3 minutes reading time (518 words)

The Flight of the Wyvern

Every so often, and I'm talking a handful of times over the course of my 35 year career, there comes along a project that pushes you way into uncharted territory. I can always recognise the moment, because alongside the euphoria of embarking on a monumental challenge lurks the dread realisation that this might be the project that requires more than you are able to give.

Such is the case with my centerpiece this year, the Flight of the Wyvern. I found the magnificent tree upon which she strides some 12 years ago in Northern Cebu. It was love at first sight! The tree is from the Vitex Parviflora family renowned for its weather resistant qualities and died in the early 1930's. After months of permit filing and several colourful ceremonies, we started to move the tree to my workshop; it took 20 of us one week to shift the 3 tonne load 400m to the pick up point where the crane lorry took over. Since then, every so often I would daydream about potential transformations and last summer I decided to take the plunge!

Jim with the tree circa 2012

What does it take to brace a long dead tree to carry a 1.5 tonne dead load on its outstretched branch? Over 1,000kg of marine grade, reclaimed stainless steel. Add to that thousands of hours of preparatory work to reinforce every section of the tree from the inside out. I work to a vision, building a Maquette and scaling up as I go. Creating such an installation is an awkward marriage of engineering and artistry and the trick is to balance the both.

Attaching the first layer of wood to the wing

Its difficult to quantify the resources that have gone into the Flight of the Wyvern. Certainly more than fifteen thousand hours over the course of the last year between myself and my assistants. More importantly, a lifetime of experimentation, pioneering processes and gaining knowledge of materials. Perhaps most importantly; access to the wondrous long dead wood without which this sculpture would not be possible.

The computer model of the Armature

 As with all my monumental sculptures, hundreds of hours go into modelling the structure and performing engineering calculations to attest its integrity.

Communing with the Wyvern

I know each and every square centimetre of this collosal piece intimately. The nooks and crannies, the pits and grooves, the stainless steel armature and every small piece of wood attached to it. And yet, when the Wyvern is installed on her tree, it's is if somebody else made her. She has become something so much more than the sum total of her parts and the incredible effort that went into making her.

To behold her, as she fixes on the heavens in preparation to launch, is a humbling experience. I have made this. How incredibly fortunate I am to be able to create...

Chelsea Flower Show 2023
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