Contemporary Figurative Bronze Sculpture with Eve Shepherd

Lucy: Today I have Eve Shepherd – who I was planning to interview about contemporary figurative bronze sculpture this season anyway – as she has jumped the queue slightly, because she’s been shortlisted for the Emily Williamson statue campaign, which has that end of October deadline. But she has already done some wonderful public commissions including works for the National Maritime Museum and a portrait of Professor Stephen Hawking for Cambridge University, among many others. And there’s a particularly significant one happening in the pipeline this year, but I will let her tell you all about it rather than me. So, I began our conversation today by asking her when sculpture had first come into her life.

Eve: Well, I didn’t come from a creative background. So, I didn’t know that I could sculpt until I was about 17. And I wanted to do special effects in films. And I knew that there was a sculptor just up the road from where I was at college. And I went and did some door-knocking and sort of said, “give us a job”. And he said, “I can’t actually pay you anything. But if you want to come and do some work just in the corner of my studio, you’re very welcome.” And so that’s where I began.

And I only wanted to learn how to do casting, mold-making because I didn’t realize that I could sculpt. And one day, he just said to me,

“Can you sculpt a mouse?”

And I had no idea where to begin. So he just took me a lump of clay and went, “Here you are.” And so I sculpted this mouse. And from that he saw that I could sculpt, I’d got some sort of ability. And then he stood me in the corner of his freezing cold studio with holes in the floor. And he just went, “Can you sculpt a head and have this expression, this age, this gender?” And it was the same head that I just morphed from one thing to another to another to another. And then from that I learned a lot about anatomy and also sculpting quickly.

And he was kind of gearing me up for the museum and heritage industry and about four or five months, he then handed me on to a big company in York. So, I was born and raised in Sheffield, and then I was handed on to this company in York that was a huge international company working in this massive aircraft hangar. And that’s where I had to hit the ground running. And it was like self-taught really, because I got fabulous opportunities. Nobody had time to take me through it that much. There was a chap there called Peter Donohoe. He was my boss. He would point me in the right direction, but it was very much hit the ground running. And it was life-size figure. It was speedy, quick learning.

Lucy: What specifically was the company about?

Eve: So, it was a combination. We were predominantly in the museum and heritage industry. So, it was like a lower-budget Madame Tussauds.

Lucy: Okay.

Eve: Kind of, but it was less about getting likenesses. It was less about portraiture and more about everyday life. So, you’d sculpt, I don’t know, a woman – the amount of “woman stirring pot” and “man holding gun” I had to do was unbelievable! I just did hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of these life-size, over-life-size and under life-size figures over the years. And that was my stomping ground. When I was 21, I got promoted to running the department. So, then I was running a department of other sculptors, quality checking, still sculpting myself, working out in Israel a little bit to do various projects and sort of moved around. But it was great training for a life as a sculptor because you not only learn grassroots of sculpting, sculpting accurately and fast, but then I also learned about management and, you know, how to work with other people and what to expect of other people, and how to push the boat and really to push a sculpture a little bit further.

Lucy: What were they making these sculptures in? What medium were they making them into?

Eve: So, I sculpted them in clay and then they were either made predominantly in fibreglass or bronze resin, or occasionally in bronze, but not very often, occasionally in wax, but again not very often. We did some papier mâché for one ecological exhibition that didn’t want resin. So, it was a whole mixture of things, but it was a lower budget, so we didn’t have to find the cost for the bronzes because a lot of these things were shown indoors.

Lucy: So, you said you didn’t come from a sculpting family, but was there anyone at home who was creative?

Eve: No, but my mum had a very creative mindset. And she was very encouraging for me to do what I wanted to do because I wasn’t interested in lots of other things like academia in school. It really just left me cold. But I loved art. And I’d go off and spend hours making things and teaching myself things. And I’ve always got this thirst for more information, you know, doing things differently. So, the path that I just told you about, I’d spent a couple of years doing all those things, and by the time I was 19, I was bored. I’d been sculpting these figures since 17. By 19, I was really bored. And I was looking for other things, which is why the promotions happened because the company wanted to hold on to me. So, they were like, “We’ll just promote you, and you can do this now.” But I just found it to be tedious. So, I got to a certain point when I was in my early 20s where I was sort of like, “What’s more? There must be more than just a life-size figure or to just an accurate depiction of a human being.” I was so through with that.

