This all started with the sort of phone call that an artist might fantasise about, but which rarely happens: “Would you be able to make us a reasonable sculpture for £50,000?”
This call was out of the blue and thinking it was probably a hoax I nearly didn’t follow it up. As it turned out, it was the lovely Aaron Wright from David Wilson and Barratt Homes, who had seen my work ‘The Hunters’ in the Bordon Inclosure and thought that I could make a piece for the Parade Square: a high spec residential development surrounding a huge open formal space that was once used to train the cavalry from the barracks in Bordon.
A horse was the obvious choice, though an unoriginal one perhaps, it fulfilled the need for a natural, powerful and magnetic focal point in an otherwise uncentered and somewhat sterile setting. It would also provide an appropriately commemorative element as a feature of our military history.
Richard Weaver and I were very excited at the prospect of making an entirely ‘hand-made’ job of this life-size horse, whose budget by this time was cut by a third, and therefore even more of a challenge. We realised that we couldn’t afford to use mainly copper, as the initial model intended, or have a figure of a groom, and that the body would have to be forged but that the head could be cast with the more affordable and manipulable bronze resin.
One of the main issues then became how to integrate the contrasting method and material of the head with the ironwork of the body, both visually and technologically. We both arrived at a design concept of a profoundly organic principle, which was to ‘grow’ the horse from four apple trees straight out of the ground (Blackmoor is also famed for its apple orchards). We did plant several real apple trees around the horse when we finally installed the piece in January 2020, hoping that one day in the future local children would be able to pick these apples and hold them under the horse’s mouth.
The design idea deeply challenged Richard’s need for an accurate spec to follow with his weighty processes in metal and equally challenged my much more random and intuitive way of working, which one can get away with in an image in two dimensions but not so much in more permanent materials. Somehow we achieved a completely mutually agreed solution, after a great deal of machination and trials.
At one point, watching him mending an old hand mill to do something tricky, I said “My unspoken family motto must be similar to yours, ‘Do it the hard way!’” he replied “Ours was ‘Do it the hard way twice!’” … but in the end it worked.
From start to finish this project went on for two years, with lots of adjusting and redesigning. The actual making took a year, and included the construction of a life-size iron work armature cage.
I started with photographing and drawing ‘Ollie’, a magnificent horse kept in local stables, and he matched our images of a typical powerful cavalry horse trained to go to war, where so many of those beautiful creatures tragically perished. As I commenced the modelling of the head in clay however, the character of the horse changed to a somewhat more feminine and much slighter figure , which I began to think of as ‘Olivia’.
At this time, Richard’s busy workshop was undergoing an age of enlightenment concerning gender issues, so in the end our horse’s name evolved into simply ‘O’, or ‘The Wonderful O’ (as in James Thurber’s famous fable). It was also important to me that the head was as real to people as possible, in a way that would attract the hands to her mouth in affection. With this in mind I chose to put in the glass marble eyes which give a life-like effect.
I am deeply grateful to Richard Weaver for his unending patience, calm and enthusiasm, as well as his extraordinary talent for design and skills in engineering, and for collaborating with me in this fantastic adventure, which has been, without doubt, the most challenging and most exciting thing I’ve ever made.