Where there is form, add clay

After all, it is not ignorance which damages the clarity of our portraits, but the accumulation of knowledge.
Alain de Botton – ‘Kiss and Tell’, 1995

The Amesbury Preparatory School in Hindhead is unique in being the only purpose-built school by Edwin Lutyens. It had an arts festival in March 2012, the final day of which saw the development of a sculpture with all 231 pupils in Years 1-8, aged 5 to 13.

Seven months ago, arts teachers Mark Reynolds and Susannah Colborn discussed my idea of a communal portrait head, and we secured the Headmaster, Nigel Taylor, as a generous sitter for the day. This was to remain a secret to all until the first session started. His investment of time to the project elevated the seriousness of the pursuit.

The students’ brief of looking and seeing with rigour resulted in all adding clay to the communal portrait – yielding not a copy, but a formal equivalent through the eyes of those involved. After many sessions and 6 hours, the final Year 8 class retreated to leave a believable head which was then hollowed,  dried for 5 weeks before being fired in a kiln. The seemingly impossible task of a portrait head being constructed by those without prior knowledge or experience came to fruition, with the guidance of a sculptor. With a seemingly massive task being broken down into small steps, anything becomes possible. These images show the concentration of the contributing sculptors – without this belief, the sculpture wouldn’t have developed as it did.

This also brought back memories of sculpture activity in 2007 at Ashfield Park Primary School, Ross on Wye, where the lunchtime session saw the challenge of sculpting the Headmistress in high relief… using a large vat of lukewarm mashed potato brought out from the kitchens,  to the disbelief of wide-eyed pupils. This was a mere sculptor’s sideshow to provide some light relief  in their packed day of sculptural pursuits, but it showed that the surreal and odd can stimulate young minds.


All images: Martin Gibb/Amesbury School