One of the most striking forms of art in the landscape are the driftwood horses of the artist Heather Jansch. These life-size sculptures are created out of seemingly random pieces of driftwood, skilfully joined with oak and copper. They are visually stunning and take on a life of their own in the natural landscape.
Heather has always had a passion for art and horses, so it was only natural that the two should merge. Ironically she was asked to leave her art course because she did not “have the stuff that painters were made from.” She was advised to do graphics but remained faithful to her art and continued painting and drawing. She pursued her interest in horses, making detailed studies of arabians and thoroughbreds and she began taking commissions.
When she moved to Devon she was in close proximity to both Newton Abbot and Devon & Exeter racecourses and she became a regular visitor. She enjoyed sketching the horses in the parade rings and the bright colours of the jockey’s silks. She always began sculpting at this point, starting with clay and plaster before experimenting with copper wire. It was only when she starting using driftwood that she felt her creations had the life and energy that she was trying to capture.
At first, she worked on a small scale but she was offered a solo exhibition at a stable courtyard and took the opportunity to create her first life-size sculptures. These caught the attention of the media and in 2000 she was invited to take part in ‘The Shape of The Century’ – 100 years of sculpture in Britain. This put her in the same category as artists such as Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Elizabeth Frink, Anish Kapoor, Anthony Gormley and David Nash.
Her driftwood sculptures continue to be highly sought after and are often cast in fine bronze. She encourages anyone with similar ambitions to just “give it a go!” There are no hard and fast rules about working with driftwood. You can develop your own ways to fix or style them and find a method that works for you.
She says that every sculpture is different and often calls for innovation on the part of the artist. Heather finds that the need to continuously solve problems in the construction process is part of the fascination. Obviously the larger sculptures require an armature to support them, in the case of her life-size horses this is a steel frame. The frame is then coated with fibreglass to give a roughened surface to disguise the steel and stops the wood from slipping. It is then fixed with wire and screwed together before being hidden by filler and stain. The intention is to leave the sculpture looking as natural as possible but to give it some durability.
Her success helped to provide her with a bigger property in Devon with overgrown land and she set about her project to build studios and create a private sculpture garden. The valley is a great source of inspiration and her work includes many other animal sculptures. The house has now been extended to incorporate a sculpture gallery. You can discover more about Heather’s work on her personal website.