Television & Film

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!

Radagast the Brown, (Blue and Pink).

Radagast the Brown, (Blue and Pink). 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Isn’t he amazing?! Meet Radagast the Brown!

Radagast the Brown by Simon O'Rourke

 

Simon recently worked on this sculpture of Radagast the Brown from Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’.

We think he makes a striking figure rising up among the shrubbery. We love the detail too like his wise, all-seeing eyes and wild beard. It’s so easy to imagine birds nesting in it, as the story goes. The bird on his head and the bottle of medicine are perfect references to the series. Radagast the Brown is known to communicate with ‘beasts and birds’, so it is especially appropriate that this sculpture is found outdoors.

Radagast the Brown by Simon O'Rourke

 

 

Why the decision to have a wizard in this otherwise typical garden?

Sadly, it came about because of disease in the tree: a blue atlas cedar.

The fungus responsible is sirococcus, and its incidence has gradually been increasing throughout the UK since 2016. It’s thought that it spreads through rain splash, strong winds, and possibly seed transmission, and there is unfortunately no known cure. Damaged trees must be cut back. Although it will sometimes kill younger trees, the RHS reports mature trees can live for many years.

If you are the owner of a Blue Atlas Cedar, there are a couple of signs to watch out for. The main one is pink needles. This is a sign of death, and they will later turn brown and drop off. The tree may also get cankers, gum bleeds, and grow fruiting bodies on the dead leaves. Click HERE to find out more and see images of things to look out for. Forest Research have also published a helpful article HERE.

Sirococcus-conigenus-on-cedar-of-Lebanon-

Example of the typical pink needles of an infected tree.

Government bodies are also trying to track the spread.

That means it’s important to report it, if you see a tree you think may be infected. The link and everything you need to know to make a report can be found HERE. Reporting is so important, so we ask you to PLEASE consider doing your part.

Radagast the Brown by Simon O'Rourke

All is not lost though if  your own tree is infected!

Simon is on hand to transform it and give it new life. Whether a fantasy sculpture like this, or something more ‘natural’ like THESE are your thing, Simon is able to create something beautiful for your garden.

Email  [email protected] to find out how he can help you.

 

Carved Day’s Night: Global Beatles Day

Carved Day’s Night: Global Beatles Day 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

June 25th was Global Beatles Day. Yes, there is such a thing!
The day celebrates the ideals of The Beatles, and honours them as individuals. We love the music of the Beatles, and with Simon also being a Liverpudlian, we couldn’t let it pass without a flashback to Simon’s Beatles carvings.

Simon carving The Beatles

Work in progress!

Simon created The Beatles sculptures over four days in Liverpool in August 2017. It was part of an event at the pier head, so locals were also able to watch Simon at work. Needless to say, they loved seeing their very own ‘fab four’ coming to life!


Beatles Sculptures outside the Liver building for Global Beatles Day

Making each figure took around six hours. From facial details to posture, each one is a great representation, and reflects Simon’s talent for human form. The ‘Fab Four’ were then auctioned off in aid of Variety charity, and ended up raising over £15,000! Global development and human rights were important to the members of the band, and as Global Beatles Day also celebrates their values, we reckon that fantastic result is another good reason to revisit these pieces today.

Simon O'Rourke Celebrating Global Beatles Day with his Beatles sculptures

Simon with the finished band!

Since then Simon has recreated lots of figures from the airman at Highclere Castle to other Liverpudlians like Cilla Black and Ken Dodd. You can see some of his human form portfolio here.

If there are events, anniversaries etc that you would like marked with your own sculpture, get in touch with us at [email protected] to find out more.

For The Throne

For The Throne 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Toward the end of last year, Simon received one of his most exciting projects to date – the opportunity to take part in HBO’s #forthethrone campaign, promoting season eight of the popular TV series.
18 artists from around the world were selected by HBO, who then sent them an original prop from the Game of Thrones series, and each artist either had to come up with a way to make them ‘their own’, or received a brief for the prop.