And that’s when I started developing my own artwork. And I think it was that curiosity that my mum gave me when I was little to always learn, to always ask questions, and to just be curious. And I think that’s a big part of being creative.

And that was the sort of essence. And my dad’s very practical. And I come from a long line from the male side of steelworkers. So, there’s this grassroots methodology, practical, “Will it work?” which is also really handy for sculpture because there’s the fundamentals that you have to get right, like, will it stand up? And how long will it last outside or inside? And will anybody dangle off it? And would it be safe if they do? Things like that. So, that’s kind of what I think I got from them, too. And a big thing as well that my mum introduced was nature. So, we were very much encouraged. Literally, we walked straight out of our back garden into a woodland and we used to walk through the woodland to school every morning. And we were constantly looking at leaves and trees and animals. And I think that that wonder for nature is a big part of what I do.

Lucy: Gosh, that sounds idyllic, wandering through the woodland to school.

Eve: Yeah, perfect. Yeah.

Lucy: I can’t imagine that, seeing as we’re all cooped up in London like battery chickens. But did you become more interested in portraits once you began to create your own work? It sounds like you were almost done with making people. So, I’m quite surprised that portraits drew you along.


Awakening by Eve Shepherd ©

Eve: I’ve always been interested in people, and it’s people more than portraits that I’m interested in. That’s my goal. And I didn’t know that I could create portraits until I was working at the company that I mentioned. And then they just used to give me all the portraits to do. So, whenever there was anything a bit more finite, they’d just chuck it in my direction and it was like, “Why are you giving it to me? I want to sculpt a dinosaur!” Because at that point, you know, I was young and wanted different stuff. I’m really interested in getting to know the nuances of a person, beyond what they look like. I find that anatomical accuracy is, for me, I find it really… it’s dull, if that’s all you can bring into a piece of work predominantly, it doesn’t breathe. So, my focus is on all this stuff underneath: how people are, what they’ve been through, how their face changes if they’re with you. Obviously, if they’re not with us any more, then that brings a whole different layer and level of things to understand. But if you’re dealing with that person sat in front of you, you can see all the different expressions that they go through and all the things that they talk about and how their face changes and how their posture changes as part of that.

Lucy: So, is that part of your process, the visual study, or do you research people?

Eve: No, I research people. And I’ll try and research them from as many different angles as possible because, you know, it’s believing and understanding that every single one of us is multifaceted. I think that that’s the reason why, for many years, I stopped producing public work because a lot of the stuff that I was being asked to do was… they were mainly white and male and there was almost like this one-dimensional quality that was required and I just couldn’t believe in it, so I just didn’t do it anymore.

Lucy: That’s a very brave thing to do, though. I mean, when things are coming at you and they’re obviously good work, it’s really hard to say no to that.

Eve: Well, it went a bit beyond that. So, I’d done all of this work for this company that I mentioned, and for various other companies I went freelance and then I got my own company and worked for lots of other big museums and stuff throughout the world. And then whilst I was doing that – I used to do that for six months out of the year – then I used to do my own work for six months out of the year. And after years of doing that – and I went to Chelsea as well for a few months in the middle of that – I then burnt out. And it got to a point where I literally couldn’t make myself do anything that I didn’t believe in. So, it really was my lesson in respecting the art form and not being so blasé. Because I’d been so blasé to that point: “if you want that doing, absolutely, knock it up. No problem”.

Then it became something much more discerning and precious, I suppose, to me – the actual making of something – because I couldn’t take it for granted.

So, now I can only do things that I can absolutely get behind and I think there’s this place for them and they’re required in the world.

Lucy: And do you think that’s what began to give you traction as a professional sculptor doing your own work: that truth to the creative flow and that creative spirit, I suppose, that’s in good sculpture?

