Genesis Sculpture, Plymouth, Devon

Genesis Sculpture, Plymouth, Devon

2015 ‘Genesis’ stone carving by Jonathan Sells, Plymouth, Devon

Jonathan Sells. Photograph by Rob Rowe.

Background to the Genesis Project

In July 2015, Corfe Castle-based stone carver and sculptor Jonathan Sells was commissioned to carve four large wall panels for one of his most most challenging stone carvings to date. This was for a major project, named ‘Genesis’, in the Stonehouse area of Plymouth. Genesis was to be the name of a new £5 million block, housing affordable offices and storage units.

Jonathan is a highly acclaimed, award-winning, stone carver and sculptor with over 45 years’ experience in both figurative and abstract work. He is also well-known for teaching at various schools and institutions around Dorset, in addition to running his own stone carving lessons. Living in Corfe Castle since 1985, he is part of the Boilerhouse Gallery, which used to be called the Old Milk Factory, just across the line from the Town’s railway station.

Well-known for his humorous, often quirky, figurative sculpture, Jonathan’s work ranges from small pieces, such as Purbeck marble leaves which are lovingly polished to bring out their natural beauty to reveal shells and fossils, to off-the-wall-quirky figurines, and large public sculptures.

Among his stone carvings are the 900th anniversary piece at Christchurch Priory Gardens, the Tregonwell/Creeke statue outside the Bournemouth International Centre, and the 700th Wareham Market anniversary piece, now sited at Cottees Auctioneers in Poole.

Another of his works is the 6-foot Primordial Sculpture outside the Heritage Centre at West Lulworth, depicting life that evolved during the Cretaceous, Jurassic and Triassic periods 250 million years ago.

The brief…

The Genesis panels had to depict the historic trades of Stonehouse, such as stone quarrying and boatbuilding. Each of the four panels would be around 6ft by 3ft, which would be challenging enough, except that each large panel would comprise four smaller quarter panels, all interconnecting. The design would actually run across the quarter panels so, in addition to everything else, the carving had to be pinpoint accurate.

The panels had been designed by Stonehouse historian and artist Richard Fisher. Jonathan’s role was to turn Richard’s design into a relief (a type of carving or sculpture in which the figures are raised a few inches from a flat background, to give a three-dimensional effect) using Portland stone.

 

12-hour days in freezing conditions

The Genesis project meant non-stop work for Jonathan for almost five months. He often worked for twelve hours a day, including working outdoors to midnight on the coldest nights of the year, and only taking and a handful of days off over Christmas.

The work schedule was daunting; Jonathan had just four months to complete the actual carving. “Before even seeing any of the plans,” he recalls, “I knew that 16 weeks for effectively 16 stones was a tall order.”

There was also the problem of weight and size. Each smaller quarter stone measured approximately 3ft by 18 inches by 5 inches thick, and weighed just under two hundredweight.

The first task was using artist Richard’s designs to create 100-odd templates, then transfer the images on to the flat surface of the stones themselves.

To meet the deadline, Jonathan would regularly not put down his tools until midnight. Because of the dust he worked outside under a marquee, with Plymouth Stonehouse quarrymen working with and loading stone onto horses.

 

The panels take shape…

Jonathan didn’t actually begin carving until early September and finished the first panel on 20th October, keeping a daily diary of his progress. The good news was that the clients had seen photos of the panels – and liked them.

“I breathed a sigh of relief at this stage,” he says, “but there was still a lot of work to do before I would see the light at the end of the tunnel and the finished result.”

Mid-November the second panel was taken away, but the weather had changed and Jonathan was already wearing thermals.

Incredibly, he finished the third panel on 16th December, so was able to take a week off for Christmas to be with his family.

When he returned to work on the 2nd January 2016 the cold was extreme and he had to double up on coats. The good news was that the construction work was slightly behind schedule and he was given a two-week extension.

The final panel was taken away on 26th January; incredibly, Jonathan had met the deadline.

Read more about this project here

 

Purbeck Sculptor Jonathan Sells meets Princess Anne PDF document

Christchurch Priory Sculpture

Christchurch Priory Sculpture

1994 sculpture by Jonathan Sells depicting ‘Flambard’ the Bishop of Durham, responsible for planning the building of the Priory church in 1094. Photo above ©  John Allen.

