Sculpting of Queen statue for Oakham reaches significant milestone
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Sculpting of Queen statue for Oakham reaches significant milestone

Nov 20, 2023

A statue of the late Queen Elizabeth II which will be unveiled later this year has reached a significant milestone in the sculpting process.

The statue of Queen Elizabeth II was commissioned by the Lord Lieutenant of Rutland Dr Sarah Furness and will be the country's first permanent memorial to the Queen.

Last month, Rutland County Council gave permission for the £125,000 statue, which will be paid for almost completely with public subscription, to be sited at the back of the library in Oakham.

Now work is underway to sculpt the statue by sculptor Hywel Pratley.

Speaking on Friday, he said: “I have been working on the project for four months now, and used something like 800kg of clay in the process; but this weekend all of that has to come to an end, because the next vital stage of the project begins.”

The statue of the Queen is just over 7ft tall and totally dominates the archway studio underneath the Hammersmith railway line where Hywel works.

“I’m just putting the finishing touches to the drapery, fingernails, a bit of hair, and the crown,” he says.

The statue is hidden underneath several layers of translucent plastic sheeting, normally used to protect floors by decorators.

“This stuff is great because it's so thin it follows the form of the clay, almost like a second skin,” Hywel said.

“I have to spray the statue every half an hour every day with a light misting of water, simply to keep the clay at a level of moisture so that it doesn’t dry out. Of course, when you have clay supported by a metal skeleton framework, you don’t want the clay to dry out because as it dries it will shrink, and as it shrinks it will crack around the metal inside.

“Overnight, I then have to cover the sculpture in this plastic to retain some of that moisture, and then every morning unwrap again – which is a horrible, time consuming process, but very necessary because elements of the sculpture are quite fragile, especially high up on the crown.”

Part of the sculpting process involved the construction of a steel frame to support the weight of the clay as it was modelled.

“Halfway through the process I realised that the wheels on my wooden base were not strong enough to handle the 800kg,” Hywel said. “So I had a new trolley built underneath her, made from a car bearing, allowing me to rotate the clay with ease through 360 degrees. She’s heavy, and it’s a lot of clay to turn, but I’m very pleased with the way that it now works.”

Climbing up a rather unstable looking set of stepladders, Hywel starts the process of gently unwrapping the imposing clay statue from the plastic sheeting.

“I don’t know until I unwrap her each morning where I’m going to be focussing for the day,” he says. “But I’m very close to the end of the sculpting process now – I’ve got just 48 hours left to complete the work with the clay to meet my strict deadline, the reason for which is so the next stage of the project can begin – the silicone moulding.”

The statue is being created using what is known as the ‘lost wax’ process of metal casting. Molten metal – in this case bronze – will eventually be poured into a mould which is created from the clay form.

Once the clay sculpting has been finished – the stage at which Hywel has just reached – a thin silicone rubber is poured over the clay, ensuring it reaches every crevice and cavity. As many as four layers of silicone are poured over the statue, one after another, with each successive mixture thicker than the last, to eventually produce a 3-4mm thick, malleable, exact copy of the clay model.

“My friend, and genius colleague, Naomi Edwards, is coming up from Edwards Moulding and Castings in East Sussex to help me pour the silicone layers. But once the silicone goes on, that means there is no more ‘tweaking’ of the clay – so it’s a very exciting time in the project, if a little bit nerve-wracking.”

When fully unwrapped, it is hard not to be impressed with the sheer magnificence of the clay statue, as well as the likeness which Hywel has achieved.

“I wanted to sculpt a young Queen, dressed in robes befitting our Monarch,” he explains. “The likeness is not of any specific moment during Her Majesty’s reign, but I would say a young Queen Elizabeth in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

“The method that I use is always to start with a profile, so that when you have a portrait sitter, you look for the proportions and gestures of their profile first, in order to work out a foundation to build on when you look for the widths at the front. We are very familiar with this through stamps and coins, and I have my ‘inspiration wall’ of all sorts of images of the Queen, including the original model that was shown in February when the statue project was announced at Oakham Castle. I then use this and the imagery to remind me constantly of where I want to be going with the clay statue.

“It was an interesting challenge to get her youth and softness of expression, while making sure that she had poise, power, and warmth, as well as benevolence. She looked so different in each photograph – I was really struck by how she could look with a different expression or smile, and so different from one Royal engagement to the next: a hat could change her, a crown would change her, a mood would change her. So I hope I’ve captured something that people will recognise. I’m pleased though.”

In addition to the statue of the Queen, there are three additional statues of her beloved corgi dogs. One sits at her feet next to the main statue, the other two will be placed at ground level, next to the 5ft high sandstone plinth on which the bronze statue will be placed.

“The idea was that these would be more accessible to the public, children and… other dogs!” Hywel explains. These are not yet completely sculpted to his satisfaction, but as he says: “The main statue is the priority at the moment.”

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