Eve: Yeah. When I stopped doing the commissioned work, I’d already started doing my own work. And so I was doing that and producing lots and lots of that. And that was talking about this more kind of internal world, I suppose. It was this emotional world that’s often hidden within us. And I think with sculpture or with any kind of visual art, if it’s done well, it can portray that emotion that actually can be quite complex.But other people can look at it and if they’ve been through similar thing, they can feel touched by it and they can also feel heard, you know, like, there’s a recognition.

And I think that can create a lot of soothing. And so I think as an artist, that’s where I see my work lies within: it’s this communication of something that you can’t speak about.

Lucy: Yeah, the unsaid. I love that about your work.

Eve: Yeah. Thank you. And I think that sort of came across. I had to go through this thing where I burnt out, and it was like a rite of passage where I stopped being this young-in-my- heart and young-in-my-mind kind of sculptor, though I was very established and experienced. Kids can be, you know, they can be quite blasé and sort of run along with things and not see the importance of certain things.

And I needed to do a rite of passage – which was the burnout –

to get from that stage to this stage where I started to take what I wanted…well, I started to communicate what I wanted to say and what I hoped people maybe needed to hear. And it’s the same with the public work, just going back to that. I wanted to get to a point where my own work and the more commission-y sort of work would merge. And so you’ve got this slightly looser quality, but you’ve also got this information within it, a story and a message that needs to be, maybe, spoken. So, I’ve kind of merged it with the commissioned work a little bit more, which is where certainly the last two commissions I’ve been working on and the possible Emily – next one, who knows? – all comes from, that same place.

Lucy: Yeah. But there is that thing where, to have a platform to leap from in a sense, you need to have enough work to be able to pay those bills and all that boring mundane stuff in life. But sometimes the audience isn’t ready to hear what you want to say; they’re not prepared to pay for what you feel is ready to be said. And so there’s always that moment where you have to think, “Well, I’m just gonna go for it and I’m gonna be really true to that.” But it’s a really tough thing when you’ve got life to deal with as well.

Eve: It is.

Lucy: And it doesn’t always come in sync, does it? So, people aren’t always prepared to pay for it at the moment you need that thing to be paid for. It usually comes along in a huge amount of it, maybe later.

Eve: It’s terrifying. I mean, I’m working-class, I don’t have family money to fall back on. Some people do in the art world. It’s absolutely terrifying. It’s had such hairy moments this whole career. You just have to keep going. And I think in some ways having the burnout meant that the option of doing more commercial or commissioned work was just ruled out for a while. And so it was awful. But I had to do something else. And the one thing that I knew how to do was sculpt and that allowed me about a decade to cultivate my own voice, which is why when I now do public work or all my own work, it has this sort of, I suppose, quite unique quality and it’s in this weird space between traditional work and contemporary conceptual. So it bridges the gap, I think, between the two, so it allows more accessibility from both sides. But it was a hard slog getting there. Yeah, I wouldn’t want to go back to those years.

Lucy: It sounds like the universe made the decision for you. It’s like, “you know what, we’ve got to put her on a path”. And the only way to do that is to completely exhaust you beyond your nature.

Eve: And listen to the news. I mean, there is that – for want of a better expression – universal consciousness of the creative spirit. I don’t know, whatever you want to call it. But I found that if I don’t listen to it and listen to it well, then I get injured. And the burnout was one of them, but I also broke my own back and I had to have emergency surgery and was nearly paralyzed and…

Lucy: You’re joking.

Eve: Yeah. That was 2011. So, I have to be so mindful now about what I pick up, you know, how I pick things up, you know, whether something is worth it.

Lucy: Was it a freak accident or was it to do with work?

Eve: No. It was work.

Lucy: Oh, you’re joking.

