My Story

I am quite sure that if I had enjoyed my boarding school, and gone to University, I would have ended up in the City of London, and spent my life behind a desk. Instead I found my boarding school days very depressing. Life at Rugby School after W W II was a pretty spartan affair. The water would freeze over night in the dormitory basins, and with food rationing still in force (one egg a week, and sausages guaranteed 'no meat'), we were all left pretty hungry. However this was not the reason for my unhappiness, the main problem was the sheer boredom, and draconian authority.

The one bright spot in my life was the Art School. It was my first real experience of actually having a 'hands on' opportunity of practical art under instruction. The lessons took place in an enormous north lit studio above the school library. We had three art masters, the Chief Master, who we never saw; his assistant Mr Barraclough; and a Junior Master. There was no instruction in Art History at all, which in retrospect, I find quite amazing.

I was really enjoying myself in the art classes, learning to draw and paint, until one day our project was to design and illustrate a book cover. As the lessons were double ones, there was plenty of time to try two covers, so I did. Along comes the Junior Master and says, "oh, I see you're one of those people with too much imagination". I can still remember the pain of the unfair criticism. How could a master say that to a pupil? As this man was my teacher, the effect of his sarcasm was to completely put me off the one subject I enjoyed.

Mr Barraclough saved the day. He must have noticed my change in enthusiasm for the lessons. He asked me if I would like to join his little sculpting group in the tiny studio he had under the stairs in the basement. The room was about 15 feet square, and smelt deliciously of wood and linseed oil. He gave me a chisel and mallet, a block of wood, and asked me what I wanted to carve.

Rugby was strictly a 'boys only' school in those days, and resembled a male prison camp. Girls were kept well out of reach. Being red blooded and starved of natural contacts with the opposite sex, and being 16 years old, I thought that the next best thing was to carve a 'Hula Hula' girl in a grass skirt. Learning to carve the wood was a marvellous experience, and was the happiest moment of my time at Rugby. Mr Barraclough and I became great friends, and the finished sculpture won me my only prize while at senior school. I will never be able to thank Mr Barraclough enough for taking me under his wing. The 'Hula Hula' girl became the catalyst to my beginning to sculpt again many years later, she and I are still together, and as I write this, she is looking down at me from a shelf in my study.

Apart from Geography, all the other subjects I was forced to take, continued to bore me rigid. I couldn't wait to get out of the place. I asked my father if I could leave and go to Australia, when I passed all my O Levels. With a lot of luck I managed to do this, and left, aged 17. My one regret was parting from Mr Barraclough.

I joined the Merchant Navy as a deck hand, earning 12 pence a month and keep, boarded the steamship Port Napier, and set sail for Australia on a cold wet January day in 1952. When we reached Melbourne I left the ship, and went to visit my cousins who lived on a sheep Station on the Murray River. During W W II many children were evacuated out of England to escape the German bombing of London. My brother and I were sent to live with my cousins on this property. I had loved the heat, and freedom of my 3 year stay. Going back to it was like coming home. I decided then and there to make sheep farming in Australia my career.

I told my father about my wish and he agreed. The only trouble was it meant going back to school! I enrolled at the Roseworthy Agriculture College in South Australia, but only managed to stay for one of the 3 year course. The College had a stricter regime than Rugby. I left and became a freelance Jackaroo (apprentice), and for the next five years worked my way around Australia learning all about the land. Wonderful carefree days, and a young man's Paradise.

The serious life-business of earning a living and becoming independent did not allow for any art. After 5 years of roaming Australia, either sheep farming or cattle droving, it was time to settle down, I found a Virgin Block of land in the Ninety Mile Desert of South Australia that was for sale for £0.5 an acre, and persuaded my father to lend me the money to buy it.

I built a house, fell in love with Margie, got married, and together we worked the property. Over the following 10 years the sheep numbers grew to 3000, and the sons to 3. After 10 years of hard work, when the property was fully developed and the work load lessened, I found I had some spare time, but no hobbies.

VENUS, the `Hula Hula' girl, had followed me to Australia, and sat on the bookshelf in our Homestead. It now became the catalyst that took me back into sculpting. I used to look at the carved wooden figure, and it made me want to sculpt again. One day I walked past an art shop in Melbourne that happened to have an offer of clay for sale, half price. I walked in, bought a bag, and took it home.

I began by modelling little rough figures, letting the clay dry, and then finishing them off by carving them with my pocket knife. This lead to doing relief heads of our own sons, which in turn, lead to all our friends asking to have their children's heads done. To make these heads more durable, I learnt to cast them in plaster, and then colour them with bronze powder.

Life was very kind to Australians in those days. Margie and I had a healthy family of three sons. The sun shone and the air was fresh. We were free, and we could make money from growing wool. We lived on a beautiful farm, and we had marvellous friends. But I have found that in life everything grows, and needs to change. The one drawback to living in the Ninety Mile Desert was that it was a long way from schools, and we had 3 boys who needed an education. Should we give up this wonderful life style, sell up and move on? I had to stand back and try to look into the future.

