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Cover Story March 15th, 2007

  Untitled Document

by lyle e davis

Take a close look at the images on this page.


Nope. Just a bunch of pieces of driftwood . . . all put together to make the figures look like horses.

Strange, isn’t it, how creative people can take the most mundane things, look at them, think a bit, rearrange things and all of a sudden have a beautiful work of art?

This is what a brilliant sculptress by the name of Heather Jansch does year round in her home and art studios in Devon, England. She is known as a consummate professional and is the envy of every aspiring sculptor in the world.

In Devon, – especially on blustery winter days – the sculptor Heather Jansch can frequently be seen walking along the beach, eyes peeled for the bits and pieces of wood that come in on the tide.

Her wood sculptures invariably sell out . . . and you’d think she’d just stay focused on that area but, nope . . . she decided she wanted to try bronzes as well. And she became brilliantly successful in that endeavor as well. Her work, be it in driftwood or bronzes, is always described as excitingly original. She has been a fixture at important world exhibitions

The fundamental medium of all the work at those exhibitions was driftwood and the shows would always be a sell-out. It would have been so easy for Heather to have continued to produce one beautiful driftwood piece after another -- why change a winning formula?

However, that is not her nature and she has recently been working with different materials and styles, in tandem with the driftwood sculptures which are at the heart of her art.

How It Happens

There have been numerous moments of note during the past several years with interesting sales of work to interesting people both at home and abroad. Heather would spend her times at art festivals and exhibitions working on pieces which she had already started in the studio, but the public's interest was such that she had trouble finishing them. Heather, being a people person, spent a great deal of her time talking about her work to schoolchildren and grannies alike. Probably one of many reasons that her appearances were always an enormous success.

photo photo
Driftwood is collected from the beach, then is sorted, sized, inspected for how it might form parts of a horse


The wood parts are brought together to form a sculpture;
soon, all that driftwood will have become a horse.


Comments from Heather Jansch:

When the creative flow is running, clear sculptures pour out one after another. My energy is boundless, everything around me seems to vibrate with potential, my hands light on the right piece of wood without fail, I feel as though I am in exactly the right place doing exactly the right thing at exactly the right time and all is magical. Then with no prior warning the flow simply stops as though a tap has been turned off. It never bothers me because I know full well it is just time for a break. It is well nigh impossible to stop until that happens -- it usually takes an emergency. I am incredibly fortunate in having the freedom to live as I do.

A chronology, of sorts, and diary of Heather’s:

November 1st: I have been very productive. Don, my assistant, has been out beachcombing with the pick up truck, we have had some good new pieces of driftwood, and it is always easier to be inspired when the tang of brine still rises from the piles of wood. I now have some six or seven new works, all promising, all in different stages of completion, all of a similar scale. Clients are beginning to ring with enquiries for Christmas gifts. I hate the shortening of the days, I don't like working in artificial light.

February 1st: We have the beginnings of a mare and she is beautiful, I think we may get her done in time, she is fairly flying together. The new load of driftwood is marvellous, I have found enough to start a second life-size horse, and I am going to make a full size version of a new small piece. We have made another armature. The weather has changed. It is now much warmer but very, very wet indeed. The rain is driving into the workshop and making picking up bits of driftwood from the yard a miserable experience. If I were not so excited by these pieces I would give up.

March 1st: The new horse is wonderful, it is definitely masculine, a stallion and a real foil for the mare who is nearing completion. We have found it helps to work them alongside each other. I am on a real high and don't want to stop to go to Paris even though it is one of my favourite cities.


My beautiful black Arabians and the wild valley where I live remain a huge influence on my work. Each day I am blessed to be spellbound by the timeless peace of my woodland surrounded by birdsong and the voice of the stream. It is very easy in such places to be still and let one¹s spirit soar. It is my sanctuary and a very necessary retreat from the business of exhibitions and the increasingly high profile that has come in the last few years. I hope that you all enjoy the work and find something to stir you from this most recent episode of my extraordinarily lucky life.

Heather Jansch

Heather Jansch was born in Essex in 1948. She studied fine art at Walthamstow and Goldsmiths College in London.

An abiding passion for horses has its roots in her childhood when she rode from the age of two, and her first horse sculpture, a large relief, was made prior to her art classes in the British equivalent of high school.

It was her passion for horses which led her to buy a hill farm in Wales.

