Sculptures add light and sparkle to the Botanic Garden

By Alice Maltby

Sculptures stole the show at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden’s Sculpture weekend. Visitors were captivated by the shimmering damselfly sculptures in the water lily and tropical ponds and entertained by the life size fabric figures reclining in the wild flower meadow. Even the wet Monday did not deter visitors from arriving in raincoats and wellingtons to enjoy the Garden.

The sculptors exhibiting were: Willa Ashworth, Nigel Cann, Jude Goss of Lucian Stained Glass, Reece Ingram, Susan Long, Susan Lovatt, Metalgnu: Julian P. Warren, Pete Moorhouse, Aili Purdy with Red Maids School, Patrick Small and Adele Christensen. Botanic Garden horticulturist, Vicki Reid, also displayed her students’ willow weaving course sculptures.

“We were delighted to host the first exhibition of garden sculpture at the University Botanic Garden displaying a wide variety of beautiful, inspirational pieces of work from talented artists,” said Curator, Nicholas Wray.

Some of the pieces are now on permanent display at the Garden thanks to the generosity and enthusiasm of two of the exhibitors, Willa Ashworth and Jude Goss.

Willa Ashworth

Willa Ashworth donated this metal sphere to the Garden

Willa Ashworth, a metalwork exhibitor, donated a magnificent sphere, which had received many compliments from visitors. Willa explained the reason for her donation: “When I went home I thought, what a privilege it would be to have my artwork situated in such a lovely location, surrounded by the splendour of the trees, the pond, plants and overlooked by the stately house.”

Stained glass sculptor, Jude Goss, founder of Lucian Stained Glass, who was exhibiting in the Chinese Herb Garden, donated a selection of standing stained glass sculptures.

Jude Goss

Heron displayed in the Chinese Herb Garden by Jude Goss

Jude started making stained glass as a hobby 20 years ago and founded Lucian Stained Glass six years ago. This weekend was the first time Jude had exhibited in a Botanic Garden setting but it will not be her last. Her dragonfly, flora and standing stained glass exhibits were much admired and sought after, demonstrating the versatility of stained glass in different settings. “I want to give people more access to something different in their garden by using colour through stained glass.”

She is not the only member of her family to have a connection with the Botanic Garden. Her brother, Nigel Dunnett, Professor of Horticulture at the University of Sheffield, studied at the University of Bristol and is returning in November to give a Friends’ lecture on the planting of the Olympic Park.

Jude is pleased her designs have a worthy, new home. “It has been so lovely, peaceful and restful to spend the weekend here.”

Origami in the Chinese Herb Garden

Redmaids origami

Pupils from Redmaids School display their origami

Also in the Chinese Herb Garden was exhibitor, Aili Purdy with her origami creations. This area of the Botanic Garden was the ideal location for Aili as she is also well known for teaching Chinese Brush Painting classes, featuring many of the flowers on display. Pupils from Red Maids Junior School where Aili teaches had also been busy producing origami sculptures for the exhibition. “The Red Maids students were so pleased to take part, “said Aili. Many visitors went home with Aili’s blue origami butterflies. “I have been making them after breakfast, after lunch, and after dinner. I would like to do more hard card next time but it is very sore on your hands and is too hard for the children,” added Aili.
Reece Ingram

Reece Ingram's life size wooden sheep

The sculpture trail had been designed specifically to have hidden delights around corners. Reece Ingram’s life size wooden sheep made many visitors smile and they were intrigued by his bird head and Tree of Life sculptures. “I am looking to create sculptures which have a life and soul,” said Reece. “It doesn’t harm if there is a sense of humour, a smile as well. I guess I am visualising myself as that particular animal.” The Tree of Life sculptures contain resin disks of insects which inhabit oak trees.

Spellbinding creations

Susan Long

Visitors enjoy one of Susan Long's fairy figures

Susan Long, Britain’s leading hardened fabric sculptor displayed several very individual pieces around the Garden, including her whimsical fairy figures. Her bespoke, intriguing sculptures were created by combining pre-formed, often recycled structures with wet, resin soaked fabric which is used as a fluid and flexible skin for the 3D life-size figures, contemporary abstract climbing figures and 3D wall art.

“Each piece may have an attitude; it tells its own surreal story inviting a second look, touch or thought.”

