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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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Three Wise Dragons Arrive in Pwllheli

Three Wise Dragons Arrive in Pwllheli 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Well, we promised you a year of dragons, and we don’t like to disappoint! So here they are: “Three Wise Dragons”.

The Setting

The dragons were a commission from Hafan Y Mor Holiday Park in Pwllheli. They are part of the new Dragon Lakes Adventure Village which opens later this month. Eventually they’ll be surrounded by astro turf and other parts of the development, so don’t worry if they look a little out of place at the moment. In a few weeks when it’s finished, they will be the perfect backdrop for a holiday selfie!

The Three Wise Dragons at Dragon Lakes Adventure Village, Hafan-y-Mor, Pwllheli

The Three Wise Dragons at Dragon Lakes Adventure Village, Hafan-y-Mor, Pwllheli

The History

The full commission was for a bench and three dragons. Here we have a very lovable version of: ‘ Hear No Evil’, ‘See No Evil’ and ‘Speak No Evil’ – our Welsh twist on the traditional Japanese monkeys, we’re sure you’re familiar with. And now for some trivia!

The saying itself dates back to the 2nd or 3rd century. It was actually a 17th century wooden carving though that made the characters famous. We already thought it was fitting to have a dragon version for Wales. Once we discovered that, we thought it even more fitting that we’re continuing that tradition of carving them in wood.

 

Hear No Evil from The Three Wise Dragons at Hafan Y Mor

Hear No Evil – Clywed Dim Drwg

 

See No Evil from The Three Wise Dragons at Hafan Y Mor

See No Evil – Gweld Dim Drwg

 

Speak No Evil from The Three Wise Dragons at Hafan Y Mor

Speak No Evil – Dweud Dim Drwg

Let Sleeping Dragons Lie

The commission also included a dragon bench. In keeping with being a family venue, and wanting the dragons to seem fun and approachable for children, this docile looking chap is even taking a nap! Perfect spot for a bit of a breather while the kids play, or snapping a family photo.

Sleeping Dragon Bench

The Location

‘Hafan Y Mor’ means ‘sea haven’. It seems an appropriate name for this spot in Pwllheli – a Llyn Peninsula market town which has won several awards for its beaches an marina.

Before we finish for this week, we’re intrigued to know: which one is your favourite? Comment below to tell us!

Don’t forget, you can also commission your own dragon by emailing [email protected]

A Very Wooden Valentines

A Very Wooden Valentines 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

After a January seemed to last forever, February is finally here and that means love is in the air! Or at least, all things pink and glittery are!
Whether you view Valentines Day as a romantic celebration or a money-making Hallmark Holiday, we thought you might enjoy some of these ‘love’ themed creations from Simon, and maybe be inspired for some of your own gifts for loved ones, whether for Valentines, birthday, anniversary or even a wedding.

Beauty and the Beast

 

For many of us, Disney was our first introduction to romance, and Beauty and the Beast has enthralled and entertained since Celine Dion first sang ‘Tale As Old As Time’ in 1992. We often get asked about the colouring in this sculpture. It was actually accidental (steel in the log) but has really grown on us, and as the wood weathers, will make for a stunning rustic look in a few year’s time.

 

 

These elephants in love already warm our hearts, but will take on an even more whimsical, fairy tale look when the magnolia behind them is in full bloom! Designs like this are perfect to make something more personal and romantic out of a practical/functional gift like this bench. Ideal for that fifth (wooden) or ninth (willow) wedding anniversary!

 

Photo used by permission of Abbi Photography

 

If it’s going to be a wooden gift, it doesn’t just have to be a sculpture. Last year our friends wanted something truly unique and personal to them, and commissioned these wedding rings for their colourful autumn wedding. Jewelry is a classic gift for a loved one, and if the source is something meaningful to you like a tree from your favourite park or a first home, how much more special!

 

Custom wedding rings and ring stand

 

Whether you spend Valentines Day with a loved one, friends, or going solo, we hope you enjoy the day and feel loved and appreciated – and find plenty of discount priced chocolate in the days that follow!!!!!

Wedding rings and bouquet photo supplied by and used by permission of Abbi Photography