Eve: No. So, I think when you’ve got one of those mindsets that’s so driven and wanting to… I don’t know, just to do what you do, I found it quite easy to put myself off to one side and not listen. And as a result of that, I’ve come a cropper quite a few times and, thankfully, I’m still with us. But yeah, it’s not an easy path, I think. There are easier ones. And looking back in hindsight, I could have…

Emily Williamson Campaign, Bronze Maquette by Eve Shepherd ©

Lucy: I think it’s a certain type of personality, actually. You know, you’re so focused, you want it so much. And you need that kind of personality, actually, to succeed. But your body is only going to put up with so much. I’ve always got one thing or another, and I keep thinking to myself, “One of these days, I’m just going to go through a period where I haven’t managed to damage something.” But so far, I haven’t managed to find that period. There’s always something. I had about two years where I could hardly move my wrists. And this was years before voice-activated software was actually good. But I realized that if I’d been working for anyone else, I’d have just been redundant because I couldn’t use a computer. And so I had to use voice-activated software, but it was so clunky and difficult. Just repetitive work, too much, over and over again. And it didn’t only stop the practical work, it also stopped all the computer work that you have to do as a business.

Eve: Yeah. Yeah.

Lucy: I just find my body constantly says… it’s not necessarily the same problem I have. It’s a different bit of me. Like, I’m just falling apart all over the place.

Eve: Yeah, I know. Me too. I came back from Wales a couple of days ago, just checking out some work at a foundry up there. And I was literally about to drive back and – this has happened twice now – my bike just went. And I just said, “I’m not going to drive back. I’m going to have one more night here for myself.” And took it and then did some creative stuff as a result of that, that my soul just really needed to do. So, yeah. It’s quite an obsessive mindset. And I think that’s hooked together with a sense of purpose, if you feel like your artwork does have a sense of purpose. I think, over time, I’ve understood from the responses that I’ve got that mine does have a certain sense of purpose. Then there’s a responsibility as well that comes with that. And so you’re constantly checking yourself and checking what you’re doing and making sure that, you know, the message that you’re speaking about – the stories that you’re speaking about – are accurate and they don’t portray something else. And, you know, it’s all the other…

Lucy: …parts. So, do you have a creative routine or do you have anything that you do each day that helps you get in that zone to work?

Eve: Oh, God. I wish I did! In my head, I’m like, “Oh, that would be great, wouldn’t it, to just do that for a couple of hours in the morning, and then that and then that?” No. But I wish I did.

Lucy: So, it’s not like “nine yoga poses before I get on the…”?

Eve: In my head, yeah. In reality, absolutely not. I’m like, “ooh, I’ll get up early and I’ll do some Pilates followed by a bit of meditation…” No! And then I sort of roll out of bed at just before whatever time, and have to get my daughter up and hoick her off to school. So, no. I think it’s easier if you don’t have kids. I think being a creative, being a woman, and having kids is like a whole other ballgame. Like, there should be specialist degree courses in that, I think, for parents…

Lucy: Multi-dimensional life. Yeah.

Eve: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s predominantly mums that take the brunt of… when you’re creative and you’re… I’m sure it could be the same for dads, but…

Lucy: Well, they are our greatest creation, aren’t they? So, you want to facilitate absolutely everything so that they can progress. But no, I do love the idea that one day I’ll actually find someone that has got this; they’re like, “Oh, yes. The answer to getting in creative flow is drinking this, followed by dancing round 17 times.” I want someone to do something really wild!

Eve: So, what I do try and do when it’s not the kids’ holidays is have some semblance of routine if I can get it, that is, where I get a borrowed office space because I find that my environment is really critical. And I can’t do office work in the studio. It’s just impossible. I just get distracted. So, I go to there for a couple of hours and try and get my admin done and free my mind up for doing other things. And then I wander down to the studio and then crack on with a couple of hours of creative work. But to be honest, the creative work has taken a bit of a backseat at the minute because I’ve been doing a lot of the more, kind of, tedious stuff that’s connected with commissions. When you’ve done the creative stuff and then you’ve got, you know, the checking of the waxes and making sure the plinths are alright and the dimension, and blah, blah, blah.

Lucy: Tedious, but so essential because…

Eve: Really essential. Really essential.

Lucy: …because it can come out so wrong, otherwise.

Eve: Yeah. Really, really essential. But what happens is, as a creative, I’m sure you’ll know as well with your writing: while you’re doing that work, you can’t do the other work.

Lucy: No.

Eve: And so you get to the end of, like, a week or a month and you’re like, “What have I actually made that’s new?” And nothing, actually. I’ve taken to writing now because I’m just like, “At least I can do that on travel.”

