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Public Art : Eleanor Cross

Updated:2008-07-24 11:00:10

The Ketton limestone and bronze reinterpretation of an Eleanor Cross in Stamford

Remembering Lady Eleanor
Just three of the 12 original 13th century Eleanor Crosses erected by Edward I in memory of his wife survive. But now Stamford, which had one of the original crosses of which just a small Purbeck Marble fragment remains, now has a new memorial to Eleanor carved in the local Ketton limestone. NSS joined the designer, Wolfgang Buttress, stonemasons Pierre Bidaud, Regis Chaperon and Ana Ruiz Agüi, and their guests to celebrate the completion of the artwork that is the centrepiece of Stamford's Gateway project.

It hasn't been the easiest of transitions from commission to construction but Wolfgang Buttress' Ketton limestone and bronze reinterpretation of the Eleanor Cross that once stood in Stamford has finally been unveiled as the centrepiece of the town's £1.3million Gateway project.

The scheme has pedestrianised Red Lion Square and the Sheep Market parts of the East Midlands town. The areas were previously used for car parking. The narrow streets and lanes between the historic stone buildings of the town are one of its attractions, but they don't leave a lot of room for car parking, so losing some of the space that existed for it was not universally popular.

However, those who wanted to see an Eleanor Cross return to a public area of the town have won the day and on a Saturday in May Wolfgang Buttress, who designed the cross and its associated Clipsham benches and milestone, the masons who produced them (Pierre Bidaud, Ana Ruiz Agüi and Regis Chaperon) and their guests celebrated with Champagne the fact that the cross was finally in place.

The original Eleanor crosses were erected by King Edward I at the end of the 13th century to mark the places where the body of his deceased wife, Eleanor of Castile, stayed overnight while being carried from Lincoln to London. There were 12 of them, including one at Stamford. Three of the original crosses survive today (the most famous is Charing Cross in London) but all that was left of Stamford's was a fragment of Purbeck Marble with a rose carved on it in the town's museum.

It was that rose that inspired Wolfgang Buttress in his reinterpretation of the monument. He developed a design that sees carved roses gradually evolving from the hewn stone at the base of the monument that has a diameter of 1.2m. The Ketton stone rises 4m. On top of that are 7m of bronze cast from a mould taken from carved stone. Just as the stone has some bronze roses set in it, so the higher level bronze has some Ketton roses in it.

Pierre Bidaud, Ana Ruiz Agüi and Regis Chaperon are all self-employed. They are used to working on a wide range of projects, from art to new build and conservation projects in traditional and modern interpretations of stonework. They worked together at Pierre's workshop, which he calls Atelier 109, in nearby Etton to produce the Stamford Gateway project pieces.

Wolfgang Buttress has been producing public artwork for 20 years but was working in stone for the first time. Did he enjoy it? "It was great, yeah."

He says the scale of his reinterpretation of the cross was dictated by the surrounding buildings. He wanted it to be prominent but not overwhelming. The benches forming a broken circle around it focus attention upon it. Yorkstone paving connects the Sheep Market and the cross to Red Lion Square where more benches and the milestone, the lower part of which has been distressed as if weathered by the years, have been placed.

Wolfgang engaged the support of local youngsters with students from Queen Eleanor Technical College producing  150 haiku poems about love and remembrance, appropriate for the Eleanor cross. Each word of each poem has been engraved in an individual bronze stud. Each poem is engraved in a different fount but the words are mixed up and fixed randomly in the paving and the seats around the cross.

Commissioning and overseeing the work is Stamford Vision, established in 2000 to promote the future of Stamford, a town with a population of almost 20,000. It is a partnership between all layers of local government, business, the voluntary and educational sectors and community groups. It was this group that ran the competition for the new artwork in the Gateway project and selected Wolfgang's design from nearly 40 entries.

With Stamford often described as England's finest stone town there was not much doubt that the new artwork would be in stone and the preference was for a local stone, which was why Ketton and Clipsham were used, supplied respectively by Castle Cement and Clipsham Quarry Company.

Stonemasons Pierre Bidaud and Regis Chaperon are Compagnon du Devoir, which is a French brotherhood of craftsmen, while Ana Ruiz Agüi has a fine arts background but is also a hands-on mason.

Pierre says the disagreements among the politicians were the only complications in the project. "The work was the easy part – making it. The whole process of selecting the stone and so on. Because we know our trade.

"What was very interesting was the dialogue with the artist, as in really guiding our hand in what he wanted to see. Wolfgang came to see us once a week. We have been involved with a lot of designers so we know the process. You've got some designers who have a very definite vision of their project and they won't budge from it. So that's easier. We like this sort of dialogue. Woolfgang is very good at having a meaning of the sculpture. There's always a reason. There's an understanding behind it.

"The connection between the stone and the bronze above it was a bit intricate. It was nice to work with a new material like bronze. I'm very pleased. It's a very elegant piece of art."

Wolfgang, too, is pleased with the result. He particularly likes the different textures and colours that he thinks will look even better as the piece ages.

Has it come out as he imagined it would? "Yes, yes. It's kind of better. It has harmony, a marriage between the materials."

The leader of South Kesteven District Council, Councillor Mrs Linda Neal, told NSS: "Stamford is a stone jewel of which I am very proud. The recent investment in Sheep Market and Red Lion Square has enlarged the pedestrian areas, giving residents, visitors and tourists better access to the shops and facilities available. The choice of stone for the paving, seats and sculptures complements and adds to the historic character of the centre, and will look even better in five, 10 or 50 years time."

Source:Natural Stone Specialist Magazine

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