memorial

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!

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?

 

 

Pet Portraits

Pet Portraits 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
Pet Portraits

11th April was National Pet Day. We loved seeing all the photos of pets online, daft bunch of animal lovers that we are! Sometimes though a photo of our furry family member is just not enough though. Over the years we have had a few people commission sculptures and illustrations of their beloved pet, so in honour of the day, here are some of Simon’s ‘Pet Portraits’:

Our first is ‘Cheila’, a German Shepherd completed around this time last year.

Cheila, the German Shepherd: a pet portrait by Simon O'Rourke

Cheila, the German Shepherd: a pet portrait by Simon O’Rourke

Cheila

After purchasing Simon’s ‘Lion Cub’ sculpture at a Born Free charity dinner around 18 months ago (a charity very close to our heart due to our involvement with the ‘Pawtraits’ book and exhibition a few years ago which featured Virginia McKenna), our clients – Steven and Leslie Smith – decided that they would like to commission Simon to produce a life size sculpture of their beloved dog, Cheila, to immortalise her in wood.

Simon spent time measuring Cheila and photographing her here at the workshop when Steven and Leslie came to visit, to make sure that the sculpture was absolutely accurate and then drew a number of sketches of her in the pose that Steven had requested in order to best capture all of her wonderful features, characteristics and quirks that make her, ‘Cheila’.

Needless to say that they were absolutely thrilled with the finished piece and wrote us a fantastic testimonial to back that up which you can find here.

Dachshund Bust by Simon O’Rourke

Dachshund

Our most recent of Simon’s Pet Portraits was the bust of a dachshund, photographed above. People often ask us about the process, and there’s no doubt; it’s fascinating to watch Simon work. To answer the ‘viewers’ he got out his Olfi Action Camera last week so you can see him working on this commission.

I finished a bust of a #Weimaraner dog yesterday! Here's some action footage shot on an Olfi action camera!

Posted by Simon O'Rourke – Tree Carving on Saturday, 20 April 2019

 

Portrait Panels

Of course, not everybody has room for a sculpture of their pet, and as the saying goes, ‘We have an app for that’!!! Well, not really an app, but a solution! Other clients over the years have opted to take advantage of Simon’s illustration training, and commissioned instead, a portrait on flat wooden ‘panels’.

Scruffy: Pet Potratit by Simon O’Rourke

Staffordshire Bull Terrier by Simon O’Rourke

We leave you this week with some examples of other pets; Debbie the cat and Dan the horse!
And of course, no National Pet Day Blog would be complete without our own O’Rourke pet and Tree Carving mascot, Poppy . She’s photographed here ready for a day of work and – just like Simon –  wearing her Stihl clothing!

 

Debbie the Cat: Pet Portrait by Simon O'Rourke

Debbie the Cat: Pet Portrait by Simon O’Rourke

Dan the Shire Horse: Pet Portrait by Simon O'Rourke

Dan the Shire Horse: Pet Portrait by Simon O’Rourke

Poppy, our family pet and Tree Carving 'mascot'

Poppy, our family pet and Tree Carving ‘mascot’ wearing her Stihl gear!

Get Your Own pet Portrait

Although this blog has focused on ‘man’s best friend’, Simon loves the challenge of sculpting animals and is happy to talk with you about any pet.  To see more of his animal and wildlife work, visit

https://www.treecarving.co.uk/portfolio/wildlife/

If you are interested in one of Simon’s Pet Portraits, get in touch with us at [email protected]

 

Home Is Where The Art Is

Home Is Where The Art Is 2448 2448 Simon O'Rourke

Recently Simon was asked to take part in the BBC’s Home is Where the Art is.  In each episode, three artists compete to win a commission from a mystery buyer. Simon tells us a little more about his experience.

Nick Knowles promotes Home is Where the Art is

Home is Where the Art is on BBC One

What is Home is Where The Art Is?

The three artists met at the buyer’s house and received a brief and a budget. Each artist then produced a sketch to meet that brief. Simon competed against a stainless steel sculptor and an acrylic pet portrait painter in his episode. Three very different mediums! Their brief was to create something that captured both the spirit and the form of the buyer’s beloved horse, ‘Dragon’.

Simon O'Rourke with Nick Knowles and the horse sculpture he created for Home is Where the Art is

With presenter, Nick Knowles and his final piece

Simon Tells All!

Simon says of this process:
“We all got to snoop around the buyer’s house to get a feel for the kind of things they might like. We also got to meet Dragon, which gave us all a flavour of his temperament and form. Each of us went away after this and were asked to come up with a two minute pitch, which was filmed at a studio in Manchester. The buyer then chose two artists to create the artwork they had pitched, and come back in a few weeks to present the artwork to the buyer. The buyer would then choose one to buy!   Nick Knowles is the host of the show, and made us feel really comfortable. The buyer threw a couple of curveballs in by asking if any of us would be happy to change our designs!”

Simon was one of the two artists chosen to compete. He took around eight hours to carve a representation of Dragon out of cedar as his entry, capturing not only his form but his movement and character.

Simon O'Rourkes final piece for Home is Where the Art is

‘Dragon’

The Results Are In!

Now that we won’t be revealing any spoilers, we can announce that sadly, Simon didn’t win.
Simon is extremely gracious in his defeat though. He says: “The buyer Delyse had a really difficult time choosing between us, but I feel she made a great choice. I would have chosen Claire’s work!”

‘Dragon’

Not only is it a privilege to be invited to take part in something like this, but even the name of the horse has tied in with our ‘year of the dragon’ here at Simon O’Rourke Tree Carving!

Making Dragon

If you would like a portrait of your pet, Simon is available at [email protected] to chat about your commission.