Updated: Feb 19, 2022
Windmill Antiques owner Ian Kettlewell, owner of one of renowned local artist Arnold Machin's pieces, recently commissioned Gillie Nicholls to complete a clay portrait of himself using the process used by Machin and inspired by Gillie's visits to his former home - Garmelow Manor in Eccleshall, Staffordshire.
Many years ago, Gillie played in a band with the groundsman of Garmelow, rehearsing in a converted barn next to the main house which was "temporarily sleeping", as both Arnold and his wife Patricia had died.
Gillie explains, "I had a number of tours of the entire house, including Arnold’s studio where a terracotta bust of the young Prince Charles stood covered in dust. A cupboard in the main hall housed one of only four plaster casts of his most famous commission, the Queen" (Queen Elizabeth II which graced official British coins and postage stamps from 1968 onwards).
"In a tiny upstair room, holding their breath was an unfinished still life of garden flowers; an old palette of oil paint; several dried out brushes and an old wooden chair. To one side of the easel stood an arid vase of dead flowers - their heads shrivelled and bowed. Yet they were unmistakably the ones that Patricia had been painting, just prior to leaving the room to lay herself down".
Over the years, Gillie says has seen many sculptures take up temporary residence at Windmill Antiques in Stafford, but states, "The one that I am mortified to have missed was by Arnold Machin".
Windmill Antiques owner Ian Kettlewell, who bought one of Arnold's pieces at the auction of house contents, asked for his portrait to include a laurel wreath on his crown (as Ian’s partner is a classics scholar), reflecting Ian's fun sense of humour.
Arnold sculpted in earthenware clay, hollowing them out and firing them in his kiln. The method is hugely risky, but results in a unique piece that maintains every single mark that the sculptor makes - a level of detail impossible to preserve through cast.
Once complete, the sculpture will sit atop of a 4.5 ft alabaster plinth and is scheduled for completion in February 2022.
Ian Kettlewell, along with many other observers, has expressed astonishment at the amazing likeness of the piece.
Gillie Nicholls has completed numerous works of this type and is available for commissions via her website www.gillie-nicholls.co.uk