Immortalising Horses- Sculptor Edward Waites Talks About His Work

Edward Waites working on the life size version of Peppermill
Credit : Edward Waites

Wednesday 26 September - 23h33 | Lulu Kyriacou

Immortalising Horses- Sculptor Edward Waites Talks About His Work

Visitors to Hickstead, Burghley and the London edition of the Longines Global Champions Tour this year had the opportunity to get up close and personal with superstar  showjumping horse,  Peppermill. Not the living, breathing  version (he is safely at stud in Belgium) but a life size bronze statue commissioned by the horse' owners  and created by sculpture 'winderkind' Edward Waites.  

Defying Convention

Defying Convention - Immortalising Horses- Sculptor Edward Waites Talks About His Work

Peppermill during the process of going frm clay sculpture to cast bronze
Credit : Edward Waites

Edward Waites is barely out of his twenties  and has already produced sculptures in bronze or silver for royalty (including HM The Queen).  Articulate, and looking  a little more like the romantic lead in a movie  than the mind's eye vision of an artist, the resident of Chippenham in Suffolk, England  has defied convention from  his teenage years.

"I went to school at King's in Ely where I got an art scholarship but to be honest at first I spent more time there playing sport especially rugby and cricket,  because the artist tag, of any sort, doesn't really make you cool at school, until I grew up a bit anyway! Even then though, I knew I wanted to sculpt for a living but I did not want to go to university and do a fine art degree. I was adamant about that. I had already made a sculpture for my mother, it was of a hare,  and had sold some editions of that piece via a local gallery.  Which I thought was great, aged seventeen, and it was in many ways,  but of course you get older and discover it is not quite as easy as that, when you have to make a living!"

On leaving school,  Edward  was working from a studio at home and concentrating on wildlife  for inspiration. "My family has no horse connections, although with a stud in the village and being five miles from Newmarket, you are aware of horses, even when you don't know much about them."  Within a few months he had decided to concentrate on the process of sculpting in bronze, teaching himself about the process  and being helped along this path when he met his foundryman  who was setting up a foundry in nearby Bury St Edmunds. Working at the foundry helped the process  because there the intricacies of constructing the metal frames to support larger sculpted clay works could be perfected.

Not that you can just start creating full size horses of course.  Making works of art in bronze is time consuming and a very labour intensive process, as in Edward's case, every step is hand crafted with skilled labour, beginning with the frame already mentioned.  Then he works his magic on an oil based clay that does not dry out completely.  Liquid rubber is then painted all over the clay which when it sets can be 'peeled off' to create a wax mould used to cast the bronze version. Which, by the way, is cast in several pieces and then welded  together, all of which can take lots of time as well as money.  So, in general, most sculptors start small and as they gain a reputation (and therefore commissions) they can go on to bigger works. Waites is not sure which was the first horse  he made full size but he soon gained recognition for capturing their likeness. The French trained racehorse Makfi, who won the English 2000 Guineas in 2010 was his first full life size horseWaites subsequently also sculpted Makfi's sire, champion Dubawi.

But it was not all easy. "I had to work quite hard to progress up the ranks, and I did things like sculpt live at Royal Ascot and the Chelsea Flower show, so people could see up close what I could do," said Waites.

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Defying Convention - Immortalising Horses- Sculptor Edward Waites Talks About His Work

Making Peppermill

Making Peppermill - Immortalising Horses- Sculptor Edward Waites Talks About His Work

With John Whitaker
Credit : Edward Waites

Owned by Rebecca Stones and ridden by John Whitaker, Peppermill was an outstanding show jumper who helped the British team to two European team bronze medals  and represented Great Britain at World Championships and Olympic Games. Now at stud in Belgium, he is still the apple of his owner's eye and her newly built Ridgeway Farm Stud near Guilford in Surrey is filled with his offspring who are being brought through by John's nephew Tom.
It was at the planning stages for this new venture that our hero enters. "I was initially  approached by Ridgeway Farm Stud at the planning stage because they thought they would like a full size bronze of the horse in  the yard which was being  built from scratch.  I saw the yard at the foundation stage and had to visualise how it would look and by this time Rebecca was involved as well, so I went to Belgium to meet the horse in person. I took about 60 measurements and about 1400 photos and video of him. You need a lot of images for a sculpture because  you are going to see it from 360 degrees.  We decided on the walking pose and then I made a maquette (a small version in clay-Ed) for Rebecca to approve. Then I made the life size which takes about 4 months." Peppermill is  now in situ at Ridgeway Farm Stud (Image above).

Peppermill, then 20, was not the most patient model. "He was a big character! And quite full of himself", recalls the artist." While I was out there, a Belgian paper came out to do an article and Peppermill must have thought posing with me quite boring because he swung his head round and nearly knocked me flying! He was very charismatic, and I have found that with horses which I didn't really expect prior to working with some of them."

At the Longines Global Champions Tour of London,  the statue had a special visitor. "I hadn't actually met John  but this guy came over and it was one of the security team  who told me who it was, so I introduced myself and we had a chat and photo, and although he didn't say too much, I think he liked it. I think, being a Yorkshire man, he probably would have said if he didn't!"

See more of Edward Waites sculptures on Instagram


Horses- a steep learning curve

Horses- a steep learning curve - Immortalising Horses- Sculptor Edward Waites Talks About His Work

With another life size champion, Makfi
Credit : Liesl King

Although Waites  has not had to suffer for his art by starving in an attic garret or anything  stereotypically dramatic, running art as a business  has been quite a learning curve. "Well, the first thing is that I have to spend money to make money! Ridgeway Farm Stud is in the same position of being a new business,  so when I suggested taking Peppermill on tour,  Rebecca Stones was very supportive  because she has all these Peppermill babies, and he is a commercial stallion but I had to cover some of the cost to do it because it promotes me as well. And then there are trips to events with potential customers like the Breeders Cup racing in the USA, which sound like fun but if I don't come back with a commission,  it's not so enjoyable. And it is quite difficult with horses because I am told it is unlucky to have a statue sculpted before the horse has finished competing, so even if you get a lead from being at a show, particularly with sports horses who have a longer career, it might be years before anything comes of it."
It is not just business that the sculptor  has had to learn about.  As mentioned before, he has no real equine back ground. And then there are the people around the horses!  "Horse people seem to know their animals more intimately, so I have to concentrate really hard  to get it right. It's a minefield, they have to be right from every angle. That is one thing. The other thing I was  not prepared for is how amazing horses in sport are. I had done some racehorses but they are galloping along at the races, pretty much as you would expect.  Until I did Peppermill  and went to the Global Champions Tour, I thought show jumping was aiming the horse at a single rail or something, I had no idea about the complexity of it, or the huge size of the fences or the skill of the riders. The technicality of it,  stride patterns and such, as a layman,  I just had no idea. And at Burghley I got taken round the course by Captain Mark Phillips (which I learned later was a really big deal) and it took us quite a while to get round in a vehicle, let alone riding.  As for dressage, which I still don't know much about,  it's another ball game entirely. I presume tiny movements by the rider are interpreted by the horse but it is still a mystery to me and completely amazing." 

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