Planning a Public Sculpture.
This is post is an ongoing diary for this excellent Big Skill Community Project to share with everyone involved. And I hope it will be useful and interesting to anyone planning similar projects. I will add to it over the next 6 months.
Building big sculptures is intence, complicated, a lot of labour, a bit of a nightmare and exciting! This Memorial to everyone affected by the pandemic will all be made in clay, including the armature, fired in sections and then rebuilt on site with permenant construction materials.
Here is the project description and the sculpture’s ‘Brief’ which we put together in workshops over the last year. All kinds of lovely people are involved. I took mountains of notes and we had some increadable, intence conversations that lead us to this point in February 2021 where we feel we are ready to make our monument to an extraordinary time in our history.
From Standing Up For Peace to Remember and Rebuild.
At the beginning of this project, in 2019, our society was brittle with division. Inspired by the
beautiful gardens of Saxon Hall we had the idea of a monument to community with ‘Standing Up
For Peace’ as a theme and enjoyable, creative workshops with The Accessible Craft Group and
other Makers at The Big Skill to bring local people together to focus on all the many positives
around us in Hereford.
This was going well, we had great turn out and a lovely, friendly, open atmosphere fostered by the
excellent facilities of Saxon Hall.
Then Covid19 stepped in… Lockdown gave us a shared experience that cast a harsh light on our
society and lead us to question what really made us safe, happy and productive.
Many people stepped up to volunteer and help ensure those around them were safe and well. Key
workers were acknowledged and appreciated for the great work they do for us all and the bravery
they showed in the fearful, dangerous situation.
The work we had already done for Standing Up For Peace made an ideal foundation for much
harder, more intensely focussed questions. And our amazing participants were really willing share
their fresh, new perspective and their very personal experiences.
So we have switched our focus onto the Pandemic experiences that have affected every aspect of
our society and daily lives. The Workshops planning the sculpture, sharing skills and getting people
together to have relaxed, inclusive conversations about these hugely challenging, difficult months
over crafts, cake and coffee have been re-named ‘Remember and Rebuild’.
Camera in the Community is proving to be a wonderful way to capture moving stories told in
person with genuine warmth and humour.
We have been taking notes, collecting images and ideas and now have a scale model and a new
budget for a sculpture that can honour this extraordinary time in our history, a painful year full of
loss, grief, fear and hardship where people from all walks of life have shown kindness, bravery and
What Community Centres are all about really stands out at times of crisis. Fun and useful activities
build the ties that bind a community together so that when the doubt and fear in a crisis can seem
insurmountable the Community Center is a safe, trustworthy place where those able to give can join
with those in need and share the work that will rebuild the community to be able to cope in new
Out of a swirling confusion of contradictory emotions patterns have begun to clarify and form
routes that unite and strengthen the community.
On the Sculpture those routes can be followed, in an interwoven loop, up from the ground within
the 2 meter circle and around the guardian forms who make sense of the swirl and direct the flow in
and back out of the safe space between them at the centre of the circle.
Second draft of Remember and Rebuild. The base is the 2metre wide ‘distancing circle’ that has become iconic during the pandemic. There will be a swirlling mosaic of hand-made tiles set into it. The figure is just for scale.
Key ideas collected at Workshops:
-‘The space we hold inside is equal in importance to the space outside.’
-Two caring hands.
-A kind embrace, hug.
- Reciprocity: The Ties That Bind.
-Guardians: angels and also the SAS Soldiers (*mark Sea King Disaster, Falklands War in carving)
uncompromising heroes with relentless courage who stepped up to work, regardless of the risk, to
care for others. Key Workers. Wishing a for a ‘force’ to protect loved ones.
- Inspired by Heroes. (talked about a lot and redefined by Lockdown)
- Saxon Hall builds on the tradition of it’s Military heritage: offering the opportunity to connect and
become part of the strength that makes resilience.
-Two figures: Love and Courage.
- Community in Nature.
-The Rotherwas Ribbon, a winding path, marked this area as significant to ancient people.
-Tie the sculpture in to the wonderful mosaics already in the garden. And to the Community
Orchard, Herb Bed, the beautiful flower bed and other features on the site
- a focus on sharing, making connections to strengthen the Community for this new era.
- Building on what we learnt from Lockdown.
