Tim Lees, 1988

“I wanted to leave evidence of the carving of the stone in the same way the miners had left their marks on the landscape; a sort of history of the work in the textures similar in sentiment to the imprint of a leaf in mud or the rings of a tree, the rhythms of the seasons being my inspiration. A much older history is apparent in the observation of the flat surface of the stone, the minerals of the stone telling the story of what it was like in the Forest of Dean many millions of years ago.” Tim Lees

Tim Lees’s sculpture is sited on the top of the Rose in Hand coal mine, a disused drift mine overlooking the wooded Cannop Valley. Inspired by the idea of extracting material from the heart of the forest, he cut the centre of a six-ton piece of stone from a nearby quarry and carved it into a smooth form that contrasts with the rough surfaces of the seven-foot-high flanking pieces. These remain standing uncarved like megalithic stones, of which there are several examples in the Dean. The central core of the stone resembles a fish leaping out of the stone, an appropriate image given the proximity of the rivers Severn and Wye, and symbolising hope and rebirth.

In the words of Lee: “I first visited the forest on a beautiful summer’s day and was struck by the variety of colours and textures. Ideas poured in. All I had to do was match an idea with a site – a much longer process than I had originally thought possible.

Many wetter visits later in spring, I had come up with a proposal. I was to use a large piece of Forest of Dean sandstone on the site of an old coal mine; the idea of me labouring away cutting the stone would link me to the forest’s miners of old.

I wanted to open up the inside of my sculpture, to disembowel it, to show both inside and out. The site mirrored this very well, being fairly enclosed with large trees and yet with an open view through a clearing at one end, and the whole covered with coal slag from the mine.

The stone was selected by Robert Taynton of Mine Train Quarries, the block split into two to reach its present size and transported to the saw with a valiant effort by the haulier. The lifting gear on the lorry loaded the block on easily but for some reason was not able to lift it off, so a double lift was organised, the lorry’s 10-ton Hiab lifting from the top and a 7-ton forklift from the bottom.

Once it had been cut into three pieces on the frame saw a fault was discovered running through all three. One piece completely broke, requiring a large-scale repair job with 25mm thick stainless-steel dowels. Finally, I was able to start shaping it, producing a smooth curve on one face and a series of textured chamfers on the other.

The stones were positioned on site with the centre section rotated through 90 degrees so that one could stand in the space where it used to be and experience an enclosed sensation, an empathy with the miners. The piece was finally sited with its long axis pointing towards the opening panorama of the forest.”

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About the Artist

Tim Lees spent his teenage years on the granite outcrops of the Seychelles, where he learnt boat building and developed an interest in geology. This interest in stone and complex construction methods led him to turn his focus to sculpture. Early carvings (Forest of Dean Sculpture Park) and solo shows (Arnolfini, Bristol) were followed by commissions to replace and repair historic marble and stone statues. A period of work at The National Trust Statuary Workshop, and study of Roman sculpture (Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, Rome), led to the development of work combining a deep knowledge of classical sculptural anatomy with an expressive use of form.

Lees is an Associate Member of the Royal British Sculptors and an elected member of the Mastercarvers Association. In 2010 he won the Stone Federation of Great Britain Craftsmanship Award. He also won the award in 2002 and 2004 for work at Stowe Landscape Gardens, and at Castletown Cox, Eire, with Cliveden Conservation.