In March 2006, I was asked by the Friends of Openshaw Park, Manchester, UK, to design a sculpture for a poplar tree in the park. The tree had lost one huge branch and another had been removed for safety reasons, but the tree was still some 30ft tall. I submitted two designs; a cheaper bulb design and one more expensive figurative wood sculpture of a couple dancing. I secretly hoped that the friends could find the extra money for the Dancing design as it fitted this unique tree much better. It seems that the tree has been formed by two seeds within a single fruit which had given an unusual oval shape to the base of the tree and the decided slope to the left hand side of the trunk. The dancers would use the left hand slope of the trunk for the spread of the ball gown, and the lesser lean on the right for the bend in the male’s back
Tree with some bark removed but before carving commenced
The Friends did find the extra money for the figurative sculpture and work commenced four months later in July. By that time, the tree had had a spurt of growth brought on by the severe pruning of it’s main branches. What had been a bare tree in March was covered in small new branches and a huge leaf cover. Ideal working conditions for working in one of the hottest Julys but it would have to come down before the work could progress too far. I am not qualified to do that sort of work and a professional team from Manchester council were booked for the work. In the mean time I concentrated on the lowest part of the tree, removed the bark and started work on the legs and skirt areas.
The Manchester Council team of three turned up with a cherry picker, chipper and chainsaw with a bar twice as big as mine. It took them two hours to bring the tree down to the right size
Now all that height and weight had been removed, I could tackle the upper and middle of the design
I stacked up pallets needed so that I could reach higher. Pallets are, in fact, easier to use than scaffolding. The height can be adjusted within 6 inches and they can be moved round the sculpture easily. They were stored over night in the shipping container that can be seen in the background of some pictures
The faces were carved with hand tools, 2 inch chisels and gouges. Little finesse here. The figures are 10 foot tall and the faces have to be bold enough to be seen from ground level.
On the final day, I used the chain saw to finished off the hair, put in the arms and detailed the clothes.