-Two figures interacting: Working together. The need for connection is the biggest driving force in
our lives- with people, pets, gardens. Creativity is all about that:-reaching inwards and outwards;
trying to say what we mean, to connect by explaining what we are/see/can do/can offer.
- The 2 metre circle encloses and separates, leaving us with ourselves.
- 2 metre circle: protect, contain, shield, separate, personal space, boundaries, limit, barrier,
reaching out, Pushing away, en-circled.
- The Natural World: being safer out in the fresh air with Nature.
- 2 figures facing each other and creating a space that has a flow between them and is empowering
to stand in.
Surface of sculpture and the mosaic tiles.
- Katey Lyons and I will custom-make stamps to make it easy to join in at fun activity for all ages at
a range of venues.
- Include the type of tiles used in the other mosaics in the garden.
- the famous Turnip Worship that supports Hereford United.(!)
- Frank Oz, voice of Fozzy Bear, the Cookie Monster and Yoda.
- David Garrick, famous Shakespearian actor, 17C
- First draft of Remember and Rebuild. We kept a lot of the elements but felt these 2 figures felt too much like a male/female human couple which set a limited narrative. We wanted something deeper, something bigger than us. And two tall, seperate figures would cause a lot of expence in deeper foundations to make them stable. We wanted as much of the budget to go on the art-work and community participation as possible. Joining the figures expressed more about community and importance of friends and team work. And it made the total sculpture self supporting, stronger and provided the wonderful interactive interior space and all the surface area in there for carving. At this time we still hoped to be a lot of face to face workshops where local people would do carved panels to be inserted into the sculpture build. Now, in February 2021, a lot of that input is being directed at the tiles for the base and I have more time to copy people’s ideas onto the sculpture surface.
- Further research:
- a visit to New Civic Museum in the Town Hall for Hereford local history.
- Why the name ‘Saxon Hall’?
- Tim Hoverd (Howerd?), Council Archaeologist for information about The Rotherwas Ribbon/
Dineor Serpent that inspired the sculpture’s form.
Collecting via group, social media (to be carved on surface/tiles):
- As many of these ideas/themes as possible will be carved onto the sculpture’s surface
God’s Garden Poem.
The kiss of the sun for pardon.
The song of the bird for mirth.
One is nearer God’s
Heart in the garden
Than anywhere else on earth.
Jokes: There is a lot of laughs around about everything! But when we get together most of the talk is focussed on kindness and trying to make sence of it all…
- it’s surreal, like a plot from a film
- -worry: about family, the lack of work and money
- parallel universe- everything is the same yet totally different
- no deadlines or alarm clocks, but everything you try and do needs planning now, even just going to the shop.
- enjoying the stillness and peace
- you realise you can’t have it all or be it all: find a niche you can fill.
- stopped making art and sat in the garden…processing it all, taking it in
- Nice for the main earner to be spending time with the kids.
- focussed on growing veg and salad
- missing friends and family
- all the routines fell apart
- will the kids ever recover?
- enjoying time within our bubble
- society at once in fear yet working together
- walking, so much walking!
- learning to relax
- Masks and not being allowed to touch is making us very separate from our bodies.
- it’s a labyrinth
- seeking a sense of progression
- you think you are on track but alongside you is chaos, areas where you can’t make decisions any
- a swirling confusion of contradictory emotions
- Key Workers like Nurses don’t get to have a 2 metre circle like the rest of us.
- thank goodness for our pets.
- the garden has saved me
- Being shut in at home can bring people closer but can also make it impossible to all get work done
because the space is so tight. So people shut down and hide their feelings to keep the peace.
- Contradictions; safe/trapped, providing/draining, giving/loosing, helping/cornering: the space
between them is our shape.
- I turn to the Moon…it radiates intense warmth on you. It defines our ‘outer-space’, the boundary of
our community. Our inner space, where the heart is (a space always has a beat, a heart-beat, to keep
you going,) is your privacy. The outer space around you is shared with everyone. You don’t have
control over it: you only control your own space but it can not function with out a connection to the
outer-space in some way.
- There’s a heart-breaking rise in domestic abuse. We aren’t meant to live like this.
- Families are realising that their habits need changing: who sleeps where, the kids autonomy, who
- Adapting to the 2 metre thing is so hard!
- Feeling contaminated is weird.
