Monday, 25 October 2010

From horses to heroes

The RAF's Hurricane, a vital weapon of 87 and 213 Fighter Squadrons based at Exeter Airfield during the Battle of Britain

When I heard that a local sculptor whose favourite subject is horses was going to create a Battle of Britain memorial statue I imagined that designing a variation of a Pegasus figure would be the obvious aim.

For the last 20 years local sculptor Frances Margaret has been creating original equine pieces like those shown below. Many have ended up in the homes of horse lovers worldwide, including celebrities like Olympic rider Mary King and opera legend Luciano Pavarotti.

Growing up on the family farm in Otterton left her with a lifelong passion for horses, and it was during an art class in Exmouth led by the ceramicist Brian Adams that her talent for sculpture came to light. "He helped to show me the technicalities of modelling in clay," she recalls. "It was during one of his pottery painting classes that I (because I couldn't paint!) saw a lump of clay and started making a horse out of it."

Frances Margaret acknowledges the enormous debt she owes to her tutor, a pottery designer for some of the best known names in British ceramics including Denby Pottery, Hornsea Pottery and Honiton Pottery. Brian Adams is also a renowned art historian who has specialised in Bovey Pottery, helping with the Bovey Pottery Museum and making a replica of the old kilns and pottery works in Bovey Tracey.

"Brian took an interest in what I was doing, because without photographs or any preparation I found I could make a pretty reasonable figure of a horse - he was brilliant and let me have a free reign so to speak.

"He showed me how to make a mould, cast and fire my horse which was a pretty traumatic process because it involved cutting up my beautiful new friend! However, we went through the operation, came out with a perfect cast and fired horse which he then showed me how to glaze. He still has a copy of that horse today."

From those classes she then took herself off to the Devon County show where she won first prize in the Craft Section - she got her first commission and progressed from there.

Later she began to develop her artistic talent thanks to a meeting with the Italian master sculptor Marco Zeno. "I spent a day sculpting with Marco in his Tuscan studio, we have all become firm friends and Marco has since been over to our house in England where he was the guest tutor on a sculpture course that I organised."

Her work, in bronze or bronze resin has been shown widely at events including the Society of Equestrian Artists’ annual exhibition at Christie’s and the Horse of the Year Show.

A forthcoming exhibition of Frances Margaret's sculptures at Budleigh Salterton's Brook Gallery, will reveal an exciting new project linked to the Battle of Britain 70th anniversary celebrations in which she is involved.

On the outbreak of war in 1939 the Air Ministry requisitioned Exeter's airfield and July 1940 saw the new base renamed as RAF Exeter soon after 87 and 213 Fighter Squadrons had moved in. The role of the two squadrons was initially to escort the Royal and Merchant Navy, but it was not long before they were playing a major role in the Battle of Britain.

A committee of the South West Airfields Heritage Trust has been formed to raise enough money to make a memorial for the Battle of Britain pilots who flew out of RAF Exeter.

Frances Margaret was invited to create a sculpture which will stand at the approach to Exeter International Airport and which will be, in the words of the Trust members, a fitting tribute to all those from many nations who served at RAF Exeter during World War Two, including those involved in D-Day and many other operations carried out at the base.

It's a new departure for the artist. Far from being anything like a winged horse, the work as conceived by Frances Margaret and the South West Airfields Heritage Trust will represent an RAF pilot who made a safe return poignantly scanning the sky for his missing comrades. The Trust members believe that the 70th Anniversary of the 'Battle of Britain' is a fitting time for the creation of such a memorial.

"I am making a maquette for them and, when they are happy with it, it will be produced in bronze resin to use at functions to raise money for the project," said Frances Margaret. She has already made a small version in bronze resin, and it is this which will be on show at an exhibition in Budleigh Salterton's Brook Gallery from 29 October to 30 November 2010.

The exhibition will be open from 10.30 am to 5.00 pm, closed on Sunday mornings.

The South West Airfields Heritage Trust is made up of like-minded enthusiasts dedicated to the preservation of airfield heritage sites in the South West of England.

The aim of the Trust is to do what it can to preserve the heritage and integrity of the World War II era with regards to the WWII airfields in the area, whilst honouring those who served on them. For more information about the Trust click on

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