I was excited to attend the ‘Sculpture in the Landscape 1969-2020’ exhibition at West Leaze near Aldbourne at the end of September, organised by the Friends of the Garden.
The visit involved a wonderful (socially distanced) walk around the grounds of the house that the renowned sculptor Roger Leigh once owned, and the site of his own outdoor sculpture exhibition in 1969.
The experience began with a set of display boards charting the life and works of Roger, who moved to Aldbourne in 1966 where he continued his work until his death in 1997. With his wife he held the Sobus Sculpture in a Landscape event, which became well known in the world of sculpture and which included the works of Dennis Mitchell, a friend of Roger’s. Roger was not only a wonderful creator in his own right, but the period of time spent with Barbara Hepworth is also of particular interest to researchers and students today. Due to the Creative Wiltshire project, Roger’s creative archive is now held at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre in Chippenham where everyone is welcome to access his material. More details about the archive can be found here. It was this creative archive that provided the resources for the display boards.
An exhibition guide was provided on entry, along with a map of the exhibition layout which proved very handy. Each sculptor’s work had a number displayed with it, making it easy to find in the guide. I then meandered around the route, enjoying all that the exhibiting sculptors had to offer! The displays were well positioned in the sloping grounds at the front of the house and there were wonderful views of the countryside. I particularly liked the way that Simon Hempsell’s ‘flight of Avocets’ were positioned at the perimeter to get a view of the shining birds with the countryside beyond, and John O’Connor’s set of figures ‘Spring’, ‘Moth’ and ‘Angel’ looked particularly striking arranged around the pond. The facial expression on ‘Spring’ needed to be seen to be believed; it reminded me of a relaxed sun worshipper, enjoying the moment – something we should all aspire to do, perhaps, in these current times.
The range of sculpture on display, from wire to wood, metal, glass, bronze, ceramics and stone made the collection all the more interesting, with a wide variety of styles all set to amaze and inspire.
Home grown talent was represented by Lisi Ashbridge who creates beautifully crafted representational sculptures in stone and slate from her studio in the Pewsey Vale which respond to the sense of spirit of place. Wiltshire based James Jones works predominantly with stainless steel and is fascinated by our ever-changing notion of consciousness, represented by binary code. Dominic Clare is based in Slaughterford. His wooden works are a response to his Ethiopian upbringing and interest in organic structure and the human figure. Melissa Cole uses the ancient craft of blacksmithing, embracing modern methods to create dynamic works which share with us her inspiration of the Wiltshire landscape setting in which she works.
I also spotted some original Roger Leigh works in the grounds, looking suitably worn by time and the elements. The photographs I took will be added to the Roger Leigh collection at the History Centre alongside my copy of the exhibition guide.
The Friends of the Garden were pleased to invite back William Pye, one of the sculptors who exhibited in the original 1969 exhibition. Michael Fairfax also has a link to 1969; his father worked with Roger Leigh to create ‘Flying Poems’ structures. It is wonderful to think that Roger’s legacy of art in the landscape is alive and well through the work of Friends of the Garden and others, continuing to delight local audiences in a unique and still refreshing way.
All money raised by the exhibition will be applied to a combined bursary and exhibition programme managed by Pound Arts, Corsham. Ross Tunney, Chair of the Friends of the Garden, notes; “Culture is a shared experience and we hope this event can be a celebration of the joy and pleasure many of us find in seeing the beautiful and interesting art we have here today”
… and it was.
County Local Studies Librarian
Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre