Sculpture in the garden returns to Grays Court


SCULPTURE in the Gardens returns to Grays Court this month and will run for five weeks.

More than 30 artists from the Oxford Sculptors Group will display around 160 pieces of bronze, stone, steel, wood, glass and ceramics in and around the National Trust property near Rotherfield Greys.

All sculptures will be available for purchase and can be delivered or picked up after the exhibition.

This is the fifth year of the exhibition, which has grown in popularity.

Keith Appleby, who chairs the steering group, says: “The exhibition has become a tradition. I think the first year it was three weeks and we gradually increased it to five.

“It’s a mixture of sculptures placed throughout the garden and a number of sculptures in the Cromwellian, which is the building as you enter the walled garden.

“We have a very good relationship with Grays Court as we both benefit from it.”

Keith, who lived in Cornwall for 40 years until moving to Sonning Common six years ago, uses woodturning to create delicate carvings and hollowed out shapes.

He is fascinated by the patterns and shapes found in wood and uses different types, his favorites being yew and ash which is chipped meaning it has been stained with fungus.

Keith says: “When the ashes are lying in the forest, the moisture in the wood attracts the fungus and you get these black lines that appear in the wood and create a really fascinating pattern.

“I also love things like burrs or cankers that form on the surface of a tree. Oak and walnut burrs produce fascinating patterns.

“The piece is turned to a point where the wood is quite thin, about 5mm thick, and then I start carving the shapes.

“It’s a laborious process but it explores cellular form. It’s like extending the cellular structure of the tree and making it bigger, echoing the natural structure of the wood itself.

“My running phrase is ‘anything pretty ugly and maybe a bit nasty’, maybe with bits that have rotted. I really like to attack stuff like that because it produces great results.

“You react to the shapes and patterns you discover as you go, but sometimes you have to avoid them because they can produce weakness.

“Anyone who works as wood turners, superglue is their savior. If you get any splits and cracks, which often happen when wood dries naturally, superglue fills them in. It produces a really strong line in the wood and binds it together.

“I just made one where I was working on it when the wood started to fracture because there was a weakness. I had to build it with resin to mimic the wood itself. I challenge people to figure out where it is on the coin.

John Nicholls of Caversham carves his designs in stone, his favorite being Hopton Wood, a type of Derbyshire limestone.

“It is very fine and particularly suitable for carving, so it is popular for tombstones. It is the best carving stone in the world,” he says. “It takes a nice polish and a nice edge and net. It’s beautiful but it’s hard to get.”

He also works stone from Ancaster, Lincolnshire, and occasionally soapstone. He also carves in relief on pieces of slate.

John’s work is guided by the heart. He says, “When people ask what it represents, I say, ‘Do you have a favorite piece of orchestral music?’ and they tell me. I say, ‘Well, what does that represent?’

“It’s purely abstract. I do things that please me and if they please others, that’s wonderful.

At last year’s exhibition, John showed a piece called chilternscape and this year, he developed on the theme.

“It was a Chiltern landscape with a red kite cut out in silhouette,” he says. “I’m doing something similar this year called Chiltern Triptych, which is a three part thing with a red kite, slate beech leaves and then in the middle some kind of cut out scene.

chilternscape was very popular and I did three in the end. You cut the stone and it leaves the picture proud. It’s a bit fissile, so pieces tend to break off and you have to be a little careful. Martin Lorenz, of Wargrave, will display a head portrait of artist Simon Allison as an example of his work. He did it during a class run by Allison’s wife, artist Jane Hamilton, at the Phoenix Studio in Towersey, near Thame.

“[It’s] basically to tell people, “Listen, if you want to commission a portrait, come see me,” he says.

Martin, 90, was also commissioned to make animal sculptures after he was asked, “Do you make dogs? The result was “dog 1”, a model of a Labrador named Harvey.

A relative then asked him if he could create a dog portrait for a neighbor who had cared for her when she was sick, which led to “dog 2”, a cockapoo named Merlin.

Another request led to Shaggy Dog but that won’t be on display at Grays Court.

Another of Martin’s pieces is called blue boy and was created for Reading Blue Coat School in Sonning. “It’s a very small thing that they used to give as a prize,” he said.

He also made religious pieces for the Shrine Shop in Walsingham, Norfolk, including Our Lady of Paddington and Our Lady of Westminster.

Roz Read, from Langley in Buckinghamshire, creates large clay pieces before casting them.

She says, “I love working with color and I try to incorporate it somehow. I started working more in Jesmonite [a composite] because it is less toxic and you can create a look very similar to bronze resin.

She has attended the exhibition every year and says Grays Court is an ideal venue.

Roz says, “I did the layout every year. I really like it, even if it’s a lot of work and it’s very chaotic during the day. We need to get there early before the general public enters. It’s great to see this all fall into place and to see the work of others.

• Sculpture in the Gardens is at Grays Court from Saturday 11th June to Sunday 17th July from 10am to 5pm. There are also three ticketed events on Thursdays 16th, 23rd and 30th June from 5.30pm to 8pm for £15 per person. For more information visit or


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