Tregonwell/Creeke Sculpture

Tregonwell/Creeke Sculpture

Tregonwell/Creeke Statue

Bournemouth Curiosities, by W A HoodlessBelow are photographs of Jonathan Sells’ 1999 Tregonwell/Creeke sculpture, which is situated outside the Bournemouth International Centre (BIC) in Bournemouth, Dorset.

The photos are in the book Bournemouth Curiosities, by W A Hoodless.

Tregonwell/Creeke Sculpture. Photograph from book: Bournemouth Curiosities, by W A Hoodless.

Press cutting about the Tregonwell/Creeke statue.

Frank Foley Sculpture

Frank Foley Sculpture

“The spy who saved 10,000 Jews”

Dedication held on May 8th, 2005
Highbridge Somerset
Photos by Mike Lang, Highbridge Somerset

6′ x 6′ x 8′ Purbeck Stone

 

Click the following links to read about the unveiling of the Frank Foley sculpture:-

BBC covers the Frank Foley sculpture unveiling

Frank Foley sculpture dedicated

Sculptor’s tribute to spy who saved Jews

 

I was commissioned by the Frank Foley Fair Committee in Highbridge, Somerset to create a stone sculpture in memory of Frank Foley. This project was very important to me, emotionally as well as artistically and I have created a sculpture to embrace both the pain and fear that people faced in Nazi Germany during those terrible times.

Frank Foley was born at 7 Walrow Terrace, Highbridge, Somerset. He headed the passport division in the British Embassy in Berlin during the 1930’s up to the start of World War II in September 1939.

Breaking and bending the immigration rules whenever necessary, he handed out visas to thousands of Jews, anxious to leave Nazi Germany to countries under British rule. Many of these people did not qualify for visas, yet Foley overlooked these discrepancies, and in the interest of saving them from the Gestapo, gave them visas, which made it possible for them to leave the country in time.

He is credited with making it possible for thousands of Jews to leave Nazi Germany, many of whom did not qualify under the immigration laws in force at the time. Foley died in 1958. Based on the testimonies recently received at Yad Vashem, Francis Foley was awarded the title ‘Righteous Among the Nations’.

Some of the ideas that I had behind the components in the statue are:

  • Larger than life figures as these were larger than life people!
  • The father looks downwards with a worried look as his daughter, tugging on his sleeve, innocently points to the train engine and cattle truck. From the chilling stories he has heard, he knows these trains are taking people to their incarceration in concentration camps. The blankness in his eyes shows the numbness in his heart. There is a look of fear witnessing the horrors he has been living through. Now there is hope.
  • The birds are symbols of the two people, father and daughter, being freed. Birds flying symbolise freedom and one of the birds has an olive branch depicting the dove of peace, as well as in the Noah’s Ark story about newfound land. The wing of peace becomes the hand of friendship. The other bird appears out of the train’s smoke symbolising the phoenix rising from the ashes : resurrection and rebirth.
  • As Frank Foley stamps the visas of the Jewish man and his daughter, his look is one of proud defiance as he breaks and bends the rules, to help get these people out of Germany to freedom and life.
  • The heads of the two men have been left joined to show the importance of empathy, understanding and communication between fellow human beings.

 

Highbridge and Somerset connections include:

  • An apple!
  • A Boat – Highbridge was once an important port. It also symbolises travel and leaving the country for other lands.
  • The Highbridge town clock – the time on the clock depicts the period during which Frank Foley did these courageous deeds.
  • Beneath the clock hangs a lone star. Ask the residents of Highbridge about this story.
  • The Train has a joint connection – it represents the GWR line which crossed by Highbridge station where the large locomotive works were for the S & DJ (Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway). 300 people were made redundant on its closure. The train is also symbolic of those used to take Jewish people and others to concentration camps.
  • The Bridge is small because the once important Highbridge has been forgotten.
Osprey Quay

Osprey Quay

Jonathan Sells’ sculpture, shown here, is at Osprey Quay, part of The Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy. Children from the existing Underhill School on Portland influenced the design with their own ideas for their new school, and Jonathan was commissioned to complete the stone panel in 2013.

DepARTure, the arts in education agency for Dorset worked with the Children’s Services Premises Team Education Officer to create this project to engage the children in their new school building design.

Read more about the Osprey Quay sculpture here (this is a link to another website and will open in a new window).