Through the years I seem to have forged a reputation for sculpting the more unusual animals as well as those we know and love. My work with BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year saw commissions of many usual species, such as the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey and the garial. But I think the most unusual animal sculpture commission I’ve ever had was a bat…. to be given as a wedding present!
The initial enquiry came from a group of friends who were clubbing together to commission the bat sculpture. The happy couple met while on field work studying the critically endangered Livingstone’s fruit bat, which is endemic to two Comoro Islands found in the Indian Ocean halfway between Mozambique and Madagascar. Also known as the Livingstone’s flying fox, this bat has one of the largest wingspans (1.4m) and a long muzzle, which gives the bat its fox-like appearance.
And so it was decided that a bat sculpture would make the most appropriate wedding present for the happy couple. One of their friends had a contact who worked with the fruit bats at Bristol Zoo, one of the few places to have an active bat breeding and conservation programme. This opened up the opportunity for me to meet these remarkable bats at close quarters, study them and take lots of photos to help me with the bat sculpture.
I had to approach this sculpture as a mixed media project. In fact, the only ceramic parts are the torso and head. Understanding how a fruit bat folds up its enormous wings took a lot of painstaking research, trial and error. In the end I made the wing structure out of wire onto which I stitched leather wings. Other materials were then deployed to create the legs and feet. Finally, the finished bat sculpture was attached to a suitable piece of wood.
Fortunately, the Livingstone’s fruit bat sculpture proved a great success as a wedding present. I heard later that the newly weds’ cat could not take its eyes off the bat, as if expecting it to fly off at any second!