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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, Bebington. 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, Ent 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 one of the oldest races of Middle Earth. They are described as 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 is the ancestral home of the Lancelyn Green family. The present incumbent, or squire, is the 32nd lord of the manor of Poulton Lancelyn and Lower Bebington.  His father was Roger Lancelyn Green, the author of many well-known books about Robin Hood, King Arthur, Greek Heroes, Ancient Egypt, Norse Myths, Dragons, and all things imaginative and creative.  As one of the Oxford Inklings, Roger was friends with J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, who was an occasional visitor to Poulton. The Inklings praised the value of narrative in fiction and encouraged the writing of fantasy. Many aspects of the grounds have been inspired by imaginative literature.

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

The Poulton Hall Gardens

There are several different gardens at Poulton Hall, all of them stunning in their own way. They are open a few times a year, usually in aid of a charity. The walled gardens are also available for private functions such as weddings, tea parties, musical performances, and exhibitions. Details for opening are on their website www.poultonhall.co.uk/GardenOpenings/ if you would like to visit.

Each garden has a slightly different flavour as you can discover at www.poultonhall.co.uk/TheGardens.  The entrance to the walled gardens is intended to make you think you are entering a world of make-believe. Simon’s sculpture is not the only reference to fantasy and literature in the grounds. Other sculptures include a Jabberwock  (from Lewis Carroll’s poem Jabberwocky, in his book Through the Looking Glass) a Viking head, a Robin Hood, an Excalibur, and a Storyteller’s Chair.

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.  The Ent not only fit the literary-fantasy theme but is also much more unusual than more commonly seen sculptures of fairies, wizards, and mythological animals. 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 are moving, talking fictional beings with personalities, it was important that Simon first decide who this particular 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.

 

Ruby Meets a Squirrel woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke

Woodland Sculpture Trails: Meadow Park

Woodland Sculpture Trails: Meadow Park 2000 2000 Simon O'Rourke

Over the years Simon has created several Woodland Sculpture Trails. As we can’t easily go out and access our beautiful woodlands during lockdown, we thought we would bring them to you! Over the next few blogs we will share Simon’s Woodland Sculpture Trails so you can see them at home. And maybe once lockdown is over, you will feel inspired to go and see them for yourselves. We’ll also include some of the story behind their creation.
The first in our series, is Meadow Park, Ellesmere Port.

Original concept sketch of Ruby the Owl from meadow park woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke

Original sketch of Ruby the Owl

About Meadow Park

Meadow Park is a green space in the North West of England, on The Wirral.  The Friends of Meadow Park have been working on improving the space since 2013. Their vision is to involve local residents in improving the space and making it a centre for recreation, education and practical conservation.  If you read our previous blog about Simon’s woodland sculpture trails, you’ll know this vision is something that is shared by him and his wife Liz. In fact, Liz is a qualified forest school teacher!
The idea for the sculpture trail was part of their improvements to the area. Simon worked on the project in the latter half of 2017, and the whole thing was installed in December of that year.

Ruby meets an adder from Meadow Park woodland sculpture trail by simon o'rourke

Wildlife Education

One of the goals when Simon creates woodland sculpture trails is to raise awareness of local wildlife. In the case of Meadow Park, he did this through story form.
Using stories actively encourages the viewer to follow the whole trail and brings about a connection to the wildlife through characterisation. It also aids the educational content, helping families with young children to engage with the message.
And so, to aid with that, he and Liz created Ruby the Owl.

The Meadow Park Woodland Sculpture trail follows Ruby as she explores the area and looks for a place to call home. Along the way she meets other animals in their habitat, creating a delightful range of characters, akin to classics such as Watership Down, Animals of Farthing Wood or Wind in the Willows.

Ruby the Owl by Simon O'Rourke

Ruby the owl is searching for a home.
Looking for a place to call her own.
We’re sure you can help, we have no doubt,
Can you join her and seek it out?

Ruby’s Adventures

Ruby has proved very popular with the local population as well as visitors from further afield. However, she also had a few adventures that Simon and Liz didn’t author! After the successful opening of the trail, Ruby clearly caught the eye of some local thieves. She disappeared one night, and even made it on the local Television news! Thankfully Ruby was returned, and she was reinstalled in her home not long after.