In the end the decision was easy. That summer was a scorcher, and the temperature reached 115 degrees. One day I came into the house to escape the sun and found it just as hot inside. My wife and I decided, right then and there, to sell the farm and buy land nearer a city, and schools. The farm was soon sold, and then I suggested that, before rebuying, the whole family go to England for 2 years. We would rent a furnished house in the country, I would spend the time sculpting, and we would show our sons where I had grown up as a boy. Unfortunately my father had died by this time, but my mother was living in London, so it would be a good time for her to get to know her grandchildren.

I flew to England, rented a lovely Georgian house in North Devon near Barnstaple, called Marwood Hill, and also a barn which would act as my studio. I went to see my mother to talk to her about my decision. She replied, "I am not surprised. Do you remember my giving you a set of wood carving chisels when you were 12? It was because a 'fortune teller' had told me that my youngest son would be a sculptor". "Well, " I thought, "maybe for a couple of years".

We arrived as a family from the boiling hot Australian summer on New Years Day 1969, to a snow covered Devon. The boys couldn't believe it. Life at Marwood Hill was idyllic. The countryside was a dream, the house was bliss to live in, the people were incredibly friendly, and there was a local school. Also it was before the days of rapid inflation.

I moved into the Barn studio, bought some clay from the Barnstaple Pottery, and started my first child figure, my son Tim playing marbles. By luck I was given the name of a master plasterer, Mr Manzini. When I had finished the figure he drove down from London and took a waste mould of the sculpture. He introduced me to his friend who did cold resin bronze casting (a cheap way of producing a bronze looking sculpture), and I had the figure cast.

Fired by the whole adventure, other children sculptures soon followed, and then I did a figure of a kneeling mother holding a child up in the air. This was my first sale. My landlord Dr Jimmy Smart bought the figure to go on the island he had created in the lake of the Marwood Hill gardens. It is still there and you can buy a picture postcard!

On one of my trips to the resin foundry to collect a sculpture, I met the workman who had done the job, Mr Roy Wakeford. His skilled workmanship, along with the care he put into the finish of the job, had to be seen to be believed. Here was a real master craftsman, and we immediately liked each other. He was not very happy with his employer, and somehow between us, we agreed that he should start his own business in his garage in London, and I would give him all my work.

Without Roy my sculpturing days would have soon ended. Instead, over the last 25 years, single handed he has made every waste mould and positive plaster cast, of every sculpture that I have made. The number of children I did over the next 10 years reached above 100. On top of this I did several athletic figures, some of which, i.e. ACROBATS, were 16 feet high. They were all done in his garage!

Having committed myself to employing Roy, I thought I had better find a market for the sculptures. Fortune smiled on me again. I went to see Derek Crowther of Syon Lodge, London. I had seen one of his advertisements in the Illustrated London News.

The Chelsea Flower Show was about to happen and Derek said that he would take a few sculptures on sale and return, and show them on his stand. They all sold, and orders were taken. Now, not only did Roy have to do my plaster work, he had to make editions of 9 of each of the resin bronzes. Roy had a full time job and I had a new career.

The two years came to an end, and we asked Dr Smart if we could stay another year, to see if the new career would last. At the end of the 3rd year, he wanted the house back. Still with the problem of schools, we bought a house in Somerset, to be near King's School Bruton. We settled into our new home, and have been there now for 25 years. The old apple barn that went with the house, home of the cider press, became my studio. I was now committed to sculpture.

One other stroke of luck played a very important part in the establishment of my new career. After doing several sculptures, I had to obtain an opinion on whether I should continue as a sculptor. At this stage, I had not found the market at Crowthers. Were the sculptures any good, would they sell and provide an income to support my family? I was 35 years old, not a 20 year old dreamer. I had been a business farmer, and I knew the cost of my responsibility to my wife and three sons. One has to earn one's bread and butter in life.

In an art magazine I had seen advertised the bronzes of Enzo Plazzotta, and greatly admired them, and envied the skill of the sculptor. I wrote to him and sent him some photographs of the pieces that I had done. Could I possibly come and talk to him and ask his advice? He wrote back and agreed to see me when I was next in London.

I went to visit Enzo. For the first time in my life I entered a real art studio. Northern light, stands, tool benches, even a little changing room for models! I was overawed. All around me were beautiful wax figures that he was working on. At this time Enzo was specialising in ballet dancers, and female nudes. Later he went on to produce some stunning larger than life male figures.

Enzo invited me in and made me a cup of coffee. We talked and he looked at some more photographs that I had brought with me. I asked him if I should continue to try and earn a living as a sculptor. "Do you want to do anything else other than be a sculptor?", he asked. "No", I replied. "Then why are you asking me? Go and do it."

What marvellous advice, and how often have I used his words to students when they have asked me the same question over recent years.

Enzo Plazzotta became a great friend. He took me to Italy and introduced me to the Fonderia Mariana, who have cast all the Symbolic Sculpture bronzes in the UNIVERSE SERIES. He lent me his studio in Pietrasanta, and taught me to model in wax. I was never able to thank him properly for the early encouragement he gave me, and for making me believe in myself and my Intuition.

