9 March 2001

MODEL YEAR FOR SCULPTOR

Farming may be in the

doldrums but for professional

sculptor and farmers wife

Tessa Cole, last year was

one of the best she has

ever had and with

further commissions

in the pipeline the

future looks

promising, as

Nick Spurling

discovers

SCULPTOR Tessa Cole specialises in figurative work and is in regular demand for portrait heads of children as well as sculpture reliefs for house and garden. She will also undertake watercolour drawings of landscape and buildings.

Tessa, who works under her maiden name, trained at the City & Guilds London Art School, gaining a Fine Arts Diploma with Distinction and winning a first-prize bronze medal for sculpture.

On leaving art school she took up her career and has continued with her work over the past 29 years of marriage to Roderick Ashby, while bringing up their two children, Charles and Henrietta, and running the home at Dagnall Farm, Dagnall, near Berkhamsted, Herts.

&#42 Converted cowshed

While Roderick looks after 364ha (900 acres) and the flock of sheep, Tessa retires to her studio in a converted cowshed, a handsome affair arrived at with the aid of members of the family. Son Charles, now in the army, did all the electrical work.

Although equipped with lighting and heaters, it can still be a bit of a struggle to get out there in the winter. "I did on one very cold occasion find ice in the clay," says Tessa who packs the material round an armature by hand before taking a plaster cast, which is subsequently filled with her preferred medium – usually ciment fondu.

The studio is not the only place where she may be found, however, for she has just completed a commission involving life-size sculptures of three children, which meant daily visits to the family for three months. This is one of her biggest assignments so far. The casting in bronze alone, which was done at a local foundry, cost £20,000. Other castings are made in bronze resin – a less expensive but not so durable material – and ciment fondu.

The female form in traditional style inspires much of Tessas work. A good grounding in life drawing and modelling at art school and studying under people such as James Butler R A – famous for various public sculptures – has obviously paid off. "I do not think I shall be going in for anything like preserved sheep à la Damien Hirst," says Tessa.

&#42 Word of mouth

She exhibits at a gallery, the New Studio in Olney, Bucks, but a lot of her work comes through word of mouth. One very useful outlet is the Open Studios Scheme, which celebrated its tenth anniversary last year. Run by Hertfordshire Visual Arts, it involves artists all over the county opening up their studios to the public for a fortnight in September. Tessa has taken part for several years, her small walled garden outside the kitchen door making an ideal setting in which to show off her work. This year in June, she will be taking part with a friend in a similar scheme over the border in Bucks.

Tessa is not involved too much in the day-to-day running of the farm (although lately she has been feeding the sheep) but she is aware that her economic contribution is becoming more and more important. The Ashby family is currently celebrating 100 years in residence at Dagnall Farm and with her help the prospects look a bit brighter for them than for some others in agriculture.

A head start…Tessa at work in her converted cowshed studio.