She spent several reclusive years breeding Welsh ponies and, in the meantime, established herself as a successful painter - a period she describes as her apprenticeship. She moved to Devon in 1980 and took a sabbatical from commissioned work.

Eventually however, wanting to sculpt again, she was drawn back to her roots: the horse. Her earliest pieces were of wire and plaster; the following series in copper wire, reminiscent of Da Vinci's drawings and much closer to her heart, still her work did not have the unique quality she was seeking. It took the use of driftwood to finally reveal the explosive power, natural grace, and potential violence of her subject in a manner which gives her work its authenticity - its "horseness."

Heather still lives and works in Devon, England

Her understanding of the horses she sculpts and the combination of her skill, craftsmanship and the sinew of driftwood create works with a powerful energy… and a stream of admirers wherever they are seen.

Would it be at all possible for North San Diego County to be able to attract an artist of this caliber? We asked around the arts community and the answer appears to be . . . maybe . . . but not too likely. It is not likely at all that we would be able to arrange for an exhibition of Heather Jansch at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. The museum there does not allow the artists to sell their works . . . and the fees commanded by an artist of Jansch’s international reputation would be far in excess of any budget the museum might have. It is doubtful that either the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, Cal State San Marcos and/or the Boehm Gallery at Palomar College, collectively, could raise sufficient funds to attract an artist of this quality.

It might be possible for art patrons to acquire some of Jansch’s work. We spoke with Robert Wright of the Robert Wright Fine Art Galleries in Escondido. He had this to say:

“Her work is awesome! She would be a tremendous draw. . . the question is how to raise the money to fund such an exhibition. We’d have to seek out grant money, perhaps sponsorship, someone like the Thoroughbred Club of Del Mar might be very receptive to this idea.”

In researching this story we found it both amusing, interesting and inspiring that each time we spoke with someone from the arts community the adrenaline would begin to flow, the creative juices kicked into full gear and discussions ensued as to how we might bring an artist of this stature to North County. We have the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, the Mingei Museum, Boehm Gallery at Palomar College, Cal State San Marcos, Mira Costa, any number of venues that support the arts and might be willing to become part of a coalition that would come together with a view in mind of really putting North San Diego county on the map in terms of additional art culture.

Just as Nikki St. Phalle helped put Escondido on the cultural map with her brilliant sculptures, so would Heather Jansch.

Martha Ehringer, Public Relations Director for the Mingei Museum: “It would be an interesting project. There are several hurdles to overcome, not the least of which would be budgetary. Secondly, most museums will have their exhibition schedule already booked for as far out as five years. Third, the artist herself may not be available. She might be scheduled for exhibitions for the next several years. The Mingei Museum and the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, are the two most logical venues to house the exhibition. I’m just guesing but I would estimate that an exhibition of this nature would run a minimum of $100,000 for three to four months display. Perhaps a great deal more. We’d certainly like to be kept informed of plans. It sounds like a tremendous project.”

Mary-Catherine Ferguson, Museum Director for the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, confirms that they are booked up through 2010. There still might be room to plan, long-range, for such an appearance, however. We continue to discuss the matter within the arts community to determine how deep an interest there is.

“Boys Day Out”
Captains Cleo
the Artist, Heather Jansch, astride one of her horses

On her website, Heather Jansch describes her work and answers frequently asked questions:

Q How long do they take?

A This is a bit like “how long is a piece of string?” I always have several different sculptures in progress at the same time. It provides variety and if I can’t find the right bit of wood or lose inspiration I can move onto another sculpture, very often the change is as good as a rest, just changing the focus of my attention can allow me to see where I was stuck. Because of this it is hard to say how long they take, sometimes a piece will stay half worked for days, weeks or even months, on other occasions they simply seem to fly together as if by magic.

Q How far do you have to travel to find enough driftwood?

A On beaches after high tides and storms. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find enough, I need an enormous quantity to select from especially for the life-size pieces and could not possibly carry it myself so my assistant goes with a four-wheel drive pickup.

Q Where did you get the idea to work with driftwood?

A Entirely by chance and from seeking to find a unique form of creative expression that felt like my own. I was tired of following in other peoples footsteps. I had been working with copper wire and the sculptures were like Da Vinci’s line drawings but lacked the power I wanted. One day while I was out my son could not find any kindling wood to light the wood-burner and had chopped up a piece of ivy that had grown round a fencing stake, he had left behind a short section that I immediately saw as a horses torso of the right size to fit straight into the copper wire piece I was working on. The next question was where could I find more or similar shapes and the answer was of course driftwood.

