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How artist Emma Stothard shaped a new career for herself
11:24am Wednesday 2nd October 2013 in Features
North Yorkshire willow sculptor Emma Stothard tells CHRIS PLEASANCE about the many creatures she has created, including a very special four-legged friend for the heir to the throne.
IN THE middle of a barn on the outskirts of Whitby, surrounded by bundles of willow sticks tied together with string, stands a cluster of eerie metal skeletons. Two huge birds, a group of small deer, and the towering figure of a horse, all made from thin metal poles, huddle together.
From behind a wall at the back of the barn comes the steady sound of clicking and scraping. Walking towards it, I arrive in the tiny workshop of Emma Stothard, a restaurateur, guest house owner and artist who hand-weaves willow branches around the skeletons to create garden animal sculptures. When I arrive, she is working on one of her signature deer.
“I love making horses and deer. Those are probably my favourites,” she says.
“I have always loved drawing and used to draw horses and other animals when I was growing up. That’s where my love for the arts comes from. I also had a great teacher who took art very seriously.”
Pulling a willow branch from a bundle she has soaked in water, Emma threads it into the deer’s hind leg, pulling it up through the torso, weaving it over and under the other strands before tucking the end into the animal’s neck. It is a process she will repeat hundreds of times on this one piece.
“My parents always encouraged me. They never told me to get a proper job or anything like that” she laughs. “Even if they had, I wouldn’t have listened to them. I think if you are good at something and enjoy something, then you should stick to it. Art is what I enjoy.”
After leaving school, Emma studied for a fine art degree at Southampton University before moving to live on the Somerset Levels where she first worked with willow. She came back to Yorkshire to study to be a teacher and started teaching art at Whitby College in 1997, when she met her future husband.
“Rob’s a chef and wanted to open his own restaurant, so we thought, ‘Why not do it together?’ I was teaching until 2000, then we opened Green’s of Whitby in 2002. I was working there with Rob and started my sculpture at the same time.”
There has been a continual stream of commissions since Emma’s first willow sculptures in1996. She now exhibits nationally and internationally, and her sculptures grace the grounds of stately homes, galleries and private homes and gardens around the country.
A loan from the Prince’s Trust enabled her to start her career and, as a thank you, she made and personally presented to the Prince of Wales a large-scale sculpture of his beloved Jack Russell dog, Tigga. Made from willow grown on the Highgrove Estate, Tigga is sited in the gardens at Highgrove.
“It’s always been a business, but it’s only in the past three years that it’s really taken off and last year I went full-time with it,” says Emma. “I have been asked to exhibit in great places such as Newby Hall. I have an exhibition at the National Theatre at the moment, and have been invited back to Nunnington Hall this year too.”
Emma’s work also went on display at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show when she made several large willow structures which formed part of the As Nature Intended garden, designed by Jamie Dunstan.
Her latest commission came from Singapore. She was asked her to make a group of four mares and foals to mark the start of the Chinese Year of the Horse. “Horses are just about the largest things I make. It takes about six weeks to make each one, including the metal frames,” she says.
Emma also sells to private collectors from the south of England, and overseas in France and the US. Despite taking commissions which can last up to half a year, she has no plans to let anyone else into her workspace. “I get some support with welding the skeletons from time to time, but otherwise I do it all myself.
“It’s very therapeutic, very relaxing, a quiet space where I can clear my mind. I like to come up here, listen to my music, and be by myself and doing my own thing. I let Rob help me out with the business side of things but he’s not allowed in my workshop. I’m not allowed in his kitchen, so why would it be any different this way around?”
As her long-held ambition of being a working artist slowly takes shape, Emma says she’s determined to succeed. “I would never take anything for granted, but I’m a driven person and I like challenges, introducing myself to people and networking, which is what you need to do to sell pieces.
“I want to be successful, that is what the goal is, but I know I have got to work hard and take the ups and the downs. Working on this farm in the middle of winter hasn’t been easy.”
Even in summer, it remains painstaking work, but the results are stunning and Emma loves her creative career. As I leave the barn, another willow branch is being drawn from the bundle and threaded into the deer, which is gradually being brought to life by this talented artist.
• You can phone Emma Stothard on 07715-585671 or visit emmastothard.com
• Current exhibitions: The Rievaulx Terrace and temples, solo show of galvanised and willow sculptures; Nunnington Hall, mares and foals in the walled garden. Both until November 3.
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