RAF

A Throne Fit for a King Officer

A Throne Fit for a King Officer 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

Sometimes you don’t need an excuse like an anniversary to install a piece of art.
Do you ever see something you admire and think ‘I’d like one of those’? That’s kind of what happened with this week’s featured sculpture: The RAF dragon throne.

Close up of the RAF Valley Dragon by Simon O'Rourke

The Story Behind the RAF Dragon Throne

The story of this sculpture actually began back in February, not long after Simon revealed The Dragon of Bethesda . Squadron Leader Leah Richmond at RAF Valley, Anglesey (North Wales) saw the dragon Simon had carved as a private commission. She had a space on the RAF base that needed ‘something’, so she contacted Simon about getting their very own dragon! Or at least, that’s the quick summary! Simon created this rather dignified looking beast in the Spring, and it was unveiled this week during the annual base reception and sunset parade.

RAF Valley Dragon Throne by Simon O'Rourke in progress

Early work on the dragon throne

The Dragon Throne’s New Home

RAF Valley provides fast-jet training as well as training for aircrew working with search and rescue. The base became known throughout the UK when Prince William was stationed there 2010-2013. The North Waelsh population knew of it a long time before that however. Many a holiday-goer in Snowdonia is treated to the sight (and sound!!!) of a low flying Hawk!

The dragon was a meaningful choice for this base, as not only is the dragon on the national flag of Wales, but it is also on the RAF Valley emblem. This side by side shows how Simon has taken the very simplistic image from the badge, and re-imagined how that would translate into a real animal. The dragon’s expression and more rugged texturing (rather than smooth, even scales) really enhance the sense of a rugged,  aged guardian.

Comparison of RAF Valley Dragon with Simon O'Rourke's Sculpture

Comparison of the dragons

The Making of the Throne

Making the dragon took six days of work, from the initial hollowing out of the oak that is the main frame for the thone, to completing the fine detail. The shape of the wings which provide the back and sides of the throne, remain faithful to the dragon on the badge, and the overall scale provides a fittingly regal overall impression. Truly a throne fit for an officer!

As the oak ages, it will take on a much darker colour and warmer tones. In time, those tones will contrast beautifully with the seat which is made from Cedar of Lebanon. The cedar will also darken in time, but take on grey hues – coincidentally reminiscent of the RAF uniforms!

As always, Simon used his faithful Stihl chainsaws to create the throne. For those who are interested in this side of what Simon does, check out the MS 500i and the MSA 200 which were both used for this sculpture. Both have been great additions to his collection of tools. The MS500i is great for its power, lightweight design and how easy it is to operate when there is heavy duty ‘chopping’, hollowing and shaping to do! The MSA 200 gives Simon the usual Stihl functionality as well as all the benefits of using a battery operated saw – and is quiet enough to use on site in residential or public areas.

Completed Dragon Throne by Simon O'Rourke

The finished throne!

Unveiling the RAF Dragon Throne

The unveiling of the throne happened at the annual base reception this week. It made quite the impact, and was admired by the staff, local dignitaries and other attendees. It also created some entertaining Twitter conversation that you can read here!

Simon O'Rourke with RAF Valley Station Commander Chris Jones and the completed dragon throne

Simon O’Rourke with RAF Valley Station Commander Chris Jones and the completed dragon throne

 

Liz O'Rourke with Sqn Ldr Leah Richmond who envisioned and initiated the throne

Liz O’Rourke with Sqn Ldr Leah Richmond who envisioned and initiated the throne

This sculpture began life when somebody saw and admired another of Simon’s pieces. Which carvings have you seen and thought ‘I want one of those’? Drop us a comment below!
Even better, why not email [email protected] and have a chat about how you could have your own?

Heroes at Highclere

Heroes at Highclere 150 150 Simon O'Rourke

We’re sure you can’t have missed that this week was the anniversary of 9/11. Certainly my social media feeds were full of people paying tribute to all the servicemen and law enforcement (human and canine!) who had willingly sacrificed their wellbeing, and even lives, to try and save others.
Whilst it is always sad to remember, it is also a beautiful thing to pay respect and honour, and here at Simon O’Rourke Tree Carving, we were honoured to pay tribute ourselves last weekend to another group of servicemen: The Heroes at Highclere.

Centenary Celebrations

For readers outside the UK who may not have had the same media exposure, September 1918 marked the beginning of the end of the First World War. This would culminate in the Armistice two months later. In this centenary year, as a country we are taking time to honour the men and women who have selflessly served our nation. This fantastic event was one of many  that will happen over this year, and we are glad to have paid a part.

The Downton Connection

The Earl and Countess of Carnarvon of Highclere Castle (many of you will recognise it as ‘Downton Abbey’), chose to open their grounds for “Heroes at Highclere”: a charity weekend, honouring  those who have served and fundraising for charities related to our armed forces.  The reason we were there was because part of the weekend was the unveiling of a sculpture Simon created….

Visiting Highclere

It was an incredible experience to be there in person at Highclere during the event. As well as getting to unveil the sculpture, we were also able to take time to enjoy the exhibitions, planes, food, good weather and wonderful atmosphere. We also met and talked with the families of the brave soldiers who lost their lives when their planes came down on and around the Highclere estate during World War 2. It is always a privilege to receive a commission with this level of meaning. Even more so this time because it is housed in such a beautiful, prominent, and iconic setting as the Highclere Estate!!

Memorial Benches

As well as the airman sculpture, Daniel, our carpenter and workshop manager, did a beautiful job of creating 3 benches based on the tail plane of a P38 aircraft; one of the types of aircraft that crash landed on the Highclere estate during World War two.

He thoughtfully designed the benches in a way that he could incorporate some pieces of shrapnel from the plane. So they were protected, he was going to encase them in clear acrylic tubing, which would be the legs. Sadly there wasn’t any suitable shrapnel from this plane available at the time, so he used small pieces of shrapnel from the B17 aircraft instead.

This actually ended up being the perfect combination. Partly because meant it included more of the planes that had crashed on the estate. In turn, this meant more of the families felt represented in the tribute. On the day of the unveiling we actually met the family of the pilot of the B17 who had sadly died in the crash. They were visibly moved seeing their family’s history displayed in this way. It was humbling to meet them and we felt honoured that they loved the benches.

 

A Wonderful Weekend

As well as the joy of seeing the completed pieces in their new home, and the fun of being able to take part in the heroes weekend, participating in this way also leaves us humbled and thankful for the men, women and animals in our armed forces and law enforcement. We hope that others who visit the castle and see our Airman and benches, will not only enjoy the artistry, but also take a moment to pause and reflect on their significance…

 

You can see the airman on the lawns overlooking ‘Heaven’s Gate’ at Highclere Castle for the foreseeable future. (Admission charges apply, please see the Highclere website for details)