Temptation in the Surrey Hills

As we know, temptation often comes in varied shapes and sizes and there was plenty of it during my visit to the Surrey Hills Sculpture Garden on 29 June 2017. From the relaxed placement of some multi-coloured cows just outside the marquee which held the coffee shop and indoor exhibition to the formal gardens of the Birtley Estate near Guildford, it came in a variety of colour, shapes and materials. 

While the day was overcast, the surrounding landscape offered plenty of colour, bringing its own cheerfulness to the day. The Birtley Estate boasts well-tended formal gardens as well as places where plants are allowed to roam more freely. The Canada geese were congregating on the lawn while pink and purple rhododendrons added splashes of colour in the distance. Animals of a different kind were set in stone or bronze resin.

Along the waterside

A stroll along the water’s edge of the pond revealed not only vibrant yellow irises and lazy koi carp, but a white alabaster shell, made by Simon Keeley, and two seahorses, entitled “Mr & Mrs” by their creator, Rosalind Head, who expertly cast them in bronze resin verdigris.

While very different sculptures, both works attracted my attention for very different reasons. Simon’s shell reflected a great choice of materials to work with as the white alabaster had an almost translucent quality and fragility found in real-life shells.

Rosalind’s seahorses came with a wealth of detail from their curled tails to their spiky surface, beautifully worked in the bronze resin and finished with a verdigris layer.

Further down the water there was a stylised bird in flight while nearby a bronze heron stalked the area seemingly looking for frogs, which were absent from the scene.

“Dragonfly on a bulrush” was crafted in stainless and mild steel by Daren Greenhow and the exhibition catalogue revealed it was one of a 100 made by the artist, helping to make sculpture more accessible for a wider audience.

Popular themes

Animals proved a very popular theme for sculptors with contributions including several foxes, a pair of bats and dogs. While some subjects “posed” seriously in front of the art lover, others were clearly the result of a more comical view on the earth’s fauna. One particular favourite was a sleeping rabbit, entitled “Slumber”. This cold cast bronze version of a very relaxed rabbit was made by Graham Heeley.

Some contributors found inspiration in other aspects of the natural world and plants and flowers were also represented in a variety of materials and techniques. This included walnuts, mushrooms and flowers. Moreover, sycamore seeds both static and kinetic graced the grounds.

A work that also deserves special mention is “Whispers”, a bronze resin work picturing a small boy whispering something to his mother. Harriet Francis made a tender representation which warrants a closer look.

Indoor exhibition

Indoors a further selection of work could be found, including Alex Archbold’s “Nautilus”, a cast lead crystal on a steel base, and Claire Nelson’s “Unlock me”, a small apple with a keyhole, made of bronze resin.

In a separate, smaller marquee, artist in residence Ruth Wheeler displayed her prowess with wood in carefully crafted panels, with or without the help of fire.

For more works of art, visit the Surrey Hills Sculpture Garden -2017 gallery.