Lucy: I know. I mean, I just find as well that the kind of mind I have, I have to go over things several times. I can’t just check things once. I never get it just once. So, that time I’ve allocated is always actually kind of trebled in the end to get it right, because otherwise… The times that I’ve done it just once and then absolutely wanted to kick myself for not having seen something which I just was blind to because I was fixating so much on something else. So, yeah. I totally sympathize.

Eve: Yeah, absolutely. So, like you I’m fastidious. So, if it’s like, one dimension connected to a plinth, it’s like, check it five times, make sure it’s okay.

Face of Bonze Patination

Face-Off Bronze Patinated White by Eve Shepherd ©

Lucy: So, tell us a little bit about what you’ve been doing recently. Obviously, the Emily Williamson campaign is front and foremost, but that’s not the only thing you’ve been up to.

Eve: Right. I’m really enjoying the Emily Williamson campaign. I think Andrew Simcock is doing an absolute sterling job. And so is Tessa Boase as well. I don’t think you’ve spoken to her?

Lucy: No, I haven’t yet.

Eve: She’s a superstar as well. I love it. I mean, I love what they’re doing. I think getting out into the general public, which is what they’re doing at the moment, and taking the maquettes around to the RSPB reserve is great because I never get to meet the people. You just end up in the studio on your own. So, I love it. It’s so nice getting to talk to people that you’d never normally come across or necessarily talk to. It’s great.

Anyway, sorry, I went off-topic. But just about what else I’m doing. So, I’ve got a huge project on – huge, huge project – which is to sculpt the first woman of notoriety in Wales. And it’s a woman called Betty Campbell. And she was selected by the general public. And she’s the first black headteacher in Wales. And she also was one of the founders of Black History Month and she worked on the board of the BBC trying to equalize black history within the broadcasts. And lots and lots of other things. She was a local councillor and a community champion. So, she was, like, a real mover and a shaker. She died in 2017. And she lived in Cardiff, and this piece is for Cardiff City Centre. But it’s unique. And it’s not just a figure on a plinth.

Lucy: And did you say the first sculpture of a woman in Wales…

Eve: Of notoriety.

Lucy: …of notoriety. That’s incredible.

Eve: We’ve probably got several Queen Victorias because every…

Lucy: Everywhere.

Eve: …city needs to have, every country. But yeah. I don’t know if it still stands, but I know a couple of years ago the statistics were that there’s more sculptures of dogs in the UK than there are of women of notoriety. And I think on the back of that, the committee – the Welsh women’s monument committee who were organizing this – they’re also organizing another four sculptures of women of notoriety in Wales. This is the first. And they were the ones that really got on the back of this: “Why aren’t there more sculptures of women?” “Where do young girls and women go to be inspired?” So, yeah. So, it’s an amazing job. It’s a really unique piece of work: “iconic,” it’s been described as. And it’s taken a lot of my time, a lot, a lot of time because there’s so much information.

Lucy: It’s going be a very heavyweight project. No way that you’re going get away just by, like you used to, knocking them out in the studio years ago. And you’d be furious with yourself if it was any different. So, it’s going be very special.

Eve: I’ve made this piece, a lot like, actually, the Emily Williamson piece as well. I think because of lockdown, though… I did the design for Betty two years ago, well, over two years ago, actually. And I don’t know what it was, but I just kind of… This often happens, where I’ll design something and then something happens after the day and it seems relevant, when I didn’t understand why I was making it at the beginning. But when I designed Betty – the Betty monument – it kind of incorporates the multi-ethnicity of the area that Betty was born and raised in. And also as well, Betty, obviously, has been of a non-white descent.

And this has happened a few weird times in my career, where I’ve sculpted something and I thought, “Why the hell am I sculpting this? I don’t get it. Why is it relevant?” And then all of a sudden a few months after, something happens, something really significant. And I’m like, “Oh, my God, that was bizarre. I don’t get it. I don’t understand why it happens.”

But I did it with a piece called Face Off many years ago. And it’s these two young fellows looking at each other. And he’s actually just one young man and he’s looking at himself. And from certain angles, it looks like he’s going to hit himself.

