The contract is signed. The commission is a reality. Now I have to sculpt the 7ft 5in sculpture of Sir Nigel Gresley in clay. Gulp.
My permanent studio is far too small and is on the first floor. The ceiling needs to be high. There needs to be sufficient space so I can stand back and view the sculpture properly. It needs decent light. It has to be secure with 24-hour access. It can’t get too hot, or the clay will dry. It needs to be within a 45 minute drive from home. And of course, not too expensive. I don’t want much!
My intensive searching reveals little that meets my criteria. But I am convinced I will find something. And I was right. It takes 5 weeks but I find the perfect temporary studio, thanks to a tip-off from a sculptor colleague.
Initially I need to use my imagination – it is dark, cold, crowded with another sculptor’s carvings and equipment. But it comes with a gorgeous view. Over the next few weeks it is transformed into the studio of my dreams.
It is cleared of all movables, just leaving the old piano, the pinball machine, and a rather large compressor. The floor is made of bricks and is very uneven. So family and friends come on my birthday to help build a sturdy raised wooden platform. What a birthday present!
The next step is to install new daylight strip lights and additional electrical sockets. And for finishing touches? Flowers. No studio is complete without them. Just saying.
The bronze pour has been a success and the follow-up metalwork has been done by the foundry. I enjoy the drive up to Bronze Age, to check the metalwork before the patination (or colouring) begins. After a few tweaks in the metal, we take Sir Nigel to the patination space.
The combining of heat with chemicals is not an exact science. Colouring bronze is a real art. It is always a voyage of discovery. Luckily they have great patinators who really try to understand what you are trying to achieve. I know what I don’t want – I don’t want that traditional, rather dark, brown bronze finish. I want something more subtle.
He takes his time, layer upon layer until we have a rather lovely warm opaque brown with beautiful variations in colour. A final layer of clear wax and Sir Nigel is ready for the drive back down to Brighton to be mounted on a wooden base and delivered to the client.
Two members of the Gresley Society Trust – Andrew Dow and Nigel Dant – come to my studio to pick up the bronze maquette. By now they feel more like friends than clients. We have been on a long journey together. I unveil the bronze. Finally our combined vision has come to fruition. They are absolutely charmed with it. The maquette is whisked away to the Gresley Society Trust Council meeting where it is whole-heartedly endorsed.
But there is no time for Andrew and Nigel to stand on their laurels. Permissions need to be sought from Camden Council, English Heritage and Network Rail for the siting of the 7ft 4 inch bronze on the new Western Concourse at King’s Cross Station. To everyone’s delight, by October 2014, all the permissions have been gained. It is time for the fundraising to begin.
Postscript: In late March 2015 I was commissioned by the Gresley Society Trust to sculpt the larger-than-life figure of Sir Nigel Gresley, but without the Mallard duck at his side.
The clay maquette of Sir Nigel Gresley and the Mallard arrived safely in the Docklands at Bronze Age Sculpture Casting Foundry. Their team made the two moulds – one for the figure and one for the Mallard – and cast them in wax. Two weeks later I was presented with the wax version of the sculpture to check. There is always a need for me to do some minor tweaks at this stage. Additions are made in white wax. I use my wax tools to make other amendments. Time also to position the Mallard. One of the Bronze Age team are always nearby to provide advice or assistance – and a welcome cup of coffee.
Yes, the decision was unanimous. Sir Nigel Gresley would be depicted quizzically surveying the new Western concourse at King’s Cross, with the Art Deco-esque lines of the new balcony and the incredible new ‘tree’ canopy. Sir Nigel was quite a showman, so this seemed the perfect stage-set for him, with his old office building – now a grade I listed building – as the perfect backdrop. With his back to the old, he would be looking out towards the new, towards today’s busy commuters traveling near and far on trains influenced by his feats of engineering.
Caught off guard in a moment of reflection, Sir Nigel appears relaxed and relatively informal, with his hand in his jacket pocket and a copy of his trade journal, The Locomotive, in his other hand. This is his terrain. This is where he works. A twinkle in his eye suggests his good sense of humour. He was an authoritative yet not an autocratic man. He demanded excellence and commanded loyalty.
But why the duck? This is no mere whimsy. This companion to Sir Nigel, alludes to his record-breaking Mallard locomotive but also his well-documented love of waterfowl. According to his Grandson Tim Godfrey, Sir Nigel “used to live at Salisbury Hall in Hertfordshire, which had a moat, and he started a collection of wildfowl – wild ducks and so on – that he was very keen on….some of his locomotives were named after them” (Shropshire Star, April 29, 2013).
In addition, the Mallard duck was to rouse the curiosity of those unfamiliar with the man, including the younger generation: getting them to come closer, to read the wall plaque and scan the QR [Quick Read] code, to find out more about this incredible engineer. So, the inclusion of the Mallard was to attract interest far beyond the ranks of committed railway enthusiasts.
The go-ahead was given and I started to sculpt this pose in clay, as the final maquette (35cm), for casting in bronze.
Some decisions around the sculpture of Sir Nigel Gresley were easily made. What better spot for a sculpture of Sir Nigel Gresley than the new Western Concourse at King’s Cross station? Sir Nigel Gresley was Chief Mechanical Engineer for London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) there between 1923 and 1941.
It was also clear that we all wanted a larger-than-life sculpture of this larger-than-life man. We knew that we wanted him to be depicted in his late fifties/early sixties. This was the height of his influence, around the time of the record-breaking run of The Mallard. We agreed that he should be wearing a three-piece work tweed suit, given that he will be at his place of work.
Further discussions with the Gresley Society Trust ensued. The questions still faced were many. Should he be sculpted holding tools of his trade, like a slide-rule or a chronometer ? Or should he be shown surveying the new concourse, with his old office building as a backdrop? How could we engage the public, including younger generations, that would not recognise his face or know of his achievements?
I was commissioned to sculpt three maquettes (or small models) to help make the final decision on the pose. Whereas painters tend to sketch out their ideas in two-dimensions, sculptors tend to sketch out their ideas in three-dimensions, in clay or wax. I use terracotta wax onto a metal armature so that I can move the pose if required.
Here are the three rough maquettes in terracotta wax – from left to right, Sir Nigel with slide-rule in hand, looking out across the concourse with a Mallard at his side, and with a chronometer in hand. The Sculpture Group members of the Gresley Society Trust came to my Billingshurst studio to see the maquettes and decide which was to be taken forward, in bronze. The decision was unanimous.
I can now break the silence.
Firstly, in 2014, The Gresley Society commissioned me to produce a bronze maquette (or model) of Sir Nigel Gresley (1876-1941), the eminent railway engineer.
Secondly, they have now received permissions from English Heritage, Network Rail, and Camden Council, to site a 7ft 4inch sculpture of Sir Nigel Gresley, sculpted by yours truly, on the new Western Concourse at King’s Cross Station, London. The perfect location, adjacent to his former offices at King’s Cross.
Here are the three photo montages used for the Listed Building Consent application to Camden Council – they cleverly combine photos of the bronze maquette with photos of the approved location on the Concourse.
This is a really exciting project for me. And it has been such a pleasure – and a great deal of fun – to work with The Gresley Society, who speak with such passion about this man, his engines and his engineering.
Now the fundraising commences – if you wish to support this initiative please see http://gresley.org/ – every penny will help to mark the significant contribution of Sir Nigel Gresley by a perfectly-located statue.
See my next blog for why Sir Nigel is worthy of a statue, helped by the eloquent words of Andrew Dow, the Vice-Chairman of the Society.