Public Art has been in the news lately and not in a good light, how often do we hear of the statues that we walk past on a daily basis being at best archaic and not reflective of the local people at worst down right offensive and a daily torment.
In Harrow the local community decided that they wanted to tackle this imbalance. They approached the ex-Mayor, Mrinal Choudhury, with the idea of a public monument for the high number of Hindus in the area. Choudhury subsequently commissioned an over life-sized sculpture of the Hindu Monk and philosopher Swami Vivekananda (1862-1902) for the grounds of Harrow Arts Centre in London.
One of the most celebrated spiritual leaders of India. Vivekananda attempted to combine Indian spirituality with Western material progress and was a key figure in the introduction of yoga to the Western World. With his deep spiritual insight, eloquence and his role as India’s spiritual ambassador to the Western world, Vivekananda is regarded as a highly important and influential figure of modern India.
Carved in Portland stone on a Cornish Granite base the monument is the only large scale public stone statue of Vivekananda in Europe.
How to create personality in stone.
To truely capture the essence of a person in stone requires a lot of skill. It is imperative to do the research properly and make sure that you have a full understanding of the person, their character, the clothes they wear even the way they hold themselves. The slightest miss-understanding can turn what could have been a great and expressive monument to a soul into a hollow and meaningless representation of a body.
Vivekananda was known for being a humble man and wore very simple traditional Indian clothing. He often wore simple robes with a cloth belt and a Pagri Turban even at important historical events. To ensure we had accurate reference material we hired a London based turban specialist to source the correct cloth and to tie the turban on a static head shaped prop. In keeping with tradition the cloth was around 8 meters in length and was soaked in starch to keep its shape once tied. Once the turban matched the shape and style required it provided the perfect reference from which to scale up and model onto the portrait.
The pose with arms crossed is based on the famous photograph of Vivekananda in Chicago by Thomas Harrison. Known as the ‘Chicago Pose’ the photo was taken after his famous speech at the Parliament of World Religions in 1893 and is undoubtedly the most iconic and striking photo of him.
The proportions and moulding profiles of the base were designed to carefully echo and compliment the surrounding architecture. The carved lotus leaf motifs are a common feature in Indian art to symbolise spirituality and beauty. In our design lotus leaves have been incorporated on the mouldings as a subtle reference to this whilst remaining in keeping with Harrow Arts Center.
Selecting the perfect Stone
As experts in public statues we often have to make sure that the materials and design are in keeping with the surroundings. In this case it was with the grounds of Harrow Arts Centre and the Victorian grade II listed Elliot Hall.
We proposed to use Portland Stone for the bust with a Cornish Granite base.
Firstly, because it has a traditional look and is suitable for the style of the sculpture and in keeping with the surrounding architecture. Light grey granite has been used extensively in and around London as a plinth material on many historic public statues and also in architectural situations such as Tower Bridge where it compliments Portland Stone details. The monument to the memory of Edith Cavell in London (St Martin's Place) sculpted by George Frampton in 1920 is a fine example of where lighter white stone is complimented with a grey granite base.
Secondly, Granite has proven itself to be a very hard wearing material with good resistance to staining and weathering, an important factor for a monument as public as this. It is also easier to maintain and clean and less easy to vandalise, all of which are important factors to take into account.
Modelling and Carving the Portrait Bust
We found a suitable model with a similar overall facial structure and then modelled the portrait in clay at approximately 1 1/3 life sized. Once the overall structure and form was found we then used the historical photos to achieve a likeness. Photos of Vivekananda were sparse but we visited the Ramakrishna Vedanta Centre in Bourne End and were loaned some useful books and photographs.
Once the model was complete and signed off by the client we then made a silicone mould of the bust and created a plaster cast which then served as a guide to the hand carving process.
The monument is the only large scale public stone statue of Vivekananda in Europe.