Lucy: Right.

Eve: Looks like he’s squaring up to himself. And from another angle, if you go all the way around the sculpture, it looks like he’s going to kiss himself. This young fella stood with his tracky bottoms on, he’s got his rosary beads on, he’s of a certain ilk, bare-chested, and his trainers. So, it kind of gives you an idea. He’s about 20 years old, this young man. So, I did this and it was all about this internal dialogue that a lot of young people have within themselves and the external pressure of society where it’s kind of like they’re meant to look a certain way, act a certain way, be a certain way. And social media is really hammering that home. And so I’ve done it from a young man’s perspective rather than a young woman’s perspective. But it was about this conflict within this individual young man and within that kind of youth group. And then about three months after I’d completed it and I couldn’t think why I was making it apart from stuff that I’d observed, there were the riots that happened. Remember Manchester?

Lucy: Yeah.

Eve: I can’t remember when it was, but… I was just like, “Oh, my God. That’s bizarre.” And so that’s one example and it’s repeated and repeated and repeated that. And Betty Campbell is another good example of that. So, I sculpted this piece of work. I made the piece. The commissioner said, “We don’t want just a figure on a plinth.” Unfortunately, the price that they’d given, they’d quoted for us, was for a figure on a plinth. But what I did is I shook the idea of the budget to one side while I was making it and designing it, and then I designed this piece, then I got a quote from the foundry about four days before I needed to do this big presentation in front of BBC cameras, twenty commissioners. And then I got the budget and the budget came back. Annihilated the entire budget for the whole project.

Lucy: Oh, no.

Eve: Everything. And I just went, “Oh, my Lord, this is terrible. This is like total humiliation.” So, that evening I knocked off another piece, which did fit the budget. And then I offered the commissioners both. And thankfully, they went with the one that was, like, way more expensive. I didn’t get any more, I just hasten to add. It was the foundry that got more, not me. But as a result, I made this piece because I just was like, there are no sculptures of black people out there in the public domain. There are no sculptures of women, there are no sculptures of black women. And so, you know, what I wanted to do was to incorporate all of this information about black history and about the history of Tiger Bay because it was so relevant to Betty into one piece of work, because I thought, “This might be the last.” Nobody was interested. Nobody was interested in public work. And I thought, “This might be the last.” So, I chucked all this information into a piece of work.


AFRIL by Eve Shepherd ©

Lucy: I’ve got to say, you don’t make it easy for yourself!

Eve: No. I mean, nightmare. But it was just like,

“This is just to be a really significant piece,”

which is why my heart and soul went into this. And it’s beyond a portrait, that piece, without being too specific. And then twelve months after this happened – twelve months after I’d got the commissioner and I was working on the commission – the Colston sculpture was pulled down in Bristol.

Lucy: And suddenly…

Eve: And the Black Lives Matter movement really stepped up and came forward and people started paying attention and asking questions about, you know, who are on these plinths? Why are they there? And who aren’t on these plinths? And why aren’t they there? And so I was just like, “Oh, my Lord. More than ever before, this piece of work is more relevant now.” And thankfully, it won’t be the only one, hopefully, of a black person, a black woman, any other woman of any other ethnicity. Hopefully, there’s lots of others in the future. But that’s just an example of how things are thrown together.

Lucy: Or how it’s meant to be. How it needed to be here.

Eve: Yes. It’s a real honour, but it’s also a massive responsibility because when you’re taking into account all of the different backgrounds and all of this different information, you need to make sure that you get it right. So, like, you know, I’m a white woman. I get the women aspect of it, but I’m not black, and so I don’t know… And I’m not Welsh. So, I had to go and work within the community and try and understand what it was like and, you know, talk to the kids that she taught and talk to her family and friends and colleagues and try and understand what kind of person she was, what Betty’s ethics were, the world that she inhabited. So, yeah, it’s a massive honour, but, yeah, equally huge responsibility.

Lucy: My goodness. I think you’re going have to just down tools for a little bit when you finish it completely. I think a little island in the middle of the ocean somewhere on your own for a while just to recuperate. Maybe your daughter’s allowed to come.

