Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Garden Sculptures in Wood

My husband, Scottish sculptor and woodcarver Alan Lees, has often been commissioned to create large, outdoor sculptures in wood. These days he finds it too physically demanding to make the ten or fifteen foot high artworks which he used to make, and he tends to create slightly smaller pieces, although his inspiration always seems to be on a large scale. If you want to see a great quantity of his work all in one place, go to the excellent Kelburn Country Park, at Fairlie, just outside Largs, on the North Ayrshire coast. He has contributed a number of extraordinary pieces to Lord Glasgow's 'Secret Forest' including a three dimensional 'Green Man' in solid oak. One other life size carving is in the Burns Centre in Alloway, although this is a source of constant frustration to the artist as well as to many visitors, since the shop manager there persists in using this life size realisation of Robert Burns' Tam O' Shanter and Meg the Mare, entirely hand carved in Scottish lime, as a 'point of sale' display piece - blocking the visitors' view of it with assorted cheap souvenir items. Yeuch. We are quite used to getting irate phonecalls about it from outraged Canadian and American visitors, but since the sculpture belongs to the council, not us, there isn't a thing we can do about it. (South Ayrshire Council are not noted for their extensive appreciation of the arts!)
Working on large carvings like this, though, can be a thankless task. People have no idea of the time and work involved and while they will pay many thousands of pounds for a mass produced item such as a car, are curiously reluctant to pay an artist or craftsman for his time. On one memorable occasion, a client (better remain nameless) asked Alan to travel fifty miles in order to estimate for carving a 40 foot high dead tree into an interesting shape. When we got there, we found they had a budget of £200! We don't have many sculpture in our own garden, but the big bird, above, is one. Now that the ivy and the honeysuckle have done their work, I think it looks wonderful - as if the bird is flying out of a big green cloud. It won't last forever, of course, but the gentle, slow decay of these outdoor pieces is a part of the process. The older they are, the better they seem to look.

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