Sunday, 3 June 2007

Sculpture - Hare Today

My visit to Chelsea Flower Show highlighted more than just wonderful blooms, it reminded me of all the excellent forms of garden art there are from around the world: South Africa included.

Sculpture and landscape have a symbiosis: you only have to look at how the works of Henry Moore complement - and compliment – sites and their various axes or wider views to believe this. On a smaller scale Barbara Hepworth's tiny garden in St Ives comes alive with her sculptures.

The Nicholson Wall at Sutton Place – mirrored in the still pool – is a sublime example of abstract sculpture in a formal landscape: a classic sculpture of a something like a Greek God in a totally timeless landscape can be just as effective.

In more modest settings smaller works are needed and there's a wide variety of sculptures - modern, contemporary, classic or retro – on offer in small galleries, garden centres and shows. Terracotta, stone, lead or bronze are the upmarket materials with pottery, tin, glass or resin the more affordable: there's a medium to suit every situation.

But of all the many subjects I think that those from the natural world are the ones that most easily fit into the great outdoors. I'm not so keen on hippos installed in Hanover but give me a seed pod in Sydney and I'm there: or a hare, nearly anywhere.

When we look at the full moon in Britain we think we can see 'the man in the moon', but in the southern hemisphere they are looking at it from another angle and, in Africa at least, they see the hare.

The mythology that's attached to hares is widespread; in Southern Africa the Khoisan people have several legends. I incorporated a reference to one in my novel but had a real struggle tracking down the end of the fable because there were many versions: finally I found it and here it is.

The moon asked the hare to run as fast as he could to tell men that as the moon died and lived again so would they. The hare ran fast and when he arrived he told men that as the moon dies and comes to an end so men would die and come to an end. When the hare told the moon what he'd said, the moon was so angry at the distortion of her message to men that she cursed him to run forever.

The hare is also a favourite subject to sculpt: I think it might be a combination of their elongated shape, extraordinary large ears and feet and the mystery that surrounds them that intrigues. Sculptures in bronze are particularly pleasing and, although I saw a few at Chelsea, I particularly liked those of Jan Sweeney's.

Jan, the daughter of an Irish vet, grew up in England: she visited Africa and the scene and wildlife had such a powerful influence on her work that she bought a house in Zimbabwe. She now has her own workshops and foundry there and divides her time between Zim and Somerset: hares are native to both places.

If I could work out how to get photos from where I store them on Picasa2 onto my blog I might now impress you with my snapshot of one of her sculptures. But I can't. You are now aware just how technically challenged I am: I therefore suggest you visit her website ( to see the handsome creatures there.

Not being a quitter, I've just had another go at getting the said photo onto my blog (if any of my photos suddenly appear on your screen out of nowhere please send them back to me) but just as I thought I'd cracked it, all was lost again: its a case of hare today, gone tomorrow. Groan.


Book Note: one of my favourite books for children is Masquerade by Kit Williams (Jonathan Cape 1979). It’s a wonderful looking item - the illustrations are so finely and beautifully painted – and a book and puzzle in one. Jack Hare and Lady Moon are featured in the story and whoever solved the riddle embodied in the paintings was promised buried treasure: someone did of course and was rewarded with an amulet.

1 comment:

Carla said...

The sculptures are amazing, so fluid and full of movement. Thanks for the lovely Khoisan fable, I hadn't heard it before. Hares seem to be a creature of myth and magic all over the world, don't they? The Roman historian Cassius Dio says that Boudica released a hare from beneath her cloak when encouraging her supporters to rebel against Rome, and the hare ran in an auspicious direction and was taken as a sign of divine favour.