The self-taught 31-year-old was invited to create the piece by Jonathon and Shayla Batty, whose family home, Bank Ground Farm, is steeped in the history of Arthur Ransome’s classic story.
The 15th century bed-and-breakfast, cafe and farm overlooks Coniston Water and helped inspire Holly Howe, the fictional holiday home of the Swallows – Titty, Susan, John and Roger Walker. The property was also a prime location in the 1974 film of the book starring Virginia McKenna as Mrs Walker and Ronald Fraser as Captain Flint.
As wood sculptor Andy, of Kendal, explained, the oak is rooted to its spot, which meant all the chainsaw carving and fine-chiselled details had to be done outdoors – even during late February’s “Beast From the East” spell of snow and icy temperatures.
“All the sculpture is out of one tree. This was a very new sort of test piece so I really took my time. You would be surprised how far you can get with a chainsaw; you can get most of the contours of the face. I had to go back to study human anatomy. It’s been such a fantastic learning curve for me.”
Shayla Batty said that her family was excited about the “amazing” sculpture. Paying tribute to the “incredibly talented” Andy, a former tree surgeon, she said: “The sculpture is carved from an oak tree that had died several years ago.
“When Andy asked us whose faces shall I carve, I could not help but to suggest Jonathon, my husband, as Captain Flint, the pirate! Jonathon got me back by suggesting that I and his daughters Lola and Sasha be carved too, and that’s when Andy/we came up with the overall sculpture.”
Bank Ground Farm is next-door to Lanehead, where Ransome’s friends the Collingwoods lived. It is said he wrote Swallows and Amazons for their grandchildren – Taqui, Susie, Titty, Roger and Bridget Altounyan – after they gave him a pair of scarlet Turkish slippers. The Altounyans lived in Syria but spent summer 1928 at Bank Ground Farm, learning to sail on Coniston Water, just as Ransome had in his youth.
Andy’s next project is a six-foot-tall Gruffalo, the purple-prickled monster from Julia Donaldson’s storybook, and he is seeking a barn-sized space to set up a studio in South Lakeland.
Reproduced by kind permission of the Westmorland Gazette, which published the original version of this story on 8th April 2018.