'To honour Emily's legacy, it had to start with a hat' – Billie Bond
Updated: Jul 9, 2021
Billie Bond's love for birds started in lockdown. 'Realising just how much we need nature' prompted the Essex-based sculptor to apply for the Emily Williamson statue competition.
'To me, the feathers, the hats and the birds were the most important part of the story,' says Billie. 'And so to honour Emily's legacy, it had to start with a hat.' She managed to find a French hat from the right era, in crushed velvet, topped with a Greater bird-of-paradise, complete with beak and glass eyes (a common millinery adornment of the era). She embellished this hat with a spray of Victorian cockerel and worked ostrich feathers.
'The statue needs to shock,' says Billie; 'to show what was happening. But I wanted the hat to also tell a different story. By turning it upside down, Emily is giving it back to the birds. The little bird perched on the rim is a robin. It’s a symbolic offering: the robin represents rebirth. When I was in Fletcher Moss Park having lunch, two little robins sat down by me. I took it as a sign.
In Billie Bond's composition Emily sits in her own garden, but shares her space with the visitors. The bench she sits on will be shaped like a horseshoe: a community space where people can share and contemplate. 'In the middle of the circle you could place a round plaque in the ground, perhaps inscribed with the Society for the Protection of Birds’ original 1889 pledge: "Lady Members shall refrain from wearing the feathers of any bird not killed for the purposes of food, the ostrich excepted".'
'As a portrait sculptor you become very intimate and connected with your subject,' explains Billie, 'even if you don’t know them. You build up a relationship. It’s a very private one, difficult to describe. I know only the front of Emily’s face. What do those eyes tell you about her personality? To me, she seems a very gentle, determined, kind person.’