‘I would love to sculpt as many women as possible, because there’s a huge under-representation of women. There are more sculptures of dogs Emily Williamson is an inspiring woman. She got stuff done.
Sculpture is my passion. I can’t think of anything that rocks my boat more in any shape or form. I love working site specifically, I love responding to a commission. I really love the historical subjects. A whole new world opens up, a gradual process of arriving at the person.
With Emily Williamson, there’s so much more to it than that little photograph. I want people to have an emotional response to my sculpture of Emily. I want it to have an emotional impact. I want people to be able to walk up to it, like a person, and say, “Hi there”.’
‘Emily Williamson’s statue has to have longevity – which is why I’ve put in so much detail, because it needs to tell so many stories.
From a distance, it’s a Victorian woman in a stiff crinoline. Get closer, and you’ll see that her skirts are actually a cliff-face studded with vignettes. Owl, heron, grebe, kingfisher… birds once used in millinery, birds that are vulnerable today; also feather workers, eco campaigners… I’d like to use ‘augmented reality’ technology to bring to life all the stories behind the story. This has never yet been done with public sculpture.
My version of Emily draws together both person and landscape. She protects the birds, women and girls within her care; she is the ‘mother of nature’. Visually, the statue will blend in with its leafy surroundings, as Emily’s verdigris skirts fade upwards to a warm conker brown. My work is designed to fit within nature and grow out of nature, as if Emily’s emerging from her surroundings. She is the conservation story. She’s Mother Nature herself.
Amongst other things this piece, and Emily’s legacy, is forever reminding us of our dependence on Mother Nature, our responsibility to her, and our inseparable and beautiful relationship with her.’
‘I’m committed to the idea of taking something forward; of it being not just a memorial, but a living inspiration. I want to celebrate what the RSPB is doing today by creating a piece of work that engages visitors of all ages, which children in particular can enjoy and learn from.
The future of the natural world, conservation and the RSPB will become our children’s responsibility. I feel passionate about the natural world, the need to protect, to fight for it.
I was inspired by Emily’s relationship with Sir Patrick Bateson and his daughter Melissa, and the thought of this connection with birds going through the generations. In my sculpture, Emily and her great, great niece Melissa are both looking to the skies, where the bird will be released. They’re also looking to the future.
Young Melissa holds a starling in her hands, which is just taking flight. Starlings have declined in the UK by 66% since the 1970s, with a decline of 41% in Greater Manchester during the last two decades. Melissa Bateson is a Professor of Ethology, and a starling specialist.
I’m very motivated by the idea of the ‘good ancestor’: someone taking action that will resonate for decades, centuries, millennia to come. What we do today ripples down through the generations.’
‘My love for birds started in lockdown. Realising just how much we need nature prompted me to apply for this competition.
To me, the feathers, the hats and the birds were the most important part of the story. The statue needs to shock, 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.
Emily sits in her own garden, but shares her space with the visitors. The bench is 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.
As a portrait sculptor you become very intimate and connected with your subject, even if you don’t know them. You build up a relationship. It’s a very private one, difficult to describe. What do those eyes tell you about her personality? To me, she seems a very gentle, determined, kind person.’