- feeling very isolate. And no hugs…
- you feel exposed, threatened.
- We are finding that the notion of Family= Safe space is not enough, that family can be
claustrophobic and we are, and need to be, interconnected to a wider community in order to feel safe
- You can’t take anything for granted, everything has to be planned!
- What goes around comes around
- give and take.
- A friend in need is a friend in deed
- The new normal
- Social distancing
- Loosen our Certainties.
- Gather your dreams and let your spirit guide you.
- Clapping for Carers
- Safe and well.
- Tree of knowledge- including roots + mycelium + other smaller trees.
- The Wood Wide Web
- Elm leaves – local connection?
The 5 day Installation work will incorporate Volunteer skill-sharing with Sculptor and Builder.
Originally we hoped to have a lovely event organized by the amazing ladies of the Afternoon Club
who came to a workshop and were marvelous. During the Pandemic those days feel far off. So it is
not incorporated in the Budget or plan but it is still a great idea. When the time is right it will be a
very important, happy day for the Community.
- There has been a lot of attention on this project and we were especially when the lovely, forward-thinking, down to earth Mayor visited and gave us some great feedback. Councillors have spent time listening and contributing. So have leaders from other excellent Community Projects. It feels really good to be part of a movement focussed on the quality of our daily lives and how we can support each other.
Between the stunning Perenial Flower boarder and the Community Orchard.
A 2 metre circular base incorporating the sculpture’s foundation and decorated with the spiraling
mosaic, inset to be level with the ground, next to the pavement to allow inclusive access.
The Community Orchard is in need of some TLC and a wild-flower meadow will be planted around
This work should not expensive so we hope to use a portion of the budget for the costs.
There is a fab opportunity to engage Volunteers to help with these improvements and to help with the ongoing up-keep of the lovely, important flower boarder and some lovely people have already signed up to support the extraordinary work Aubrey and his helpers have done.
This also offers an opportunity to leave a legacy of engagement for our wonderful, creative participants
once the Sculpture is complete.
- There has been problems with people parking on this area on very busy days. The sculpture and
improvements made around it will clarify the use of this part of the garden, improving it’s attractiveness.
Everyone is welcome to get involved by making a clay tile about your Covid 19/Lockdown experience for the mosaic base of the sculpture, or use the links on this Big Skill page to make your own expressive sculptures. If you could put any ideas or thoughts you have in the Comments here that would fantastic. I will be calling for things to add to the surface on my Osprey Studios FB too.
The Big Skill has a fab FB page where you will find all sorts of enjoyable, sharable things to get involved with, try out and give to your families and friends: The Big Skill Facebook Page.
A couple of the wonderful volunteers making Remember and Rebuild tiles in their own homes.
Katey Lyons is running Remember and Rebuild Tile workshops online and in person when possible. Here’s her video: join-in tile making for Remember and Rebuild.
Love Gardening? Contact The Big Skill to volunteer in the beautiful sensory and herb gardens, poly-tunnel and allotments and the leafy play area with it’s live woven willow shelter at Saxon Hall, Hereford! The big area around the sculpture has loads of room and potential. These photos only show half of it! There is a poly tunnel, raised allotment beds, a herb bed, the small orchard and beds all around the building!
The Schedual of Work and Budget.
The sculptor and the Project Manager work together to make the sculpture that speaks for the community. The Sculpture is not the work of one person but of the whole group who contribute in countless ways.
Once you know who is on board, what fascilities are available or needed, the proposed site (discuss the project ideas with everyone who currently uses the site for really valuable feed-back. This can be key in avoiding vandalism) and have a great ‘Brief’ you all believe in, you need to draw up a first draft budget and a first scale model. To help get the budget right (very important, there will only be a fixed sum available: if you over spend you will have to make up the difference) I make a Schedual of Work that describes the complete process, time-line, costs, resources needed, including who else I need on the team.
Feed-back on the model goes into the next model, adjust the budget, up-date the Brief (be sure to include the feed-back from the current site users) etc, until it all looks good.
Then present it clearly to the people who will make the final descision about proceeding. Use their valuable input to make the final Budget, Schedual of Work and scale model. Be sure costs of resources, especialy the work-space are right. Then present the final drafts to the descision makers for approval to proceed.
The Scale Model
The Sculpture will be 2 metres high. The model is 21 cm high.