Eve: Yeah. Yeah.

Lucy: Well, just finally, tell us a little bit more about the Emily sculpture. Tell us a little bit about what your inspiration was for her, obviously, the person herself, but the way that you’ve put her together in your maquette.

Eve: So, Emily, another one. I’ve been asked to go for the projects in the past and I just haven’t because they’ve not been relevant. And then I came across the Emily commission and just kind of went, “Oh, my God, she’s brilliant.” And I’ve got it. “Oh, yeah, I could definitely work with this.” So, from my perspective, it was… I guess it comes from the perspective of Emily being kind of the eco-warrior. And it comes from the understanding as well or the message behind things like, you know, ecology and conservation, really. I think that that piece of work talks about two things. It talks about Emily as a woman and a couple of things. Why did we not know about her? Why did her own great-niece not know about her? And look at all the amazing things, one… Well, three women. All three of the co-founders. These three women have changed the lives and habitats of these birds and creatures that live within the RSPB reserves. And so it’s a combination of Emily – strong, as far as we understand, quietly dignified, but this eco-warrior. I mean, she must have been made of tough stuff to stand against the other posh women within our society and get them not to wear hats full of feathers. So, the top section is quite traditional. The lower section of the piece, which is her crinoline dress, is actually made into a habitat for the birds that she saved and that the RSPB, her legacy, continue to save. So, there are all stories that go on within her dress. So, there’s all the birds that she rescued when she was from the former fur and feather trade – from the feather trade particularly. So, she saved the great crested grebe. Well, actually, no, she didn’t. So, that was one of her favourite birds.

Lucy: Species, yeah.

Eve: Yeah. And unfortunately, it was hunted in this country to extinction. And now, you know, it’s been brought back by the RSPB. And now it’s flourishing. It’s known as a common bird now. But all of the birds within Emily’s dress that I’ve sculpted… so there are owls in there, there’s an albatross, there are finches, there’s a puffin because they’re on the red endangered list. Oh, my goodness. There’s loads…

Lucy: Endless.

Eve: Endless, endless, endless. There’s a kingfisher. So, each one of them has a story within it and it was either endangered back in Emily’s day when she was alive or it’s endangered now and needs help. There’s also a couple of dioramas. The idea with this piece of work is that you don’t just go to it and go and clock it out of the corner of your eye and go, “Yeah, got that.  Woman stood on a plinth holding a bird or whatever.” You kind of want to go into it and you want to see more and ask questions like, “Why is that there?” And all of my work, I try and encourage that the commissioners also get at least a website, and I’m also working with some augmented reality people so that you can actually view the piece while you’re there through your phone. And it animates the piece. So, it tells the story. It doesn’t just stop with the sculpture. It continues to educate, basically. And I see all the work that I do now with regards to the public realm as a tool for education.

Lucy: Yeah. I’m desperate for them to be able to get virtual reality so that you can create the sculpture and you put your virtual reality headset on and walk round it, and it’s the right size. That can’t be that far off before we can do that. Right?

Eve: So, I’m working with a company to do that.

Lucy: Oh, you are?

Eve: Yeah.

Lucy: How exciting!

Eve: So, I’m working with a company who took ages to find, and then found out that we’re just on the doorstep. I went throughout the world looking for this, particularly, with the Betty project. And with the Emily project as well, should that come off. I think with lockdown, it’s been a big wake-up call in some ways where, you know, museums have been closed and these educational centers have been closed, but you could still go outside and you could still go into your city centre or you could still go into nature. So, in theory, for these pieces of work you could easily have a website or have augmented reality, some sort of virtual reality where you utilize the sculpture as a kind of new museum, so that you can get all this information and you don’t have to go indoors. If we have times like this again, you can still educate.

Eve Shepherd Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawkings Portrait, Eve Shepherd ©

Lucy: But even if we don’t, just as many different ways of accessing contemporary figurative bronze sculpture as possible, please.

