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Melanie Wilks Interview



Original drawing

How it started
With the Ernie Wise statue due to be unveiled in March 2010, we caught up with the sculptor, Melanie Wilks, just before the big day.

Were you always a sculpture?
I had a string of rubbish jobs; I think most people do until they find the thing that they enjoy. I went to Art College and did a degree in fine art. I specialised in sculpture and during my second years someone suggested trying stone.

Once I tried it that was it. I knew it was right and I took to it really quickly. The way you work with stone seemed to come naturally to me. There is always something there in the stone and you have to be able to see it and to get it out to reveal the form within.

Is stone your preferred media?
I do work with other materials, to make moulds or casts for example, but stone the one I love to work with.

You said there is always something there, in the stone; when you are given project like the Ernie Wise one, and are presented with a block of stone, can you visualise how it will turn out?
With a solid block, the first thing is to work out the best way to get the figure, in Ernie’s case, to fit best into the stone. You have to work with the stone to get the best out of it.

If you see problems with a design, or something that won’t work with the stone you are given, do you have any say in how things will work?
There is always a way round things, slight changes here and there. With stone there are limitations, for example you can’t have out stretched limbs. Obviously they would be weak and would break easily. You can’t do the same things with stone you can with bronze for example, but there are alternatives.

Do you start with miniatures before beginning in full scale?
I usually work from drawings. I produce a set of drawings, designs if you like, and present them to the customer. Once the final design is agreed, I can start on the block of stone.

Is all your work by hand, or do you use power tools for the larger sections?
It’s mainly by hand because if you take a piece off, you can’t just stick it back on. Working by hand allows more delicate and controlled work. If the sculpture includes large sections that are ‘empty’, I may use an angle grinder to get the bulk of material away before going back to hand tools.

For the Ernie Wise piece I would say that it was 95% carved by hand. Using my hammer and chisel to laboriously knock off small chunks at a time until my shoulders ached.

When working on a project and you see something in the stone that differs from the plan, or because of the stone it would work better differently, do you change anything?
Because stone is a natural material, you cannot always guarantee a 100% replica of the original plans. I do make small changes based on how the stone is being revealed should the need arise.

It is like the stone does have a say in how the piece will turn out.

Have you ever had any accidents and knocked something off you shouldn’t have?
I did, but only when I was first starting to learn how to work stone a long time ago. Because you are working by hand and only taking off small pieces of stone at a time, there is no real danger of accidentally breaking off an arm.

How did you become involved with the Ernie Wise project?
It all started with the Morley Murals Committee. Someone there had the idea of the statue similar to the one for Eric in Morecambe.

Because I had already worked with them on previous projects, they contacted me and asked if I would be interested. I said yes, who wouldn’t, I am a Morecambe and Wise fan and agreed straight away. I then set about producing some initial designs which luckily they liked.

Doreen Wise contacted the committee and eventually we met after she had been sent my designs.

She was really charming and supplied Ernie’s measurements along with some photographs to help me with the work.

How is the work coming along?
Really well. If everything goes to plan the statue should be finished for March. Once the area where it is going to stand is complete, it will be moved for the last time.

Are you nervous when your work is being moved?
Yes I always am, but the company doing it are very good and I have every faith in them. I have seen them work before so really I have nothing to worry about.

Wasn’t the original block of stone too big?
Oh yes. It was double the size I needed and weighed in at 13 tons! I had to get it split in half to get it anywhere near the size I wanted. If I’d have left it at the original size it would have taken years to carve it!

The statue is sandstone isn’t it?
Yes, a lovely stone to work with. Once it is finished it will be treated with various things to protect it against the elements and from graffiti.

It will be great to finally see a tribute to Ernie and am very proud to have been part of it.

We would like to thank Melanie for giving us this interview.

© 2010

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