A Room with a View
6 February 2014
A plasterwork sculpture of a heron catching an eel in the River Exe now adorns RAMM’s Making History gallery. Hung between a 17th-century ceiling salvaged from the Half Moon Hotel in Exeter before the building was demolished in 1913 and a window blind showing the hands that made it, the sculpture was commissioned by the museum Friends.
The heron is framed by an old oak tree with Exeter Cathedral and St Leonard’s Church in the background. Its creator is the Exeter based sculptor Geoffrey Preston who had a successful exhibition at RAMM in 2012: A Symphony of Curves.
“I wanted to evoke a familiar Exeter scene. I once had an allotment at Trews Weir and always loved the view of the Cathedral turrets from there. Herons used to fish on the riverbank too. The heron was partly inspired by a mezzotint by Samuel William Reynolds and partly by the herons on the Saloon ceiling at Poltimore House. The eel is a nod to John Abbott, the 17th century Exeter plasterer who made the Custom House ceilings, which include eel and serpent like creatures”.
The panel was made on a timber frame, with traditional three-coat lime plaster on riven hardwood laths. The landscape scene was modelled directly onto the lime plaster base using hand-modelled stucco. Stucco is a beautiful material that had its heyday in the 18th century but is now rarely used. Many early Devon plasterers used lime mortars to make decorative patterns. As time passed and materials and methods developed, gypsum was added to the mortar. This allowed the sculptor to create finer detail and also to build up the mortar to create three-dimensional forms. In Geoffrey’s piece the head and beak of the heron are completely modelled in the round and the rest is modelled in low relief.
About Geoffrey Preston
Geoffrey Preston is one of the UK’s leading architectural sculptors, specialising in decorative plasterwork and in particular the art of stucco. After studying sculpture at Hornsey College of Art he trained as a stonemason and a carver. He was a founding director of two of the country’s most respected conservation companies, at the helm of many significant projects including the pioneering restoration of the 18th century hand modelled plasterwork at Uppark House in West Sussex. In 2000 Geoffrey set up his studio in Exeter, where he works with a small team to create beautiful new work for architects, designers and private clients.
About the Friends
Founded in 1969 with the main aim of supporting RAMM by providing funds primarily for acquisitions and conservation, the Friends have given over £144,000 towards various projects. Members also provide practical help, both as part of RAMM’s volunteering programme and in support of the society. It raises money through members’ subscriptions and by running lectures, visits and other fundraising events. Members receive a quarterly Newsletter and other information. They benefit from free admission to St Nicholas Priory, concessionary rates for events arranged by RAMM and a 10% discount in the RAMM Café. There are currently nearly 900 members. Formally called the Friends of Exeter Museums & Art Gallery, it is a registered charity (no. 306649).