Elephants at Staithes? Whatever next. STEPHEN LEWIS reports on preparations for next weekend's Staithes Festival

A family of elephants with a remarkable history will be taking up residence overlooking Staithes Harbour in North Yorkshire next weekend.

Tara and her two calves, created in woven willow by Whitby sculptor Emma Stothard, will be a centrepiece of the annual Staithes Festival of Arts and Heritage, which this year takes place on September 9 and 10.

The 2m-high mother and her two babies were first seen at Highgrove House, Prince Charles' Gloucestershire residence, as part of the house’s first garden festival in the summer of 2015.

Emma named the mother Tara after a topiary elephant at Highgrove which is a mark of remembrance for the Duchess of Cornwall’s late brother, Mark Shand, who co-founded the Elephant Family, a charity working to protect the diminishing number of Asian elephants.

Since then, Tara and her offspring have been in storage, but Emma was delighted to be asked to display them at the festival in Staithes as a tribute to a little-known local story about the elephants of Sandsend.

In the 1860s, Indian noble Duleep Singh, the Maharajah of Lahore, lived at Mulgrave Castle near Sandsend. He had a road constructed from Sandsend to Whitby – legend has it because his elephants didn’t enjoy walking on the sand.

“The Maharajah definitely lived at Mulgrave Castle,” says Emma. “I’m not sure if the story about the elephants on the beach is true – but I’ve always loved it, and the local connection was perfect for Staithes.”

Emma starts each work by photographing and sketching the real animals. She then builds a steel armature and weaves around them in willow which has been soaked in water for two to three weeks, or metal wire.

“I’m aiming to recreate their shape and form, but also a sense of movement and character,” she says.

These aren’t the first elephants Emma has made – two bronze wire straight-tusked elephants can be seen at Kent’s new garden city Ebbsfleet, where they are part of a ‘Stone Age Safari’ art project.

She also created a large-scale sculpture of The Prince of Wales’ beloved Jack Russell dog, Tigga – now a permanent fixture in the grounds at Highgrove, and a personal thank you to the prince for the Prince’s Trust loan which kick-started her career in 2001.

Emma’s work can also be seen in the windows of London’s luxurious department store Fortnum & Mason this summer and in the grounds of Raymond Blanc’s two-Michelin-starred Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons near Oxford.

This will be Emma’s third year exhibiting at Staithes – the striking large-scale orange and blue lobsters which were seen on the harbourside in 2015 have both found permanent homes since, with the orange one in chef Andrew Pern’s new Whitby venture, The Star Inn the Harbour, and the blue, which was bought by the North York Moors National Park authority, at the top of the hill in Staithes.

Tara the elephant and her calves can be seen at Staithes this year outside Viking Cottage on Seaton Garth, overlooking the harbour.

For further information on Emma and her work, please visit: emmastothard.com

Highlights of this year's Staithes Festival

Organisers of this year's Staithes Festival are promising 'something for everyone' at an event which, now in its sixth year, describes itself as 'one of the friendliest festivals on the coast – a must-go-to event in the regional arts calendar'.

And not without justification. This year's festival features work by no fewer than 157 artists displayed in 98 galleries, cottages and other buildings around the village.

Last year, Staithes' resident sculptor Steve Iredale's collection of hand-carved fish - Shoal - proved a hit. It returns to the harbour, even bigger and better, this year.

Other highlights of this year's event will include Glass Bunting Galore, a unique installation of fused glass from glass makers around the world; and this year's Heritage Exhibition, Touched By fame, which celebrates the surprising number of famous people who have spent time in Staithes.

Another exhibition celebrates the famous Staithes Bonnet, there will be a talk on knitting, as well as artworks by a host of artists ranging from Ann Bristow's colourful acrylic townscapes to Mick Kirkby-Geddes' metal sculptures and Judith Gill's glass designs.

There is an evening viewing from 7pm on Friday, and then the festival runs throughout next weekend (Saturday and Sunday September 9 and 10).

For a full programme, visit staithesfestival.com