After weeks working through various versions, this final working draft of the model is 8% larger to allow for the clay’s shrinkage. In the full sized sculpture many of the strong lines may be softened but here they are clearly shown to guide me as I build over the many weeks this will take (the estimate on the Schedual of Work is 300 hours spread over 6 weeks to allow for drying time). The figure is just there for scale and I used it to guide the design. We want the interior space of the sculpture to be welcoming, a sheltering embrace.
The texture on the models have nothing to do with the final sculpture’s surface. Carved into the surface around the form will be writing and images about how this Pandemic has felt, given by all sorts of people in Hereford and anyone who joined in online.
Here is 3 posts that are very useful about making models including links for getting materials and tools: Making small sculpture and models.
There are lots of useful Step-by-step posts here: Osprey Studios Post Directory
Planning the Build.
Prepare the work space:
An internal structure made in the same Scarva ES50 Crank clay will support the sculpture as it grows upwards and stop it collapsing outwards to a point, so extra, external props will be needed: ensure there is space for them.
Face the sculpture so that you will have the best sight-lines for the most import parts.
A paper circle defines the base and will stop the sculpture sticking to the floor so it can shrink. And it will provide a ‘Map’ of the sculpture’s footprint so that we place the sculpture sections correctly at the Installation phase. So it is very important.
Plan the internal frame-work:
Any sculpture must endure all weathers and the possibility that adults will climb on it.
The structure must support itself during the build and when it being cut into sections. And when the sections are drying, being handled, fired and transported to the site.
Then it plays a role in the contruction process involving cement and iron rebars. It needs to be possible to insert the rebars accros the joins, get cement in there so that it fixes securly to a rough ‘key’ surface.
Over time water WILL get in there! So there needs to be drainage out of the structure.
Stage 1: building the Clay Armature.
This stage is all about blocking out the form by acuratly following the scale model and making a strong structure that will carry the outer layer of art-work that will be modelled/carved on to refine the form and add images and text in low relief.
As far as possible I will extend this load-bearing inner core vertically straight up. In places the holes through the form will cut accross it.
The rough process-marks will help key the cement and now they add strength to the walls in the way corrogation does. Here I am using Scarva ES50 Crank in large coils and the technique is explained here: How Coil Build with clay from small to monumental.
The first 50cm are the worst! It is obnoxious, hard labour especially if you are a decrepit old wreck like I am. Note the primary-school chair: invaluable! And a cushion for your knees: look after your body! Especially your back. The whole project will feel daunting and impossible. When building two of the huge pit-markers (5m x 2m, 6m x2m, 13 tons of clay) me and the team came up with 2 useful mantras: stick these on your bathroom mirror:
” One Bag at a time”
You have made a good, organised plan. Believe in it, trust it, adjust it where nessasary. Then focus on the needs of each bag of clay, good joins, even surface, careful drying. Then onto the next one. It will work. If bits collapse, rebuild them.
” Shuddup and get on with it”
Yep. Take lots of breaks, eat well, pace yourself. Some of the stages are really fun, exciting and spending your day with a big clay structure is actually awesome.
The wings growing out of the core will support the next outer layer.
Manage the drying very carefully using plastic, sprays of water, a hair-dryer, a fan, dehumidifier. Remember added clay will release water into hardened areas and soften them. And it will slowly percollate downwards, maturing your joins or ruining them if they were badly done.
Day 8 and the armature has reached 1metre high, the outer layers are going on and it is resting to allow the water to settle. 21x 12.5kg bags so far: 262.5kgs. That holds a lot of water!! In places there are 3 layers of wall so drying them to the leather-hard stage (that will be remarkably strong in this clay) is tricky and needs time. For the next 120cm the form will put a lot of strain on this lower section. These things do collapse sometimes and it is very annoying!!
The adjustable, metal bracket supporting the over-hang will stay there for the rest of the build and others will be used. I had them custom-made when we built the Blaengarw 2 Pit Markers mentioned above.
Ballarat and Ocean Colliery Pit Markers in progress in an old shop in Pontycymmer, Garw Valley. 13 tons of Coleford Brick Clay, a limited budget and timeline and an amazing team of fantastic local people who worked with me on everything from the design, research, build and the art-work on the sculpture!! Read about the technique used with Coleford Brick Clay, which is used in very soft, here: Building with brick clay on a monumental scale.
