EXTRAORDINARY AVIATRIX & AMBASSADOR FOR WOMEN IN ENGINEERING, TECHNOLOGY AND SCIENCE
We first met a lovely and rather excitable Herne Bay local on June 3rd 2014.
As she came through the door, she was literally bursting with excitement to share her fantastic vision to bring a particularly captivating woman of history to life.
During this meeting, we sat and listened to the inspiring stories being told of wondrous journeys being flown across the world in the 1930s, by an aviatrix whose life came to a tragic end off the coast of Herne Bay, and no matter what, she needed to be recognised and remembered. Could we help her?!
By our own admission, we hadn’t all heard of Amy Johnson, however by the time we had finished our lengthy but passionate meeting with Jane Priston, we were utterly sold on the idea of bringing this pioneer back to Herne Bay.
We were lucky enough to be involved from the inception. Steve was commissioned right from the initial concept stage, and we all had our hand in looking through photos and film archives to gather as much visual reference of Amy as possible.
“When commissioned to produce a figure, I try to create a narrative that might, in some way, reflect what that person accomplished.
Amy Johnson was an energetic, physical explorer, so a static pose didn’t seem at all appropriate.
I went for her striding forward, looking to the sky, suggesting her eager personality and intent. I also added a compass to hint at the idea that she always had adventurous plans in mind.
When researching her clothing, I was able to gather information from photographs and even some film. Jane also provided me with some books that featured Amy on many of her outings. The process did prove a little difficult however, as there weren’t many full length images of the same outfit, from different angles. This of course is quite reflective of the era, whereas today there is a wealth of reference to what a public figure is wearing!
When the drawings were agreed, the maquette was then created. This allowed me to explore the physical proportions, movement, weight distribution, anatomy and of course the clothing.” Steve explains.
When the maquette was first unveiled, the response was exciting and extremely positive. Our hope was that Steve’s vision also communicated Jane’s – which, to everyone’s relief, it did. So with further fundraising efforts from Jane, we were soon able to start the scaling up in clay.
“Producing a small maquette is quite different in practical terms to a life-size figure”. Steve continues,
“I have to consider the weight of the modelling medium which was, in this case, terracotta clay. This heavy and soft material needed an internal structure (armature) to support the clay and stop it falling to the ground.
An armature is traditionally made from iron bars, binding wire, scrim and plaster. It needs to be strong enough to support the clay but also needs to embrace the dynamics and movement of the finished figure, whilst not protruding to the surface of the clay sculpture nor interfering with the surface details.
When adding the clay to a life-like figure, an understanding of the anatomy is essential. Firstly, the dynamic and anatomy of a moving figure has to be correct. If not, the clothed figure will never look natural.”
On modelling the clothing and text, Steve continues:
“Examining how a particular weight of cloth folds in an elbow, for example, has to be acknowledged and understood. Those observations come together to give an idea of motion and a more tactile experience of the piece.
The quotes in a 1930s font were laid across the various surfaces. I enjoyed the aesthetic of the font, and feel that the quotes reflected the social attitudes of the 20s & 30s, plus Amy’s inspiring thoughts that still have resonance today.”
Although the bronze casting process is a lengthy one and can have its complications, it was such a pleasure to work on a project that went so smoothly.
Casting Amy into bronze was a really exciting part for us, as you acknowledge that you are nearing the sculpture’s completion. This excitement does, however, go hand in hand with the approaching farewell. As sculptors and makers you can’t help but give a part of yourself to the work you produce, knowing you will be waving that off from the studio doors to its final destination.
“The textural difference between the fabrics I particularly enjoyed. The smooth skin like qualities of leather contrasting with knitted wool, both capturing the light quite differently. These textures are emphasised by the patination of the bronze. The shadows and chemical pigmentation in the recesses contrast with the lighter highlights, where the bronze has been burnished.”
And so there we were on that blustery, wet day in September, thinking about these types of weather conditions being ones that Amy would have flown in, and then it happened – The unveiling of a sculpture that not only embodies the time and effort from all involved, it also manages to exude the greater sense of innovation, adventure and fortitude, and she’s only 5ft 4”.
Amy Johnson was a fabulous character, and we were thrilled to be a part of Jane’s vision.
Rather excitingly, we have a second special edition being unveiled in Hull (Amy’s place of birth) on September 30th 2016 – so keep a look out for that, too.
May Amy Johnson and Jane Priston, continue to inspire women into engineering, science and technology.