22nd September 2023
Hywel Pratley is an eminent sculptor of international renown. He is a member of the Society of Portrait Sculptors and the Royal Society of Sculptors as well as being a principal instructor at the Florence Academy of Art. He also worked on the legendary ‘Spitting Image’ as Puppet Sculptor. Recently, he has been working on a very special statue of Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II for Rutland – the first in the UK to be commissioned. Amander Meade spoke to Hywel about the project and the process
How did you hear about the project? I had heard that Rutland was looking for a sculptor for an exciting project to bring an over-life-sized statue of the late Queen Elizabeth to Oakham, and I was very intrigued. When LeBlanc Fine Art Bronze Foundry asked if I would like to be introduced to Sarah Furness, Rutland’s Lord-Lieutenant, I didn’t hesitate for a second. Sarah originally conceived the idea following feedback from the people of Rutland in the aftermath of the late Queen’s passing and she has been instrumental in taking the project forward.
How does this commission rate in terms of originality and scope?
The brief I was given was fairly simple, which is not to say that executing it has been. I was asked to sculpt a young Queen, at the height of her powers; beautiful, and wearing state robes. Those simple criteria gave me guidance, with enough creative leeway.
Statues have always intrigued and inspired me. From ancient Greek heroes to the monumental statesmen in Westminster via commemorative portraits in theatre foyers. I have always noticed and been moved by sculptures, particularly bronze casts. This commission is exciting, as it gives me the opportunity to bring together my sculptural research in a large work, where bronze is combined with stonemasonry in a public domain. In a way, all my previous sculptures have led up to this statue.
How did you decide how the statue should look?
Elizabeth II’s 20th-century reign coincided with television’s inception and huge advances in photography. Suddenly it became possible for the masses to photograph her from all angles, during many of her engagements. I could have captured something candid, almost domestic, as the evidence is all there, but Dr Furness’s Statue Committee and I agreed that we wanted majesty, poise and power, while conveying the benevolence and humanity that the nation felt while Elizabeth reigned over us.
Drapery in statues is capable of great gestural movement. I have tried to convey a sense of the weight of duty and history with the hands’ relationship to the drapery. I hope the sense of a light touch and the proximity of one beloved corgi conveys a metaphor for security and safety. The choice of the diamond diadem was easy, as it seems to me such an elegantly proportioned crown, and one with which we are so familiar, from coins and postage imagery.
Can you explain a little about the physical process of creating such a statue?
I began this process by sculpting a series of clay maquettes in January 2023. By the end of February, I had decided on the desired design and a bronze resin edition was unveiled in Oakham Castle. [This remains in Oakham Library, where people are welcome to view it.] March was devoted to the design, welding, and construction of the metal armature over which the full-sized clay would be sculpted. I used roughly 800kg of clay. The next four months were devoted to sculpting the Queen and three corgis in clay. August saw the fabrication of a series of silicone and fibre-glass moulds, which will enable two months of lost-wax bronze casting at LeBlanc Foundry in Melton Mowbray – bringing the final statue to life.
What are you hoping will be the legacy of your work?
To have my work in public is nerve-wracking and exhilarating at the same time. I am very pleased that the design of this statue might incorporate a space for sitting and contemplation around its base. There is potential for public interaction with two of the corgis, and I hope residents of and visitors to Rutland will feel warmth and fondness when they interact with the work.
For more information on funding the statue and to donate, click here.