religious sculpture

close up of the angel's head and shoulders from Simon O'Rourke's Love Leading the Pilgrim Sculpture

Love Leading the Pilgrim Sculpture

Love Leading the Pilgrim Sculpture 800 600 Simon O'Rourke

This week Simon installed his Love Leading the Pilgrim sculpture at Biddulph Old Hall. It’s been popular on social media, so we wanted to share more about the sculpture and the story behind it. It’s fascinating! A big thank you to client Brian Vowles for his input on the blog this week.

 

Simon O'Rourke's chainsaw carving sculptures based on 'Love Leading the Pilgrim' by Burne-Jones. An angel is holding our a hand to help a hooded figure who is stretching their arm to meet them. The figures are surrounded by ruined buildings and wild garden.

 

Meet the Client

Regular readers of this blog will realise they’ve met this client before. Several years ago Simon made a sculpture based on a Bateman painting, The Pool of Bethesda. The sculpture was commissioned by the current owners of Biddulph Old Hall near Stok-on-Trent, and it was featured as a case study in Simon’s blog about the value of a chainsaw carving sculpture for historic property and is one of his most popular pieces.

Towards the end of the blog, Nigel shared that they were delighted with the angel and were saving up to commission a sculpture based on Love Leading the Pilgrim. So needless to say, this sculpture has been a long time in the making!

 

love leading the pilgrim, a painting by edward burne jones depicting and angel leading a hooded pilgrim through wilderness

Love Leading the Pilgrim by Edward Burne-Jones, the inspiration for Simon’s Love Leading the Pilgrim Sculpture.

 

About Biddulph Old Hall

Biddulph Old Hall is an ideal setting for these very classical sculptures. Originally a mansion constructed 1530-1580, it came under siege by Parliamentarians in 1644. Later owners added other structures in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, but nobody rebuilt the original mansion. Its upstanding ruins remain to this day.

The Biddulph family sold the property to James Bateman in 1861, and his son Robert lived in the habitable part until his death in 1922.

For those wondering about the subjects of both sculptures, this is where the link comes in!

Robert Bateman was the leader of a group of second-generation Pre-Raphaelite artists.  As the owner and resident,  he painted most of his best-known paintings in the studio at Biddulph Old Hall. This included The Pool of Bethesda; the inspiration for Simon’s first sculpture.

 

the picture is divided in two, one side showing the robert bateman painting 'the pool of bethesda'. The other side shows Simon O'Rourke's chainsaw carved sculpture based on the painting.

Simon’s Angel at the Pool of Bethesda and the Bateman painting it’s based on.

 

The Link with Burne-Jones

So how did the clients get from Bateman to Burne-Jones? Bear with us!

We know the artist Edward Burne-Jones was an inspiration to and influence on Bateman throughout his career. It appears that inspiration also extended beyond the canvas! One of Bateman’s projects was creating a romantic garden among the ruins of the mansion. That garden was essentially a ‘Briar-Rose’ garden, reminiscent of The Legend of the Briar Rose by Burne-Jones.

 

love leading the pilgrim sculpture by simon o'rourke. it sits among ruins of a mansion and greenery

 

Fast forward to the 21st century… Brian and Nigel found images of Bateman’s garden and wanted to recreate the same ambience in their garden design. The garden they’ve created replicates the style and wildness of that garden, but without slavishly following Bateman’s planting. Largely because the plans no longer exist!

There’s a small courtyard among the mansion ruins, and Nigel and Brian wanted to commemorate the completion of the restoration with a sculpture in the centre.
With all the connections between Bateman, Burne-Jones, and the garden, Burne-Jones’s magnificent paintings ‘Love Leading the Pilgrim’ was a fitting choice for the sculpture.

 

close up of the angel's head and shoulders from Simon O'Rourke's Love Leading the Pilgrim Sculpture

The angel in Simon’s Love Leading the Pilgrim sculpture

 

Further Connections Between Burne-Jones and Biddulph Old Hall.

This next paragraph is for those who love ‘it’s a small world’ coincidences and connections!

As Brian and Nigel were researching the painting, they came across a tapestry in the William Morris Museum. It was designed by Burne-Jones and features the same subject of Love leading the Pilgrim. That tapestry was then turned into an embroidery kit by Morris & Co.

In a massive coincidence, Nigel’s great, great, great Aunt (Lady Margaret Bell) bought the kit and embroidered it for her home! Another family connection they hadn’t known about!

 

Burne Jones Love Leading the Pilgrim Tapestry  photographed at the william morris museum

The Burne-Jones tapestry Nigel and Brian discovered during their research.

 

Commissioning Love Leading the Pilgrim

After years of saving and waiting, Nigel and Brian were finally able to commission the sculpture in September 2021. Sadly Nigel passed away not long after they had commissioned the piece. So now the finished sculpture is dedicated “not only to Robert and Caroline, but also to Nigel’s legendary vision, and to celebrate his life and the magnificent restoration of Biddulph Old Hall that he inspired.”

 

the pilgrim sculpture from love leading the pilgrim by simon o'rourke

 

Creating Love Leading the Pilgrim

Every commission comes with its joys and its challenges. For Simon, as well as being able to create something that honoured the history of the place, he found it fun to create something based on the painting. It gave him plenty of opportunities to create in a style he loves, and use his drapey skills to the max!

Social media comments have been SO encouraging with one follower commenting…

The subtleties of gesture and expression couldn’t be topped in any medium – and you’ve done it in wood!

