A work of art that will be the tallest ceramic sculpture in the UK takes shape in Devon | Sculpture
For now, the brightly colored pieces are scattered around Sandy Brown’s workshop, a former sailmaker’s loft in the North Devon shipbuilding town of Appledore.
In a matter of weeks they will be transported to a Cornish town and nested together to become the tallest ceramic sculpture in the UK, possibly the world.
Earth Goddess will rise 12 meters above the town of St Austell, becoming South West England’s answer to the Angel of the North.
It is hoped the sculpture – made from materials as diverse as mud from the Appledore estuary and Cornish china clay – will attract tourists and give further impetus to the area’s growing reputation as a place of observation and artistic creation.
“I lived with her for two years,” Brown said, giving the Guardian a glimpse of the near-completed work. “It will be sad to see her go. The place will feel a little empty without her.
Earth Goddess was commissioned as part of an art and regeneration project celebrating the incredible history of porcelain clay in St Austell.
The discovery of the material, used in the manufacture of a product including paper, rubber and paint, made St Austell the Silicon Valley of the 18th and 19th centuries. It has created thousands of jobs and a striking addition to the landscape – the white, sharp cut tips nicknamed the Cornish Alps.
Earth Goddess must be the centerpiece of a ceramic sculpture tour in the city. She started with what Brown described as a “doodling” in clay at her desk in the corner of her studio.
“I wasn’t thinking or planning, I was just doodling, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s where the best things come from.” What emerged was a “vaguely feminine form” – and the idea of a giant earth goddess.
Brown took advice from an engineer friend who pointed out that the original shape she had envisioned was impractical because flat pieces sticking out would catch the wind. Thus, a more elegant and curvy shape emerged.
A limiting factor was the size of the workshop oven. Brown has one of the biggest in the UK, but she had to make the body in 15 separate pieces to pull them off.
Brown said she was confident Earth Goddess would be the largest ceramic sculpture in the UK and that she had yet to find a larger one in the world. “I expect people to tell me there is one, but they haven’t yet.”
As well as being large, the sculpture is also very bright – a riot of swirling reds, yellows and cobalt oxide blues. Like the great Cornish potter Bernard Leach, Brown studied in Japan.
While Leach is best known for his more subdued tones, Brown has taken a brighter route. “When I started 50 years ago, there seemed to be a belief that studio ceramics should be brown. I preferred the color.
The sections are decorated with circles. “I call them rounds,” Brown said. “The circle is a symbol of unity, harmony – so it feeds into the idea of the earth goddess.”
She used China clay as a base coat. “It’s an extremely thin material that shows off bright colors beautifully – it makes them shine.”
Brown is currently working on china clay tiles that will be used to create a base around the statue. They are smeared with Appledore mud which she picks up from the river just outside her house.
“It’s creamy and buttery, it feels like you could spread it on toast,” she said. When cooked, it takes on a nice rusty color with golden flecks.
Earth Goddess will be introduced to the world in early April. “I can’t wait to see it installed,” Brown said. “I have no idea what people will think of her. I hope they will be proud.