Linnaeus study room exhibits

Susan Lovatt

Multiplication (Blue Eggs) by Susan Lovatt

Susan Lovatt’s thought provoking sculptures, including Multiplication (Blue Eggs) a bronze sculpture with a blue patina, provided a talking point for visitors enjoying refreshments in the Linnaeus Study Room.

While Susan works in a variety of mediums, she is currently developing new themes in her sculpture, which are very relevant to the Botanic Garden.  She says of the new themes, "However we might try to take control of our environment and shield ourselves from decay, disease and infestation we will not succeed and the bugs will finally break through into our carefully constructed cocoons.

In spite of the havoc they might wreak, the bacteria, viruses, moulds and insect infestations that we fear have their own beauty as they fight to complete their own life-cycles. I have become intrigued by their shapes and the patterns they make as they regenerate themselves and colonize the world. If I catch sight of them – when I spy insect eggs on my plants or catch the fleeting image on my television screen of a fatal bacteria growing on a petrie dish - these small organisms seem to me to be simultaneously organized and chaotic, engineered and natural, beautiful and repellent. With these sculptures I have been intentionally unspecific, I want to create a sensation in the viewer not a description of a species."

Glasshouse delights

Julian Warren

Julian Warren's hummingbird displayed in the Tropical Zone

While many of the sculptures were ideally situated around the Botanic Garden, Patrick Small and Julian P. Warren (Metalgnu) also exhibited in the glasshouses. Julian’s giant stainless steel beetle perched on sandstone surrounded by South African plants, greeted visitors on entering the warm temperate zone. Julian’s dragonflies and damselflies added sparkle in the Garden’s ponds.

Julian was delighted with the weekend. “Exhibiting at the botanical garden has proved to be a great success; my sculptures seemed to work well in the various sites, standing out well against the lush planting. Financially it was a success and has brought me to the notice of a new audience .I hope to exhibit at the Botanic Garden on a regular basis.”

Patrick Small

Coelacanth by Patrick Small

Patrick Small is a ceramic sculpture, wood carver and jeweller. He takes inspiration from many sources including archaeology and ancient art through to contemporary art. Much of his work is influenced by the human form and the natural world. It was fitting that Patrick chose to exhibit his coelacanth and shark creations at the doorway to the tropical pond, alongside his Tiger Orchid and Arum Lily designs. Visitors were intrigued by his wooden scorpion lurking underneath the Victorian iron grating in the Tropical House. Patrick commented on how sculpture and the Garden complement each other so well.

The magic of glass

Exhibiting at the BG was an ideal venue for Adele Christensen since she obtains much of her inspiration for her glass sculptures from the landscape. Also, organic forms such as shells and flowers play a major role in her creations.

Adele Christensen

Adele Christensen obtains much of her inspiration from the landscape

While some glass artists use pre-made colour with Bullseye fusing glass in their designs, this is not for Adele. “I design from a more fine art angle,” she explained. “  always want to put my own mark into the glass.” I am sure visitors to this exhibition would agree.

One of the many attractions of having sculptures in garden settings is their versatility. Their personality changes according to the seasons, lush plantings and even time of day.

Nigel Cann

Nigel Cann's strong sculpture displayed in the Garden

Nigel Cann exhibited two of his powerful garden features created by carving holes in rocks which are then inset with stained glass. When the light shines through the sculpture, the effect is stunning, some would say magical. These designs combine the best of both worlds, while the stones gather moss and lichen, the glass colours stay true.

Islamic majesty in the Garden

Pete Moorhouse

'Arabesque' by Pete Moorhouse

While visitors agreed that sculpture works extremely well in a garden setting, Pete Moorhouse’s statuesque designs stopped visitors in their tracks. One showstopper was ‘Arabesque’. Pete explained how this sculpture reinterprets Islamic geometric design in modern sculptural form. “The geometric patterns in Islamic art are usually two dimensions (tiles, mosaics, engraving etc) or architectural. I wanted to explore how this could be presented three dimensionally as a sculpture.

The pattern is taken from the Huand Hatun mosque in Kayseri, Turkey and would have originated approximately in 1200AD. Inspiration also came from The Bibi Khanum mosque, Samarkand, Uzbekistan which has a strong decorative feature of mosaic towering squares on the entrance wall.

The work is also intended to give a sense of balance and harmony, being delicate but strong, supporting and being supported – rising-celebrating spiritual aspiration.”