The Willow Man's Story
The Willow Man was commissioned by the Arts Council and created by Somerset artist Serena de la Hey for the Year of the Artist 2000. Situated alongside the M5 motorway near Bridgwater he stands 12 metres high and is created with local material from the heart of the Somerset Levels. His outstretched arms welcome people to the South West, for those who live locally he has become a familiar and much loved landmark.
In 2001 he was destroyed by fire and thanks to funding which included public contributions, he was rebuilt. Since then he has undergone running repairs but it has now become necessary to completely rebuild him once again to bring him back to his best condition.
An uncertain future...
It was never intended for the Willow Man to be a permanent sculpture. He is made from willow and like all natural materials this will age and deteriorate over time. However no one had anticipated just how much the Willow Man would be adopted by the local community. Even Serena was surprised at the impact he made;
"I could never have dreamt that he would become such a symbol of the West Country and such a well-known piece of public art."
It is financially impractical to keep making small repairs to the Willow Man and sadly, if he continues to deteriorate, he will be dismantled. It is because of the support and the sense of public ownership that people have expressed, that artist Serena de la Hey is trying to prevent this from happening. She and thousands of others would like to see him rebuilt.
Our plans for the Willow Man
A small but committed band of people from the charity, arts and willow industry plus family and friends have come together to plan a way forward for the Willow Man.
We have come up with a plan for funding which includes two phases - first to cover costs to rebuild the Willow Man and the second phase to look at funding maintenance and therefore the future longevity of the Willow Man.
The process to create such a large structure uses steamed willow which is woven and drawn around an internal three tonne steel framework, building up layers which gives the sculpture its unique form.
The sculpture's position makes it accessible to large numbers of people, including travellers on the nearby M5 and those viewing it from the surrounding area, creating the landmark now so familiar to so many.
Local resident Ali Alway's response to the Willow Man:
"Since moving to Kings Down from out of the area 3 years ago, and living only a few hundred metres away from the mighty and magnificent Willow Man, I have come to view him as the friendly giant that signifies I've arrived home when he comes into vision as I pull up to my front door. The sight of him lifts my spirits.
When I see him, sometimes his stance looks to me like he's on a mission to do something very purposeful, and other times, that he's just about to envelope something or someone into an embrace. He can mean so many things at different times.
I feel quite passionately that he needs to stay as I think he enhances the identity of Bridgwater and provokes strong feelings in people which is what art is supposed to do isn't it! I personally believe he is an asset to the people of Kings Down - how many people can say that they have a work of art on their doorstep?!
We should be so proud that he and Serena chose Bridgwater as his home. Let's all try our best to make sure it's permanent one!"
Broadcaster and author Toby Buckland has got behind the campaign and along with the Toby's Garden Festival team, have helped create the impetus for this crowdfund campaign. Toby says of the Willow Man:
“For the millions of holiday-makers who visit the West Country The Willow Man is a sign they’ve arrived! For me, he’s a symbol I’m nearly of home. If he did disappear it would be a huge loss to our landscape and I’m only too happy to help give him a future."
Thanks to Toby and his team for their support and the platform to launch the crowdfund campaign, which will be officially launched at Toby's Garden Festival at Powderham Castle on 27th April 2018.
Film by Chris Chapman copyright 2018. Images: Chris Chapman and Carole Melbourne.
Pledge £50.00 and you will be entered into a Prize Draw to select 200 people to be invited to the opening of the Rebuilt Willow Man. Meet Serena de la Hey and stand at the foot of the Willow Man to celebrate his rebuild.
Pledge £460.00 and you will be entered into a Prize Draw for artist Serena de la Hey to spend a day in a school running a willow workshop. Can be a nominated school or a school of a parent or teacher. Includes any South West school up to 50 miles from the Willow Man.