Simon was sent the three dragon eggs that were given to Daenerys as a wedding gift during season one. Not only was it awe-inspiring to be able to see and hold in person such an iconic object, but as pieces of art they were even more beautiful in real life with their detailed scaly texture and incredible ombre, blended metallic colouring.  His task was to create a new casket for the eggs that would not only be both functional and aesthetically pleasing, but would also tie-in with the era and location of the series. You can see Simon receiving the eggs in this video of the making of the Dragon Egg Casket.

Opening the dragon eggs from HBO

 

Simon has had lots of experience of the years in carving dragons of all scales and for all projects, so the ideas for shape, texture, and details were flowing. There were some very practical considerations though which added to the challenge.

  • The casket had to actually be large enough to hold all three eggs.
  • It needed to be able to open and close without damaging the eggs.
  • The eggs had to be held securely in place to withstand travel – both in real life to get it back to HBO, but also in the series, the eggs are a gift from far away and would have to be carried to the wedding.
  • The casket needed to be weatherproof, as in the series, it would have needed to withstand various weather conditions.
  • It needed to have some way of being transportable.
  • It needed to sit on a flat surface, or have some additional stand or similar that would enable it to do so.

The open dragon mouth lid

With those practicalities in place there was then the artistic side to consider. In Simon’s own words:
The concept was the first thing to get right. My first idea was to include dragon-like wings shrouding the eggs, but moved on to a skull because I felt it would look more impressive. After hearing the dragon skull idea would clash with another design I moved back to my original thought and explored the shroud idea. I went through several design ideas about what to include, whether or not to put a dragons eye in the design, or a representation of a head. I settled on a simple organic looking lid that opened like a bread bin. I was inspired by a real mixture of Nature, Alien, Star Wars and of course Game of Thrones! The almost Alien egg like texture is also representative of dragon scales, and the mismatched teeth give it a slight feel of Saarlach from Star Wars with a hint of alligator!”

Showing the texture and details of the mouth

The casket was carved out of yew, which in itself had some beautiful markings and colouring, and the design was actually altered as Simon went along to allow this to be seen. An added bonus was that this colouring and texture was reminiscent of Danerys’ hair! Seemingly random Dragon teeth throughout the interior hold the eggs securely in place, with the random placing, irregular shapes and texture lending the feel of danger or uncertainty.
There is an organic, unsymmetrical feel to the lid which snaps shut to protect and hide the eggs, “Like a mutated dragon”. Again, the random placing and irregular shaping and direction of the teeth adds not only an organic feel, but heightens the sense of danger. Whilst feeling dangerous, the scales and the misshaping of the teeth invite touch, in the same way the eggs themselves do. Just as the eggs are experienced differently in the series, with Daenerys being the only one who feels life within them, (and is drawn inexplicably to them), each person will experience or focus on something slightly different as they are drawn to feel the texture of the casket.

Finished project with the lid closed to hide the eggs

The dragon mouth casing is then shrouded in abstract dragon wings, which further protects the eggs, and perfectly exhibits the grain of the wood. The smooth finish is contrast to the scales of the inner shell and the rippled texture of the outer wood. Finally, “the ash wood carrying poles were a functional and useful addition, as well as giving an impression of a very valuable cargo, needing two or four slaves to bear the precious gift! I [Simon] chose stainless steel rings to thread the poles through as the shiny steel is a real compliment to the natural material of the wood.”

Image taken from HBO For the Throne campaign, ‘The fire collection’.


Simon is quoted as saying the biggest challenge was  “getting a lid mechanism to cover the eggs when closed, sit nicely on the edges of the wings, and not touch the eggs when opening and closing” In retrospect however, we wonder if his greater challenge was actually keeping such an exciting project secret until now! We’re all excited here at Simon O Rourke Tree Carving to see the rest of the pieces produced by the other artists, which will be revealed in a series of five collections leading up to the release of the newest season of Game of Thrones.
This campaign isn’t just for professionals though! HBO would love to see other work inspired by the series, so you are invited to post your own projects online. Simply use the hashtag #forthethrone for the opportunity for your own work to be included in the campaign.