Highclere Castle Green Man Sculpture

This week’s blog is about a special commission from earlier this year: the Highclere Castle Green Man sculpture.

The Highclere Castle Green Man sculpture greets guests as they drive to the castle

Our Connection with Highclere

It’s not every day an artist gets to create something for a place as well-known and prestigious as Highclere (aka Downton Abbey!). So how did this commission come about? The answer is… a lucky encounter!

My wife Liz is a BIG fan of Downton Abbey! Are there any other fans out there?

Anyway, as she’s a fan, back in 2016, we decided to visit Highclere Castle where the series is filmed. As sometimes happens, Lady Carnarvon was around and mingling with guests. We got talking and had the opportunity to share what I did, gave her a business card and that was it. Or so we thought!

Two years later I got a call and she commissioned the Highclere Castle Airman sculpture! It turns out that Lady Carnarvon – like so many of us – has a ‘busy’ desk and my card had been buried. One day during a clean-up, she found the card and had already had the idea of the airman memorial. She got in touch and the rest is history!

Highclere Castle Airman by Simon O'Rourke
The Highclere Castle Airman

About the Tree

Recently Lady Carnarvon got in touch with me again, this time to commission a Green Man sculpture. If you have been to Highclere, you will know at one point the driveway is lined with magnificent old cedars and oaks. Sadly in winter last year, one of the cedars was badly damaged and needed to be felled.

One option would be to remove the entire thing. However, you only have to speak to Lady Carnarvon for a short time to realise she is passionate about the land and wants to steward it well. She loves and enjoys the trees on the estate, describing them as being “majestic, even in death”.

She is also very aware that even after death, they can provide a home for valuable wildlife and will sometimes grow other plants and flowers up them, adding to the beauty of the estate (if health and safety allows!) In the case of this cedar, the tree surgeon was able to save the bottom 18′ of the cedar, and she decided to commission another sculpture…

At work on the Green Man sculpture

About the Green Man

When Lady Carnarvon contacted me about this sculpture, she already knew she wanted a Green Man. I’ve created several in the past, and they’re always an interesting subject. This is by far my largest though!

For those who have never heard of a Green Man, he’s a legendary figure closely related to the earth. He represents rebirth, the cycle of new growth that occurs every spring. Much has been written about the Green Man over the years (too much to mention!), and Lady Carnarvon explores some of his history in her blog: www.ladycarnarvon.com/the-green-man/.

There’s no doubt that the rich mythology and symbolism surrounding the Green Man make it a fitting subject for a tree being reborn as a sculpture!

The young guest in this picture gives a sense of the  scale of the Highclere Castle Green Man sculpture

Creating the Highclere Castle Green Man Sculpture

Having agreed on the details, I travelled to Newbury earlier this year, erected the scaffolding and got to work on the Green Man.  Altogether, he took about 10 hours of carving in the British wintery drizzle.
When I considered what to make, I definitely wanted an organic feel to fit in with the surrounding countryside. Given the age of the tree, I also wanted to create a face that reflected maturity and wisdom.

Many of the staff as well as Lady Carnarvon herself came to watch. It’s always nice when a client can share this part of a sculpture and see their chosen design emerging from the wood.

One of Lady Carnarvon’s hopes for guests visiting Highclere is that they will take the time and allow the history, space, and beauty around them to cause them to pause, observe, contemplate, and reflect. Hopefully, this Green Man, rooted into the earth and quietly looking out onto the land helps prompt that too and adds to their experience.

By the way, if you’re considering an on-site sculpture like this one, it’s worth reading my blog “Things to Consider When You Commission An On-Site Sculpture.

Visiting Highclere and the Green Man Sculpture

For those wondering, Highclere Castle is well worth a visit.  think it’s amazing to walk around places like that and imagine what it was like to live there in the past. It’s also been well-maintained thank (in part) to Downton.

Although it’s a large estate, you’ll find it easy to find the Green Man, as he’s on the drive to the castle! To be sure you don’t miss him though, the most accurate way of giving his location is What3Words.
Just click on the link below or go to the app and search for hopping.summaries.serenade

While you’re there, Liz and I definitely recommend checking out the Egyptian exhibition (it’s really good!), the tearooms (just lovely!), and the exhibition of aircraft parts. And my airman sculpture of course!

Highclere Castle Green Man Sculpture Final Thoughts

As always, the important thing about any sculpture is what the client thinks. Thankfully he’s a hit with guests at Highclere, and Lady Carnarvon herself. She “thoroughly enjoys” walking past him, and explains he’s already become a part of Highclere – a wonderful compliment for any artist.

If you’re interested in a Green Man for your own home – or any other sculpture! – fill out the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact/ and someone will be in touch!