Monday, 14 October 2013

Angels come to St Peter’s

Christine Lee is one of Britain’s outstanding figurative sculptors.  She’s also a Friend of Fairlynch and it was her friendship with the Museum’s late President that prompted the exhibition of her most recent work in Budleigh.

Her best known creation is the extraordinary fountain, over five metres high, which stands in front of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon. The work was inaugurated by Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip on 8 November 1996.  Sculpted in stainless steel and brass it depicts two swans, wings outstretched, rising in flight.

“Grounded yet soaring” is how Christine’s work has been described, and that’s certainly how you’d see her sculpture of two angels entitled ‘Compassion’ currently on view in St Peter’s Church. 

Winged like her Stratford swans, this latest piece is very different. At just over two metres it’s an approachable piece for the viewer. There’s a warmth and a humanity about it thanks to the use of beautifully grained black American walnut rather than harsher stainless steel. The wood even gives a suggestion of angelic drapery folds.


The idea of a special relationship is conveyed in the closeness and the posture of the two angels: one is smaller and more vulnerable, seeking consolation, the other offering comfort and support.  At the same time the sculptor cleverly portrays the taller figure looking skywards.   

The key to interpreting ‘Compassion’ is in Christine’s relationship with her sister Jennifer Worth, the nurse, musician and author noted for her best-selling trilogy of memoirs about her work as a midwife practising in the poverty-stricken East End of London in the 1950s. In her fourth volume of memoirs, In the Midst of Life, published in 2010, Jennifer Worth reflected on her later experiences caring for the terminally ill. Call the Midwife, based on the first volume of memoirs, was broadcast as a BBC television series in January 2012. 

This was six months after the author’s death on 31 May 2011 from cancer of the oesophagus aged 75.  Christine Lee was deeply affected by the event. “Since my sister died she has been with me in spirit,” she wrote.  “After making many pieces about our relationship and childhood, I have turned my hand to making angels. My final angels are loving angels, close yet separately relating to each other. This was how our relationship developed over the years - close genetically with a family background, both strong and creative, yet separate. This last piece of sculpture was made in memory of my sister. It is called ‘Compassion’.”

The work will be on view in St Peter’s Church, Budleigh Salterton, for a limited period before being transferred to a church in Herefordshire.  “Priscilla Hull always wanted to see one of my sculptures in Budleigh,” said Christine at the dedication ceremony in St Peter’s on Saturday 12 October 2013. “I think she’d be very happy to see these angels here today.”

Christine Lee’s website is at


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