However, what matters most is what the client thinks…

 

love leading the pilgrim by simon o'rourke.

Simon’s skill in transcribing the 2-D image from the painted canvas into a vibrant, sinuous and arresting sculpture is quite awe-inspiring. Nigel and I always had confidence that Simon would do the commission justice, but it is a triumph beyond my wildest dreams. It is such a fitting memorial, not only to Robert & Caroline but also to Nigel, whose passion for this place could not be better envisaged than in these two statues. They epitomise the struggles we faced together as we sought to restore Biddulph Old Hall and its gardens and grounds, and could not be more perfect.

As we mentioned earlier, massive thanks go to Brian for his assistance with this blog. He’s a wealth of information and although we couldn’t include all the story or details, it was a fascinating read.

If you would like to know more about Biddulph Old Hall, there are many articles around. We especially enjoyed THIS ONE in House and Garden though.

As always, if you would like to commission a sculpture for your home, business or community, contact Simon using the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/.

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?

 

 

Our Lady of Pen Llyn

Our Lady of Pen Llyn 150 150 Simon O'Rourke
The Commission

Every commission has its own story, and some go back further than others. This week our blog is the story behind Our Lady of Pen Llyn – a story that spans generations and continents.
Our thanks go to Father Huw Bryant of Bro Enlli who helped us understand the history and significance. He graciously supplied far more than we could include in this blog. If it catches your attention, we recommend visiting their Facebook page to find out more, or visiting any of the links.

Early sketches of Our Lady of Pen Llyn by Simon O'Rourke

Early sketches of Our Lady of Pen Llyn

Our Lady of Pen Llyn (Mair Forwyn Y Mor) is a commission from St Peter’s Church, Pwllheli. She is one small part of their ongoing redevelopment of the church as a site for pilgrimage. When people think of sacred sites in North Wales, they usually name Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli). However, in centuries past, Pwllheli was also a significant site for pilgrimage. Three years ago the shrine was re-opened. Believers began to come once again to St Peter’s to spend time in quiet, prayer and contemplation.

Mary sculpture in progress in Simon O'Rourke's workshop

Our Lady of Pen Llyn in progress in Simon’s workshop

The Journey of a Sculpture

The idea for this sculpture began when one such visitor donated a relic believed to be a piece of the veil worn by Mary (the mother of Jesus) at the cross. The church began looking for a way of displaying the relic, to make it accessible to visitors.  As they explored possibilities, they remembered the works of Hywel Rheinallt. He describes a statue of Mary in the area, that is believed to have been lost during the reformation. In wishing to reinstate that heritage, Fr Huw Bryant began to talk with Simon about a new statue.

Simon O'Rourkes sculpture displayed at St Peter's Pwllheli

Our Lady of Pen Llyn displayed at St Peter’s Pwllheli

The Artistic Process

Mary has been a popular subject for art in all mediums over the ages. One of the challenges with being commissioned to create such a sculpture is where to start, and how to bring something fresh.

What age should she be?
What mood are we portraying?
Should she stand, sit, or knee?

Simon and Father Huw began their conversation around the original statue, and the ancient seal of Pwllheli which also depicted Mary. Although all images of both seem to have been lost, there are descriptions of a vision of Mary at Uwchmynydd (a holy well in the area). Local artist Su Walls has a series depicting these visions, and these formed the basis for early conversation about the statue.

Our Lady of Pen Llyn displayed at St Peter's, Pwllheli

Our Lady of Pen Llyn displayed at St Peter’s, Pwllheli

A Beautiful Unveiling

Simon’s statue was unveiled last weekend, accompanied by a performance “The Protecting Veil” by Sir John Tavener.
In keeping with a tradition of religious statues going on tour, Our Lady of Pen Llyn is now rotating round churches in the area (view dates HERE).
She will return to St Peter’s on 15th August and will stay in the shrine area of the church where the relic is already on display. The church hopes she will be part of the devotional life of the shrine – another way of helping people enter the story of faith.

Close up view of Our Lady of Pen Llyn at St Peter's, Pwllheli

Close up view of Our Lady of Pen Llyn at St Peter’s, Pwllheli

Praise For Our Lady of Pen Llyn

Father Huw Bryant has said of the sculpture:

“It’s great to be able to have something that is both ancient and new, something to replace the medieval statue which is part of our cultural heritage that had been lost but made new for a new generation of Christians. What could symbolise such a fresh and new approach to an ancient practice than to carve it with a chainsaw!
It is a privilege over the last 3 years to see a shrine re-born and begin to bear fruit and this statue is the next step in the life of the Shrine being re-established for generations to come. Given that the Image of Our Lady of Walsingham has been used by Christian’s to guide them to Christ for over 950 years, it’s humbling to think Simon’s carving may be helping people find their way to God for hundreds of years to come.”

We agree! This is one of those times where art has an incredible impact on the soul and spirit. When we think of impacting people over the decades – maybe even centuries – to come, it’s humbling for us too !
Close up of the face of Our Lady of Pen Llyn by Simon O'Rourke

Close up of the face of Our Lady of Pen Llyn

Viewing the Sculpture

St Peter’s Church and Shrine are open Tuesday – Sunday for pilgrims to visit. There is also a shrine mass every Saturday at 10am.

If groups are interested in coming and would like services and devotions laid on, you can message them via their Facebook page or calling 01758 614693.

As always, Simon is available to talk about similar commissions at [email protected]