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Face of the ent tree sculpture by simon o'rourke in Poulton Hall gardens

Monkey Puzzle Ent Tree Sculpture

Monkey Puzzle Ent Tree Sculpture 1920 2560 Simon O'Rourke

Simon spent the week working in the grounds of Poulton Hall, Bebbington. Thankfully the weather cooperated, for this outdoor project! Over four days of carving Simon transformed a monkey puzzle tree into this fantastic Ent tree sculpture…

ent tree sculpture by simon o'rourke. carved into a standing monkey puzzle tree outside poulton hall

Um, what’s an Ent Tree Sculpture?!

For those who are wondering, Ents are one of Tolkien’s literary creations. So this week’s sculpture would have fit perfectly in the literary fan art blog we posted a few weeks ago! The Ent feature in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and are also one of the oldest races of Middle Earth. Ents are shepherds and protectors of the trees. They are tree-like in appearance and take on the appearance of the trees they guard. Although we don’t often think of a ‘tree person’ as being a fearsome warrior, “Their punches can crumple iron like tin, and they can tear apart solid rock-like bread crusts.”!

front view of the ent tree sculpture by simon o'rourke at poulton hall

So, why an Ent tree sculpture?!

The choice of an Ent has a special story…
The sculpture is in the grounds of Poulton Hall, which belongs to the Lancelyn family. It’s actually been in their family since the 11th century! The current owner is the son of author Roger Lancelyn Green who was part of ‘The Inklings’  during his time in Oxford. The Inklings were literary enthusiasts who would meet at The Eagle and Child pub each week. They praised the value of narrative in fiction and encouraged the writing of fantasy. Many members of the group became prominent authors, including none other than JRR Tolkien and C S Lewis. The owner’s relationship with these authors and his passion for fantasy literature is evident throughout the grounds.

blue plaque stating roger lancelyn green lived in poulton hall, bebington

The Poulton Hall Gardens

There are several different gardens at Poulton Hall. They are open a few times a year, always in aid of a charity. Each has the distinct character of the owner at that time. The entrance to the walled gardens is intended to make you think you are entering a world of make-believe, and even includes a wooden sculpture by Jim Heath of The Jabberwocky!

This historic link with Tolkien and the property already having the sense of a fantasy garden meant a literary fantasy character was a natural choice for this latest addition. While there are lots of options, characters like the wizards or animal protagonists in Narnia are all well known and frequently depicted. The Ent not only fit the literary-fantasy theme but was also much more unique. It has the benefit too of blending more naturally with the surrounding gardens than other human or animal subjects. And so, whilst an unusual choice, the Ent is perfect for Poulton Hall.

Face of the ent tree sculpture by simon o'rourke in Poulton Hall gardens

The Character of the Ent Tree Sculpture

As the Ent is moving, talking fictional beings with personalities, it was important that Simon first decide who this Ent is before he started carving. These all inform the pose, texture, expression – and more – of a sculpture. In this case, Simon was carving a Monkey Puzzle tree, and so Aracaurius the Ent was born! The name comes from the Latin name for the tree: aracauria Araucana. Aracaurius the Ent tree sculpture is 5m tall and has an affinity for the local wildlife. There’s a fox, a rabbit in his hand, an owl perched on his left hand, an angry stoat, a squirrel, a woodpecker, and a hidden mouse!

the fox at the foot of the ent tree sculpture by simon o'rourke at poulton hall

The fox at the foot of the Ent

 

Squirrel in the trunk of the ent tree sculpture by simon o'rourke

The squirrel peeping out from the leg of the ent tree sculpture

Depicting a Monkey Puzzle Ent

One of the features we mentioned of the Ent, is that they take on the features of the tree they protect. In this case, a monkey puzzle tree. The monkey puzzle tree is an evergreen with long, spiky branches. Simon captures this in the long vertical cuts down the length of the Ent.

close up of the ent tree sculpture by simon o'rourke, focusing on the rabbit in its left hand

Close up of the rabbit and the long vertical texture that suggests the long spiky coniferous branches of the monkey puzzle tree.

Monkey Puzzle trees also have a distinctive, leathery, pointy leaf. Simon has created variation in the texture of the ent tree sculpture by creating patches where the leaves are growing. This also hints at the evolutionary transformation of the Ent where it gradually takes on more and more of the characteristics of the tree it is guarding.

 

rear view of the ent tree sculpture by simon o'rourke, showing the leaf and trunk detail

Rearview of the Ent showing the monkey puzzle leaves

A Face That Tells a Story

An important part of anthropomorphising objects is the face. There have to be believable details that blend the object/animal with human features. A glimpse at the face shows that this gentleman is an older Ent, with wise eyes, and a hint of compassion.

ent sculpture by simon o'rourke at poulton hall

More Details

It’s amazing to think about the number of details that go into creating something like the Ent tree sculpture. For example, look at the shoulder. That ‘point’ makes all the difference in convincing the viewer the Ent is a ‘tree person’ and not human. Drop that shoulder, and it immediately becomes ‘too human’, and less organic. The arms need to have enough irregularities to appear as a branch and not a human arm.  Attention to details like this as well as the phenomenal texture are what makes this Ent so striking and convincing.

And speaking of details, we have to share the rest of those animals hiding about the Ent’s person!

woodpecker and owl in simon o'rourke's ent sculpture

View of the Ent showing the woodpecker and owl

The Process of Making the Ent Tree Sculpture

As always, it is fascinating to watch Simon at work. On this project the Stihl MS500i did a LOT of work! It’s a meaty saw with the best power-to-weight ratio on the market, and the simplest operation. It’s perfectly suited to arboriculture or sculpting large pieces of timber. Although a 5m Ent may not be what what Stihl had in mind when they developed the product!

When it came to texture and larger details, the battery powered saws by Stihl were invaluable. They allow for much more movement round the tree, are more lightweight, so easier to get into some of those angles.

As we have said before too, the saburrtooth burrs are a gamechanger for facial details! For eyes like this, there has to be quite a deep cut to create the shadow needed for the eyes to hold their expression, and to be seen from further away. This last part is especially important on something large scale. The burrs are perfect for creating these smaller, deep, details.

We’ll have a timelapse of the whole process ready soon, but until then, you can see Simon in action on day one of the project.

 

Over to You!

If you were going to commission a literary fantasy sculpture what would you choose? Would it be Middle Earth, Narnia, Discworld, Camelot, Neverland, Ga’hoole? Or something else? The possibilities are endless and can lead to a truly unique and beautiful piece of sustainable art.

Before we sign off, we need to give a shout out to JB Platform Hire. Great to work with, and it’s their cherry picker that enabled me to carve and get video like this one…

If you have an idea, contact us using the form on www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ and Simon will get back to you to chat about ideas, details, and costs.

 

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.