Unfortunately the hard war that Enzo fought in the Italian Guerilla forces in the Apennines, being twice captured by the Nazis, and twice jumping from speeding trains to escape deportation to Germany, took its toll on his body. I sadly miss his friendship.

Around 1975, about the time of Enzo's death, I began to work on the Symbolic Sculptures. By this time all my Figurative Sculptures were being cast in real bronze, and the Harrods's Fine Arts Gallery had become my main outlet. Roy was still handling all my plaster work, and the bronzes were being cast in Italy and England.

Harrods were not interested in my Symbolic Sculptures. "Stick to what we can sell", they advised. Well you can't live like that if you are full of ideas you want to try. I had to make a change.

I went to several other Galleries, here and in the USA, and got the same Harrods-type answer. How could I solve the problem? When my Mother died, I had inherited her apartment in London. I decided to sell it, and invest the money in my own Gallery. I talked the idea over with the manageress of the Harrods Gallery, and asked her if she would consider coming to work for me if I leased a Gallery. She said she would, and I soon found some marvellous premises in Albemarle Street, off Piccadilly, London, and bought the lease. The Freeland Gallery was born, using my Mother's maiden name.

The Freeland Gallery

The Freeland Gallery displayed bronze children in the front window, and made its income from the sale of these sculptures. Inside I had all my Symbolic Sculptures. We only kept the Gallery for just over two years, but during that time three men came in and once again my life changed. The change was so radical, I no longer needed the Gallery. I had found my Patrons.

The first man to enter my life was Damon de Laszlo, the grandson of the famous portrait painter, Philip de Laszlo. He and his wife Sandra had seen my Leapfrog children in the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly. They asked me to sculpt their 3 children. This I did and the work lead to us all becoming great friends. Damon and Sandra visited the Freeland Gallery and I introduced them to the Symbolic Sculptures. They now have many Museum sized pieces, plus several maquettes, in their private collection.

he next man to pass by the Gallery was Robert A. Hefner III. He looked through the window and saw the Symbolic Sculptures. He asked to meet me, but there was a problem, he was leaving next day for the States. I rushed to London to have breakfast with him in his hotel. I found a man passionate about art, the owner of the greatest collection of contemporary Chinese paintings, my own age, plus, and we shared many views about Life. He bought 2 heroic pieces, and now has some 15 other very large sculptures at his Aspen home in Colorado. He also has become one of my closest friends.

Robert has donated pieces of my Symbolic Sculptures to the Aspen Centre for Physics, the Aspen Institute, the Fields Institute for Research into the Mathematical Sciences, Toronto, and Macquarie University Sydney. Damon has donated sculpture to the University of Wales. Between them they have donated one piece to Harvard, and three pieces to the Isaac Newton Institute, University of Cambridge.

Also through the Freeland Gallery I met the Swiss Patrons who form Edition Limitee, whose support has been beyond measure. They too have donated sculpture to Universities and Institutions of Education. Edition Limitee published a 90 colour plate book about my Symbolic Sculptures, and paid for the exhibitions of the work at the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Wales, Barcelona, etc. They also supported the creation of the original version of this web site back in 1996.

The third man that came to the Freeland Gallery and helped launch them out into the world, was my great friend Ronnie Brown. Ronnie was on his way from a meeting at the Royal Institution, in Albermarle Street. He was early for his train so, on seeing the Children bronzes in the window of the Gallery as he passed by, stepped in to have a closer look.

Inside he found the Symbolic Sculptures. He tells me that he could not believe his eyes when he saw the Mathematical formulae that I had unknowingly used in my work. He contacted me, and we arranged a meeting, at which he told me about the Mathematics Road Show that was about to take place at the University of Leeds. We had just sold the lease of the Gallery and moved all the Symbolic Sculptures back to the studio in Somerset, so Ronnie asked me if he could borrow them for the Road Show. I agreed to this and asked Edition Limitee if they would finance the cost of the transport, which they agreed to do.

Thus began the Exhibitions of the Symbolic Sculptures throughout 1990 and 1991, at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Wales, Liverpool, etc. and down to Barcelona and Zaragoza.

My Patrons, Robert A. Hefner III, Damon de Laszlo, and Edition Limitee have continued to support the Symbolic Sculptures by donating pieces to the Universities, Research Centres, and Institutions of Education.

Sperone Speroni, the Venetian author, b 1500, said "the key to Civilisation is the creation of wealth and the patronage of the Arts". Without my Patrons there would be no Symbolic Sculptures.

And so my Figurative Sculptures gave way to my Symbolic Sculptures. To me it has been a natural progression, an enlarging of ideas and themes concerning my innermost feelings about the values of 'Life', and of how I was to express them for the enjoyment of others. Every time that I create a sculpture, it becomes my favourite, a new episode in the continual process of creation, which for me is the essence of 'Life'. I count myself among the luckiest of men.

© Mathematics and Knots/Edition Limitee 1996 - 2002
This material may be used freely for educational, artistic and scientific purposes, but may not be used for commercial purposes, for profit or in texts without the permission of the publishers.