Eve: Yeah. And I think, if the sculpture lends itself to that, which I think the sort of work that I do these days does, because it’s multi-layered. I mean, if you look at the Emily Williamson’s statue website, you’ll see all four of our designs and, you know, there’s some brilliant designs in there. And each and every one of them, I think, tells a completely different story or different aspect of Emily, which I think is fantastic. And you can really, like, just see which one floats your boat and then you’re allowed to vote on it, which I think is a great way. The one that I’ve done, you know, if that sort of thing floats your boat, then it very much tells all these stories within the piece. Oh, I was just about to tell you. So, around the back of the piece, there are these little dioramas, and these dioramas are of people. So, you’ve got all these birds, but then hidden, there’s also these two dioramas so far of people. And one of them depicts the feather workers, because the feather workers used to work within the millinery industry that the word birds were butchered for. They used to employ, you know, kids as young as four and five to work with quite toxic chemicals for 13-hour shifts a day. And that was little girls. The women had awful, awful lives. So, that depicts, like, the more gritty side of that barbarous kind of industry.

And another little diorama… Emily was also very much into social work. And she opened a college for nursing where she encouraged the nurses to use real children and babies as opposed to dolls, which is what they were doing before that. And so there’s a little diorama where there’s an old nurse with the long skirt on, holding the hand of a tiny little baby. If you look at the maquette, it’s so small. It’s probably about three centimetres tall. It’s absolutely midget. But these are obviously being translated one and a quarter times life-size, so that it’d be much more understandable and…

Lucy: Obvious. Yeah.

Eve: Obvious. Obvious but hidden.

Lucy: Yeah, obvious, but hidden.

Eve: So that you can keep going back. You can keep going back and then going, “Oh, look, we never noticed that.” And “why is that in there?”

Lucy: Sounds magnificent.

Eve: Oh, bless you.

Lucy: So, tell everyone where they can find out a little bit more about you if they’d like to have a look at more of your contemporary figurative bronze sculpture.

Eve: Well, they could look at my website, that obviously needs updating because I’m a creative, and most of us seem to say that! They could also have a look online. I’ve got Twitter. It is UKSculpture, or Instagram. I kind of do all three. There’s Facebook and Instagram. And Instagram is just my name. I think it’s eve_shepherd_sculpture.

Lucy: Very good. And I encourage everyone to have a look on the Emily Williamson sculpture campaign website and vote. Definitely vote!

Eve: Yeah. Last time I spoke to Andrew who’s organizing the campaign, I think they had just short of six thousand votes.

Lucy: Brilliant.

Eve: But it’s really important, I think, that people go and they check it out if they’re interested in conservation, the RSPB, Emily Williamson, public work, you know, any of those lead-ins. Go and check it out and have a voice.

Lucy: Well, goodness. I think if they can’t manage to get the funds from all those members of the RSPB for that sculpture, I’d be surprised. I mean, this is one that I’m optimistic about.

Eve: It’s great. It’s such a brilliant opportunity as well. I mean, just think now all of these sculptures of women, you know, they’re coming out into the public domain. It’s just like, thank the Lord. It’s been…

Lucy: It’s too long.

Eve: …such a long time. Yeah. I mean, it’s great. I did some work with the National Maritime Museum a few years ago and that was the start of all this. And I worked with kids from refugee communities. Again, that’s another one that’s not been depicted positively. And I worked with the Girl Guides, which depicted women and girls again. What was the third one? The LGBT community. Again, massively underrepresented. So, yeah, I just think it’s a really exciting time for public sculpture, I feel.

Lucy: Eve, thank you ever so much for joining us today to talk about contemporary figurative bronze sculpture. I really appreciate it.

Eve: Thank you. And thanks for having me on. It’s been absolute pleasure. I love your programme!

Lucy: Oh, thank you.

Eve: I’ve listened to all of them. When you told me about Sculpture Vulture, I was like,

“Oh, my word.” These are brilliant and – can I just say – a fantastic resource for sculptors. Because I don’t know about other sculptors out there, but we spend so much time on our own in our studios, you know, battling away, trying to find our way around things. I mean, it could be business, it could be this, it could be that. It’s so nice to hear a resource like yours, to sort of go, “Oh god. It’s not just me. They struggle with that as well. Oh, good. I feel human again.”