The armature is spending a few days in plastic to settle. The corse clay is wearing down my finger tips and if I’m not careful they will get splits that take ages to heal so they are also getting care and when I go back to the build I will put tape over them. Gloves move around too much and wear out really fast.
The focus has been on tightening up the form with carefull, gradual paddeling (especially using the rounded edge of a 1cm thick piece of wood: my Best Stick) and adding the third outer layer.
About 20cm of height is added and holes through the form are starting. Now it is at the widest point and will begin to curve inwards. This is a very scary, vulnerable transition, the most likely point to cause a collapse later in the build. I need to be able add clay on the lower surfaces at the art-work stage: this structure needs to be able to manage that new addition of softening water and the weight while still accepting the clay joins. When it is cut into sections the distribution of weight gets interupted and the structure needs to cope with that too. So the work is very slow and careful! And stressful!! But it’s a joy to see those curves starting to move.
A lot of weight is being added to this side. Small blocks and braces can make a lot of difference. It’s tempting to use a hair-dryer on the braces but that will rush the shrinkage on them and possibly lead them to crack and fail so a slow dry is important.
It looks crazy at the moment!
This post about the Tumble Commision describes a very wide sculpture-build with dramatic over-hangs where a lot of bonkers looking but really effective supports were used. At this point it’s helpful to look at where each stage leads to, especially for planning the internal clay supports that you wont be able to get at soon without making cuts: The Tumble Commision
5 weeks of building and t’s up to 1 metre 60 cms now and as the walls start to curve back inwards the point where it is most likely to collapse has passed. Hopefully, hahaha…
Parts I’m not working on are wrapped in plastic. At the end of the day everything but the soft parts are carefully wrapped and by the morning it is ready for more coils. I’m using smaller, shorter coils now and the work is much slower as the complicated areas around the holes are put it. I can do about 3 days and then it needs a rest day or two for the water to settle.
Then I go back and paddle accross everything: lower clay may have sagged a bit, curves become clearer. That might take all day. Lots of small adjustments, done in stages, will last better. Scarva ES 50 Crank is outstanding for not warping in the firing but uneven paddling will spoil that.
All the outer walls are there and now that the lower sections have hardened enough to be softened by adding extra clay I have started defining the main curves.
Because adding clay to the surfaces has to be done in stages I had to add now but idealy you wait until you have the whole form at this armature stage so that you can work with the full lines. So the careful, thoughtful work you do on the Scale Model becomes really important. Stick as closely as possible to the measurements from the model because of the follow on consequences in the form.
That said the form is big and developed enough that now I can respond to it in relation to my own human shape and size to get the comfortable, sheltered feel we want in that internal space. So I may choose to make big changes from the model. Because the armature is clay that is easy: you just cut parts off and rebuild them. Just remember to consider how the upper sections will need to be adjusted when you build them or your form might be ruined.
1 metre 86cm up. A lot of clay has gone onto the curves to define them. The bridge over window is in and those curves around it are better organised. It’s all starting to flow.
Some texture has gone on where plains needed defining. And the process-marks are looking great so I’m thinking a lot will stay. You have to be careful not to start avoiding changes that need making because you are trying to hang onto nice texture: The form is the priority. Then the carvings. The other texture and the section-cuts will work aroung those things as far as possible.
Standing inside feels really great.
205cm high, 737.5kg. The pace is much slower now and it is very close to being fully blocked out. As all the sides come together you find out how well you have followed the scale model!
The plastic stays on when possible to stop the lower sections getting too dry too soon. When it’s unwrapped a misting with the spray-bottle of water does that job. You need to be able to see and respond to the whole piece inorder to get the flow. That’s slow work. So once you know what needs doing next wrap the other areas up again. I spend a lot of time wrapping and unwrapping it!! But it’s important to keep the clay in good condition or it will collapse.
Although I havn’t gone up in height much more, the curves and texture have been developed by adding a lot of extra clay. Get a good bond first, shape it roughly by hand and then paddle the new clay into shape.
The form and the texture are now complete. Next comes the carvings and then the overall finishing touches which should take about 3 weeks.
