TAMWORTH’S landmark ‘Warrior Queen’ statue is taking shape, with latest images of the work in progress revealing a little glimpse of just how impressive and magnificent the new sculpture will be.
After several weeks of back-breaking labour by artist and sculptor Luke Perry, work to create a steel statue of the iconic Lady Aethelflaed has reached the halfway point.
Once complete, the Saxon Queen will rise six metres above the ground on the Offa Drive/Saxon Drive roundabout, outside Tamworth Railway Station, where she will greet visitors as they step off the train, and point them towards the town centre.
The ‘Roundabout Art’ project is one element of the Arts in Unusual Spaces initiative, funded by Arts Council England, which will see art in all its forms popping up in a variety of locations across the borough.
The sculpture is being funded jointly by Tamworth Borough Council, Arts Council England and Tamworth Gateways Project – a partnership between Staffordshire County Council and Tamworth Borough Council.
For the past few months, Luke has been hidden away in a workshop outside Birmingham, welding, hammering and literally hand-sculpting the magnificent ‘iron maiden’ as he has affectionately named her.
The internal structure, or ‘skeleton’, is now complete, as is the breast plate, back plate and shield – which itself stands taller than Luke. The chainmail is nearing completion and her sword – which is a work of art in itself – is also around 50 per cent of the way there.
Luke said: “I don’t do anything with machines because I don’t like the aesthetic that produces. It’s all hand-sculpted, which means I’m a bit broken as it’s physically quite abusing. It’s great to see her starting to take shape though.
“The internal shell was key to the build. We are working from a life-sized model and everything has to be scaled up 3.5 times. Once we had the shell this was covered in chicken wire so the form could be easily manipulated – getting the form right has been the hardest part so far.
“Once all the angles and dimensions are right, you wrap it all in steel banding and take all the chicken wire out.”
As well as making sure everything is in proportion, there’s also the important job of making sure everything is correct for the period. For this, Luke has called in the services of a fellow artist and 9th century historian, who has travelled over from Berlin to assist on the project.
“We’re making sure all the details are authentic,” Luke said. “It’s not exactly how Aethelflaed would have looked as women of the time would usually be almost completely covered in fabric, but the interpretation is more in keeping with the Romantic, symbolic representation of women depicted back then.”
Members of the community have been involved in the design of the sculpture during consultations, workshops and live clay modelling sessions.
The final model was the result of consultations with more than 100 people who spoke to Luke about what they are most proud of about Tamworth. She has been designed to reflect the town’s Saxon history, but with an ‘alternative, modern twist’ that places it firmly in the 21st century. The project also represents quite an ambitious feat of engineering to bring the historical figure to life.
Also known as Tamworth’s ‘Lady of the Mercians’, Queen Aethelflaed, played a pivotal role in English history by building a chain of fortifications against Viking invaders throughout the Kingdom of Mercia. Her fortification of Tamworth in 913 AD became the forerunner to Tamworth Castle. Daughter of Alfred the Great, Aethelflaed’s accession as a female ruler has been described as one of the most unique events in early medieval history.
Cllr Joy Goodall, Cabinet member for Environment & Culture, said: “These images provide a sneak peek at Lady Aethelflaed and give a real feel for how large and impressive the finished article is going to be. This is an exciting project celebrating an important element of the town’s history, which will hopefully serve as a lasting legacy for years to come, as well as encouraging more visitors to the area.”