And so, grab a cup of tea or coffee (maybe make it in a flask to make it seem authentic?!), and join us as we take you round the rest of the Meadow Park Sculpture Trail, along with the original sketch……

Ruby Meets an Adder
owl meets adder woodland sculpture by simon o'rourke

Along the path in the long long grass,
An adder slithered and wriggled past.
Is this my home? Said the owl with a frown,
I can’t stay here, it’s too low down!

Encounter with a Squirrel

Original sketch for ruby meets a squirrel by simon o'rourke

Ruby Meets a Squirrel woodland sculpture trails by simon o'rourke

Tree carving sculpture of ruby the owl and a squirrel

In the fork of a tree is a leafy drey,
And a sleek little squirrel, furry and grey.
Is this my home? It’s a cosy little ball,
But I can’t fit my head in, it’s far too small!

 

 

 

Meeting the Bat!

Bat sculpture from meadow park sculpture trail by simon o'rourke, original concept sketch

Ruby and the Fox

Owl and fox tree carving sculpture by simon o'rourke

By the roots of a tree, in a hole in the ground, A fox with a bushy red tail is found Is this my home? Lined with soil and bark? I don’t like it here, it’s much too dark!

Meeting the Toad

Original concept sketch ruby and the toad simon o'rourke

On the edge of the brook, in an old wet log
A fat warty toad looks at home in the bog.
Is this my home? It looks a bit grimy,
I can’t live here, it’s far too slimy!

A Heron Along the Way

Heron meets ruby the owl in one of simon o'rourke's woodland sculpture trails

Here’s a pond with reeds and trees
And a tall tall Heron, with knobbly knees
Is this my home? It’s not too flashy,
The watery pond is too wet and splashy!

Ruby and the Rabbits

Concept sketch by simon o'rourke for ruby the owl meeting the rabbits

Here’s a warren with holes and furrows
With Rabbits a plenty, making long long burrows.
Is this my home? It seems quite handy…
But the long long tunnels are far too sandy!

Then Ruby Finds her Home

original concept sketch from meadow park woodland sculpture trail by simon o'rourke of all the animals gathered together

Here’s a hole in a hollow tree
Out of the rain and lined with dry leaves.
Is this my home? Yes yes, You’ll see,
It’s warm, and dry and perfect for me!

As you can see, in the final sculpture where Ruby finds her home, Simon cleverly incorporated all the characters.

And they all lived happily ever after?

Well, that’s something that we, as humans get to decide for them in many ways. Our hope is that through trails like these we are able to encourage people to engage with their environment in positive ways. We hope that the characterisation makes the wildlife more real to them. Then, in turn, they will become part of a movement that helps sustain and not plunder the earth.

We hope you enjoyed this virtual tour of Meadow Park Sculpture Trail. Next week in our Woodland Sculpture Trails series, we will take you to Page’s Wood in the South East of England.

Until then, enjoy the outdoors in your area, whilst also staying safe.

Woodland Friends

Woodland Friends 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

This week Simon (photographed here on day one) has been working on a couple of commissions for local gardens; transforming the trunks into some woodland friends.

Working on the first sculpture of the week

 

The Sculpture

During the week, a fox, owls, woodpecker and squirrels appeared in the timber. What a delightful group of woodland friends! Simon also gave the stripped-back timber the shape and texture of a tree. He did this by adding details like knots, branch stumps, and a nut hatch. He also created twists and imperfections in the shape and direction of the trunk. These all help capture the attention of the viewer and make the piece seem more realistic.

In addition to the texture detail, each of the woodland friends was actually given a story of its own.
Simon does this by paying attention to the focus, expression and movement of each animal. Each one of them sits, stands, flies or moves in a different direction, with a different expression.

Woodland scene number two from the week

Visual Storytelling

One of the beautiful things about Simon’s storytelling is that they are not so prescriptive that they tell the whole story. |Simon gives clues, but leaves aspects to the imagination of the onlooker:

Who or what is the fox watching?

What is it behind the owl that has caught his attention?

Is the squirrel running for play, or returning to its home in a hurry to avoid a storm? Perhaps it’s looking for escape as a local dog on a walk has broken free and is giving chase?

Maybe something about the eyes and expression or the movement reminds you of a scene from a childhood story of woodland creatures?

Visit our Facebook page for yourselves to see more photos and videos of the finished pieces. Feel free to leave a comment on our photos and videos too, letting us know what you thought!