The images and writing on the surface will involve adding and subtracting clay and getting really good joins needs a lot of care. Each part of the art-work will take a lot of time so the whole sculpture has been sprayed and tightly wrapped, using foam blockes to hold the plastic against the clay, so that it doesn’t dry anymore.
I’ve sketched on roughly where I want the wild-life images to be. So I’ll just unwrap those spots when I’m working on each one. These weeks will be a rest for the clay and the water will settle and improve the structure of all the countless joins. The work will now be very slow and gentle, a nice change of pace after the very intense 11 weeks of the build where the whole form had to be in my mind at all times, even if I couldn’t see it.
ADDING SURFACE ART-WORK
Because the lower sections are now quite hard it’s important to soften the surfaces for the added art-work enough to get a quality bond but not so much that you cause a collapse.
Score the area horizontally (NOT with a needle tool: a fork or the toothy edge of a surform is best) to allow water to enter the hard clay: the score marks hold the water in place for long enough for it to soak in. Rub the area to form a slip, rub in new clay. The moisten, rub and add the artwork in rough. Allow to settle and work the image in stages. Dry slowly but with care: Remember that every bit of clay you add equals water that will sink into the surrounding clay and soften it!! Yes, it CAN cause a collapse!!
Manage the drying and once your added art-work and the upper sections are firm enough cutting up must take place or the lower sections will become too hard: Usually cracks start to appear as a warning and these become cuts in themselves.
Always try to work with gravity: keep cuts as horizontal and neatly vertical as possible. But think forward to how the sections will behave when being lifted off, sitting drying on thick memory foam, being loaded into kiln and during the fire.
Me and my fantastic assistants Paula and Vix cut this one up into 38 sections in 4 very long days: foam was ready around the studio: cut with wire from top, lift immediately onto foam, neaten edges, improve internal supports, number, mark section on A4 photo-maps, repeat. lowest sections were bigger, cut with a wood saw and left standing on the floor. Make tracing of the floor-footprint of the sculpture.
We were incredibly fortunate to have Nigel Moore join the team for the installation. He also worked as my assistant loading the kiln so he knew the sections really well and took the time to plan the installation with me, bring a wealth of invaluable experience, fresh eyes and a fabulous sense of humour to this really difficult part of the project.
A new sculpture is made from the sections. So your builder’s care, eye for detail, patients, humour, willingness to listen and take the unpredictable amount of time need is massively important. Nigel Moore runs his Heating and Plumbing business here in the Swansea Valley and is meticulous, reliable, incredibly kind and joy to work with. He made all the difference and the beautiful outcome is down to his skill and craftsmanship.
Then more fantastic good fortune!!! Taylor Whitchurch joined the Installation Team for the hardest part: the heavy lower sections which MUST be perfectly set into strong foundations. Taylor works with Aubrey to make the Saxon Hall gardens the stunning, year-round wonder that they are, support people with the free allotments and unify the work on areas of the gardens put in by various Groups from the local Community like the Veterans Garden. He is really kind, funny, inspiring and totally committed to improving the lives of others through working outdoors. An amazing guy.
Nigel Moore’s whole family were totally wonderful at Osprey Studios loading the kiln, sorting the tiles, recycling the left-over clay and loading the van at the end of very long days to be ready for pre-dawn starts.
The Installation took 7 very full-on days spread over 9 days to allow the cement to cure enough to bear further weight.
Laura-Jane Moore joined the team on-site to assist me in setting the lovely, very touching lockdown memory tiles. This needs to be done quickly and thoughtfully. We would need to do half each so we planned it carefully and had everything in place so that we caught the cement at just the right stage in order to get a lasting bond. Laura is in High School and hadn’t done anything like this before but her organised, thorough, sensible ideas, quick thinking, care and craftsmanship lead to fabulous result. On top of that she was hilarious, fantastic company!
Trevor Stringer, Director of The Big Skill supported us all with a bed-rock of kindness, humour, cake, collecting materials, lifting, shifting and coffees.
The NHS was running a Vaccination Clinic during the installation and it was so lovely to have members of the public and NHS staff stop to chat and encourage us during the build. The weather was perfect, the gardens peaceful and beautiful, the team worked incredibly hard with such warmth and pride. It was amazing and an extraordinary finish to a very special project.
We have one more day: the Open Day at Saxon Hall Gardens on 29th of October set the remaining tiles in a boarder and work on the gardens. Come and join in!!