A Bridlington sculptor has seen the fruition of four years of his hard work unveiled on an iconic artwork in France.
Stephen Carvill, 61, who is best know for his hugely popular Gansey Girl sculpture on Bridlington Harbour, led a team of carvers who were working on the Normandy D-Day memorial, which was unveiled on the 77th anniversary of the World War Two landings.
In an exclusive interview with the Bridlington Echo, Stephen spoke about the huge amount of work involved in planning and carving the huge Normandy memorial.
“I started at the planning stage about four years go in 2017, looking into the logistics for the work involved, – the time, travel and accommodation. The letterform/font was being designed by the Kindersley Studio specially for the Memorial, so I went down to London on a regular basis to test carve the prototype letters and record the likely time frames needed for the work.
“I managed a small team of hand carvers on site for the Kennington-based Kindersley Studio. We carved the words and speeches of Churchill, Montgomery, De Gaulle and George VI on the exterior. The stone came to us in individual building blocks, so I had to make sure lines of lettering would register across the walls when it was built, it was like labelling a large stone jigsaw puzzle. We all constantly checked the spellings and punctuation (some of it in French) before starting to carve (errors aren’t allowed).”
As well as working in London, Stephen also travelled to other countries to complete the project.
“It started in the London studio with working out the logistics and pretesting the lettering for carving; the work then moved to Northern Ireland as the stone boulders were converted to building blocks. We then carved the letters into the blocks individually before sending them back to France. Finally we went out to France to finish the carving and add additional texts and carvings in situ, once the building was erected.”
Part of the project was carving the Normandy Memorial Trust Badge which was a centrepiece of the memorial.
Said Stephen: “The badge is 600mm x 600mm in a French limestone called Massangis. It comprises the name of the Trust with the Normandy Lion passant and a simple sea wave design with abstracted leaves surrounding the badge – the words below read ‘Always Remembered’
“I carved it on a scaffold platform and the friendly residents of Ver-sur-Mer would watch as it progressed and wave at me from their doorways or tractors as they drove past. It was drawn onto the stone in situ. The drawing is marked onto a piece of stone projecting from the surface called a ‘boasting’. I worked into the boasting with hand tools, chisels and mallet to create the shape and depth required. It is carved in sunken relief technique.”
When asked about what the future holds, Stephen looks to have plenty of work in the pipeline.
“It’s quite a creative period for me. I am the Artist in Residence at Thorpe Hall near Rudston so I have been devising sculptural ideas for the beautiful woodlands and gardens set around the Hall. I’m getting lots of ideas for other work at the moment, not quite in the pipeline yet, but I think something will come of them. I’m very keen to push for a figure of T.E Lawrence (Aircraftman Shaw) near the harbour, to celebrate his posting in Bridlington. I think we also need to celebrate William Kent the landscape artist and designer who was born on the High Street. Our history is both fascinating and valuable as it emphasises the unique character of a town like Brid, it is a commodity which we need to exploit and I try and support this in my local work.”
Bridlington-born and raised in the Old Town,Stephen studied for his Art Degree at Hull College of Higher Education and then at Bretton Hall and the University of Leeds. He also studied Stone carving and Masonry at Weymouth and received the CGLI National Medal; a local Educational Trust part-funded him for this course.
There are many influences that have inspired Stephen – both historical and contemporary – however, as a child he would watch his commercial artist Grandfather drawing and remembered thinking that he was seeing magic coming from his hands into the pen or pencil that he was using –‘ a magic pen.’
Asked what his favourite sculpture/artwork that he has created, Stephen gives nod back to his Bridlington roots.
“This is difficult and I can’t give a straight answer, there are four that mean a great deal to me, and they are all local despite the fact that I have work in other places;-
Gansey Girl on the harbour , St John of Bridlington Portrait Bust in Bridlington Priory Church and his Shrine Marker in the Churchyard, The Carnaby Airfield Memorial and the Agnes Dei in the Priory Churchyard.
All four of these grew out of the community that they serve and the surroundings or context that they are in and the people who represented the community had input. I think as a result they are relevant and resonate with people…they all mean something.”As well as carving, Stephen works in other with other materials and enjoys painting.
“I produce work in other mediums as well, I think that the subject dictates the approach and the type of material; one thing may be better represented as a sculpture whereas something else may be good as a painting. I have made my living mainly from design and carving in recent years, I find painting and modelling with clay and wax and constructing with other materials liberating because you are adding material rather than taking away…with carving you can’t put it back so you tend to take it rather more steadily…you only get one chance.”Bridlington has been a great inspiration for Stephen’s work and he doesn’t see himself living anywhere else.
“I like the sea and the big skies, the cliffs, sailing cobles in the harbour, the sound of the sea and folk on the beach which carries over the town on a sunny day. Our splendid Georgian Old Town presided over by The Priory is an architectural jewel. Brid is also well placed for visiting the Moors, Wolds, the Dales and York. And of course the people and friends here. Brid is my home, base and inspiration for much of my work.”added Stephen.
The Gansey Girl
Unveiled in 2015, the Gansey Girl is one of the most visited and photographed sculptures in the region.
The Gansey Girl depicts a young woman knitting a gansey – a traditional wool jumper worn by fishermen.
Cast as a bronze sculpture, the iconic statue is part of the Bridlington Maritime Trail and she sits proudly on the North Pier of Bridlington Harbour passing the time knitting whilst waiting for her husband to come back home from sea.