ long, and overlooks the road. With its craning head and open mouth, it looks like a guard dragon, roaring over those who would seek to enter its territory! Although it is on private land, there are a few public footpaths nearby for viewing, and it is visible from the southbound A5 between the first and second exits.

Simon O'Rourke pictured with Y ddraig derw in Bethesda, North Wales

Simon at work!

Visiting the Dragon

Although Y Ddraig Derw is visible from the road, it’s a tricky spot to stop for photos. We’d love for you to see him in person, but encourage you all to do it safely please! For exact location and tips for parking, please visit THIS POST on our Facebook page (it’s public, so you don’t need Facebook to see it).

Thank you once again for all the kind words and encouragement, and for sharing your photos. It’s always great to hear from you, and to see you enjoying our pieces. We’d love it if you could tag us in your posts so we can see them too! Use #simonorourke and #dragonofbethesda for this dragon.

Y ddraig derw by night.

PS: For those of you who can’t get to this dragon, why not have our dragons come to you?
Hemlock the Dragon is available for hire for shows, weddings, parties etc, and is always a big hit!

 

Photos of Y Ddraig Derw at night are taken by local photographer Derfel Owen and used with permission

Heroes at Highclere

Heroes at Highclere 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

We’re sure you can’t have missed that this week was the anniversary of 9/11. Certainly my social media feeds were full of people paying tribute to all the servicemen and law enforcement (human and canine!) who had willingly sacrificed their wellbeing, and even lives, to try and save others.

 

Whilst it is always sad to remember, it is also a beautiful thing to pay respect and honour, and here at Simon O’Rourke Tree Carving, we were honoured to pay tribute ourselves last weekend to another group of servicemen.

For readers outside the UK who may not have had the same media exposure, September 1918 marked the beginning of the end of the First World War, culminating in the Armistice two months later. In this centenary year, we have already had many events, appeals, fly bys and exhibitions happening all around the country to honour the men and women who have selflessly served our nation, and this event we were just at was just one fantastic example.

 

The Earl and Countess of Carnarvon of Highclere Castle (many of you will recognise it as ‘Downton Abbey’), chose to open their grounds for “Heroes at Highclere”: a charity weekend, honouring  those who have served and fundraising for charities related to our armed forces. Part of this weekend was the unveiling of an airman sculpture Simon was commissioned to create for this event, and we were invited to be there for the event.

It was an honour to be there in person at Highclere during the event, and as well as getting to unveil the sculpture, we were also able to take time to enjoy the exhibitions, planes, food, good weather and wonderful atmosphere as well as meet and talk with the families of those brave soldiers who lost their lives when their planes came down on and around the Highclere estate during World War 2. What a privilege too, to have been the one commissioned to create this piece honouring so many brave men and women who served during the world wars and in those 100 years that have followed – even more so, that it is housed in such a beautiful and iconic setting as the Highclere Estate!!

As well as the airman sculpture, Daniel, our carpenter and workshop manager, did a beautiful job of creating 3 benches based on the tail plane of a P38 aircraft; one of the types of aircraft that crash landed on the Highclere estate during World War two.

He thoughtfully designed the benches in a way that he could incorporate some pieces of shrapnel from the plane by using clear acrylic tubing for the legs, but sadly there was not any suitable shrapnel from this plane available at the time and so he used small pieces of shrapnel from the B17 aircraft that had also crashed there instead.

This actually ended up being the perfect combination as not only did it include more of the planes that had crashed on the estate in the design, but, on the day of the remembrance service and sculpture unveiling we actually met the family of the pilot of the B17 who had sadly died in the crash. We were so humbled and honoured to meet them and they absolutely loved the benches.

 

As well as the joy of seeing the completed pieces in their new home, and the fun of being able to take part in the heroes weekend, participating in this way also leaves us humbled and thankful for the men, women and animals in our armed forces and law enforcement. We hope that others who visit the castle and see our Airman and benches, will not only enjoy the artistry, but also take a moment to pause and reflect on their significance…

 

For those who would like to see the airman in situ, he will be on the lawns overlooking ‘Heaven’s Gate’ at the back of Highclere Castle for the foreseeable future. (Admission charges apply, please see the Highclere website for details)

 

Summer events!!

Summer events!! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

It’s going to be a very busy summer for us, involving the Beatles, dragons, nature sculpture and more!

Here’s the definitive list…

Artist residency at Erddig: July 11th and 12th August dates tbc…

The Rhug Country Fair: July 8th and 9th

Sculpture and outdoor furniture featured in two Tatton RHS gardens: July 19th – 23rd

Woodfest Country Show: July 29th and 30th

Junk sculpture and Nature sculpture workshops at Chester Cathedral: Every Friday in August

Creating a 3 metre sculpture at Chester Cathedral: every Saturday in August

Creating the Beatles at Pier Head Village in Liverpool: 12pm – 6pm, August 6th, August 13th, August 27th, August 28th

Hemlock the Dragon, appearing at the Denbigh Show: August 17th

Landscape 2017 in Battersea: September 19th and 20th

Halloween trail at Erddig National Trust: October

Pumpkin Carving Workshops at Hamper Food Festival Llangollen: October 14th and 15th

Erddig National Trust!

Erddig National Trust! 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

As artist in residence I will be producing a carving for the National Trust that will be auctioned off to raise money for the charity!

The dates I will be carving this piece are on the 11th and 12th of July, so come and watch!

I’m also carving some smaller pieces on the 4th and 5th so anyone is welcome to come and see me in action!

Here’s a couple of pieces I’ve created so far, inspired by the wonderful property and it’s history…

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