In February this year, I returned to what feels like my second home, Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Northern Kenya. It is here that my sculpting began in 1996, so it is a very special place for me. Lewa’s founders, the conservationists Ian and Jane Craig, are great friends and have been enormously supportive of my work over the years.
I had arranged to spend a week with the Predator Monitoring Team to concentrate solely on studying lion. My guide from the team was Patrick and with his knowledge and help we travelled many miles tracking lion. Getting up at 5.30am to get going before dawn was a magical way to start the day. These early hours are when lion are still on the move from their night time hunting. My aim was to return to the UK with enough information to sculpt two life size lion.
There are 44 lion across the Lewa-Borana landscape in 38,000 square kilometers of wildlife conservancy. The lion are protected by 150 fully trained and armed rangers like Patrick, who understand their behaviour and habits and that of the other wildlife in the reserve. While out tracking, Patrick and I had a close encounter with a black rhino which are known for charging at vehicles. It was a close shave! We got away fine, but the driver’s door of our Borana safari vehicle was not so lucky!
I studied the lion close up and, from life, I was able to make plasticine models of male and female lions walking, and also head studies of both. Working from my traveling studio box and observing my subjects from life, in their own habitat, is absolutely the best way to gain a full understanding of what they are all about.
I was blown away by the size of a lion. Nothing quite prepares you for seeing them up close. A male is about 1.2 meters high at the shoulder and weighs up to ¼ ton of pure power. They can reach speeds of 35 MPH when charging.
Lion are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list (IUCN). 100 years ago the population of lion was 200,000 – today it is less than 23,000. At the current rate of decline, the lion could be extinct by 2050.
Research trips are all about gathering together the pieces of the jigsaw, the little details. Below is a video of me sculpting lion in the wild at Lewa. It’s a bit windy but it shows you how I worked on the back of the landrover, stopping to take photographs when a lioness came close.
When I get back from my trips, I have to put all the elements together so that I have all the information I need to create my sculptures. I returned to the UK from Lewa armed with my plasticine studies and thousands of photographs and video. I couldn’t wait to get into my studio to get started.
I made Lion Head and Lioness Head, Lion Walking and Lioness Walking, and finally Lion Life Size and Lioness Life Size. I am really pleased with how they came out. I wanted to convey their power and intelligence and I hope I’ve achieved that.
I feel very privileged to have spent time with these extraordinary animals. For wildlife artists and sculptors like myself, the natural world is what inspires our work. The possibility that many species like the lion might disappear for ever is appalling. Lewa and the wonderful rangers of the Predator Monitoring Team are doing essential work to conserve Kenyan wildlife. I am hugely grateful to them and Patrick for their help in giving me this opportunity.
You can see my new lion sculptures at RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May next year and at my solo show Life in Bronze in October 2020. If you’d like a copy of my new catalogue which comes out next September or would like to be added to my mailing list, you can sign up on my contact page.
If you would like to discuss a commission with Hamish for a lion sculpture or any other limited edition bronze or silver sculpture, check out the Commissions Page for more information or ring 01608 737859. Alternatively, fill in the form on the Contact Page and Hamish will get back to you.