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Handmade: Britains Best Woodworker on Channel4

Handmade: Animal Sculpture

Episode 4

Immunity Challenge: Pole Lathe Turning
Big Build: Animal Sculpture

During the skills challenge I spent a lot of time bemoaning the fact that the lathes we’d been given didn’t have nice steel beds and a motor, but it occurred to me afterwards that keeping these ancient skills alive might be much more important than we think. There’s a sense at the moment that we are approaching the end times of our civilisation, and I can see a point in the not-too-distant future where going back to making a living on the land and not relying on electricity and other harmfully fuelled activities becomes the norm. If COP26 (and every other climate summit ever held) has taught us anything, it is that our leaders are less interested in actually taking action on climate change than issuing grand commitment statements which, as we’ve seen time and again, are either too ridiculous to achieve, or end up being abandoned or ignored. So, in our post apocalyptic future, the ability to make things with our hands and our ingenuity may well become as important to us as it was to our forefathers.

As for the Animal sculpture, I grew up with a bad-tempered donkey called Zebedee, who had striped markings on his legs, and in my mind, as a child, he was actually a zebra – I’ve loved these creatures ever since. By their very nature Zebras present a great opportunity for both graphic and sculptural statements so I presented it in the manner of a portrait bust to lend a quiet dignity to this magnificent animal. The choice to create the head as a flat and fretted image means that it is only truly visible from one angle, and this, coupled with the careful manipulation of form and negative space reflects its ability to camouflage itself.

However, sculpture isn’t necessarily just about three dimensional representation of subject matter, and often the most powerful pieces send a message, so just before I started, I decided to add a tear of blood for it to cry in despair at man’s rape and destruction of nature. In the end, while the zebra part of this piece worked beautifully, for me it became more a portrait of the tear than the animal.

Being awarded Woodworker of the Week for my sculpture was a huge boost!

Standing in a field in Wales on day one for the introduction to the other contestants, I was struck by how brilliantly Channel 4 and had lived up to their exceptional reputation for diversity and inclusion. Four men, four women, and one somewhere in between, with shades of age and skin all well represented. Even though our backgrounds, influences and experiences were all so very different, we were instantly bound together not only because of the intensity of the situation we found ourselves in, but also by our love of wood and working it. With diversity comes a wealth of individuality in terms of ideas, and this was particularly evident at the end of every challenge, where all the pieces produced reflected the character of the person that had made them. Nowhere was this more evident than with the sculptures…

I had chosen to make something transformative, with something to say; Charlie had made something natural and earthy; Joe had gone with an animal renowned for its playful nature and strength of spirit; Radha had made a glorious peacock reflecting his innate effervescence, and Billy – well - Billy most definitely has the heart of a Lion!

Misti Leitz Zebra Animal Sculpture