Q How do you fix the bits of wood together?

A By whatever method works. I love solving problems and experimenting. Each sculpture is different. One needs to give a lot of thought to it and have an understanding of the stresses and strains created by different poses and some idea of the weights involved. The structure must not only be self supporting, it must also be stable enough to cope with high winds without falling over. Further, it must be strong enough to withstand being lifted by a crane to be positioned for exhibition. The larger sculptures require a steel frame. This is first painted with a rust inhibitor and then coated with fibreglass to give a roughened surface which both makes it easier to hide and stops the wood from slipping on bare metal. The wood is held in position for me to see and then tied with wire until I am sure it is right. Finally it is screwed together and the screw heads covered with filler and stain. Inevitably we miss one or two as people take great delight in proving.

Q What are the hooves made from?

A Copper, more specifically old immersion tanks.

Q What are the legs made from?

A Fibreglass resin, steel, and wood.

Q Can they go outside and how long do they last?

A Yes. Surprisingly this question is often asked when someone is standing in front of a life-size sculpture in a park or sculpture garden. The larger sculptures are intended for external sites and are made from hard woods like oak and elm; they are then treated with preservative. I recommend that they be sprayed each spring as one would a garden fence. I cannot say exactly how long they will last but they should certainly outlast me. All fixings are stainless steel. For those who are seriously concerned about long term investment I suggest they think about bronzes. Driftwood translates well into bronze, it loses nothing of the texture but ‘Driftwood bronzes’ are of course considerably more expensive.

Q Do you ever make anything you don’t want to sell?

A Yes, it is often hard to part with some pieces and there are a few that I will never sell, mostly they are the works where I overcame a barrier to understanding, others I may keep for years and then one day find that I can let them go.

Q Why horses?

A They were one of my first loves and still something about them moves me deeply. Who can say why people fall in love? Reading Black Beauty set the seal and I never stopped pestering my parents for a pony of my own until eventually they gave way and bought me a black Welsh x Arabian filly. After art school I moved to West Wales and bred welsh cobs, I still keep horses, currently I have a black Arabian mare and a very fat old pony companion for her.

Q What made you decide to be an artist?

A I can’t remember making the decision; I was born into a family that encouraged creativity. As a small child I was obsessed by drawing and painting and spent my time in a world of my own imagining that was so rich that I never wanted it to change so I knew that I would be an artist because I would never have to do anything but paint pictures. As you can tell I was very young (pre-school age) and when I did go to school I found it difficult to attend to any lessons other than art, even preferring to stay in the art room at break times.

Q What inspires you?

A The most exciting experience in the world for me is the act of creativity, making something where nothing existed before, or more accurately taking disparate things and assembling them together to form something entirely new. I am addicted to it.

Q Do you fit the idea to the material or the material to the idea?

A A very good question, the answer is both, they are not mutually exclusive.

Q Do you make small models to start with or preparatory drawings?

A Both yes and no. Driftwood sculptures need to “grow organically” one cannot do an accurate preparatory drawing but often the sculpture inspires subsequent paintings and drawings. A small sculpture may inspire a larger version of itself but more often is something that exists for its own sake.

photoWe had the chance to chat with Heather by phone. Yes, she might be interested in an exhibition in California. As Martha Etheridge of the Mingei Museum pointed out, however, she is booked up solid through 2008. The earliest she’d be available would be 2009. She has a commitment to an exhibition in Italy in 2008 and commences with the Eden Project in 2009 from June through October.

Her sculptures, not surprisingly, command top dollar. Typically, her large horses sell for between 30,000 and 35,000 pounds sterling (equivalent to $57,953.66 and $67,612.60, respectively). Her smaller horses typically sell for between 6000 and 10,000 pounds sterling (equivalent to $11,590.73 and 19,319.68, respectively).

She does not have an agent or dealer in America, nor does she in Great Britain. “I really don’t need an agent or dealer,” she says. “I sell everything I produce. In fact, I have a hard time keeping up with demand.”

The Internet sells a lot of her work . . .probably 90% of her sales are by way of the Internet. Those who would like to see more of her work are invited to go to her website at:






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