The Accidental Sculptor; How it all began by Gill Parker

Bronze Animal Sculptures

I’m still not sure how it came about that I became a professional sculptor some thirty years ago. Circumstances conspired and chance played a hand, and my life has been interesting and fulfilled, because of it. I could certainly have never imagined some of the amazing experiences and opportunities that have arisen.

I never set out to become an artist. Art, at school, was a chance to do something practical rather than cerebral.  Like most people I wanted to be good at art but didn’t show any real talent and accepted the fact, in the same way that I knew I would never be an Olympic sprinter. When it came to choosing my A ‘level subjects, I choose Art as my third subject mainly as a easy option , but because of poor O’level results I was only allowed to take it as the subject was under subscribed.


However, art in the sixth form meant a change of teacher and an opportunity to try sculpture. The first thing I tried, as I remember, was carving a figure out of soap.  Everybody has moments in their life that are momentous in some way and this was the moment that I found the thing I loved to do. It was a form of art which made sense to me and I revelled in it. The rest of my A ‘level years were spent in the art room; lunch hour, free periods and after school, it was here I could be found. My new, no nonsense and rather blunt teacher, never pulled her punches and was almost brutal in her criticism, but I think she recognised my desire and was just what I needed. I got in touch with her again a few years ago and we became good friends. I want to say’ Thank you Betty Tyler’.

Despite my new found love of sculpture, I never saw art as a career. I went to a Grammar school and my friends were all planning University or college. Only because of pressure to make some sort of decision and because of a romantic notion to be a PA to a Vet! , I signed up to a college course. I remember meeting one of my teachers in a corridor and she told me she was disappointed I wasn’t going to pursue art. She told me she could imagine me going to Stately Homes making sculptures of their horses. What a strange thing to say: here I was the daughter of ordinary, hard working and not very well off parents, I lived on a Council estate until I was five, we were certainly not a family to have original art on the walls. I had been on the ‘please stay behind the ropes’ tours of Grand Houses, but it was a world away from my life. I saw it as a passing remark. No one I knew made art for a living, and this extremely shy and uncertain young girl found the prospect of the local art college totally intimidating. Not for me I thought and that was the end of my art adventure for the next seven years.

I attended college for a day and realised I had made a dreadful mistake. I got a job with a photographer, worked as an auctioneer’s clerk and measured windows for a fitting firm. 1983 saw a bit of a recession and the government contract I was working on was squeezed. I found myself jobless and time on my hands meant that I made a few sculptures in plasticine.

A chance meeting with a local artist resulted in him being quite impressed and he picked out two which he suggested “I should cast in bronze”. I had no idea what that meant or the cost involved, but sometimes ignorance is a wonderful thing. I found a small foundry, took a temporary job to pay for it, and I had my bronzes. Having no idea what to do next, the foundry owner suggested Garrards and Aspreys and not knowing enough about them to be intimidated I set about calling for appointments. I got an appointment to see the Garrards buyer, but was told by Aspreys, that they were not interested in seeing any more artists.

As my ancient car was not up to the trip, I took the train and tube and struggled around London with two very heavy bronzes in holdalls and an A-Z.  I had not been to London before and in trying to find Garrards I found myself walking past Aspreys. In a move totally out of character, I walked in off the street and was surprisingly, allowed to see the buyer. I showed him my two bronzes and also a photo of a new sculpture still in plasticine. He asked if he could have number one of the new piece, a polo player (I make bronzes in editions of nine), and five minutes later I was again stood on the street, with an order in my pocket for my first sale. At Garrards they bought number two of the new edition and the two I had taken with me! This was the start of my sculpting career; it was Friday 31st May 1983.

On Monday morning, my first day as a’ proper’ sculptor, my first appointment was with a rather amused Bank manager. With my newly acquired orders as collateral I had to ask for an overdraft of £250.00 to buy another old car to replace the one joy-riders had taken from the Railway Station car park, whilst I was in London!

Within 6 months I was being sponsored by the Horswell family and their major London Gallery, the Sladmore.  One day I was asked to meet at the gallery to discuss a commission for one of their clients. Edward drove me out of London but wouldn’t tell me where we were going.  He told me later that recognising how shy I was, he thought I would get too nervous. After about an hour he turned up the long drive towards Woburn Abbey.  This was to be my first major commission and it was of course, as predicted, a horse. Not just any horse, but a famous brood mare called Mrs Moss!