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Sculptor recalls his time with Nelson Mandela
12:00pm Tuesday 31st December 2013 in News
RENOWNED sculptor John Doubleday has met many interesting figures throughout the course of his work.
However, the late Nelson Mandela was the one who left the biggest impression.
Mr Doubleday, from Great Totham, met the former president of South Africa in 1996.
He said: “He is the only politician I have met who didn’t want power.
“We talked about that and he said he accepted the presidency because people had asked him to and he felt he had something to contribute.
“That wasn’t vanity or lust for power. How he described it to me was he was in a position to pour a small cup of water on an ember that could turn into a raging fire.
“His political career was motivated by unselfishness.”
Mr Doubleday had three sittings with Mandela and felt an “enormous responsibility” to capture his personality in the sculpture he created.
He added: “In portraiture, everybody is interesting, but I think in a way that was the deepest and most significant responsibility to make a historical record of what he was like because I just felt, as so many people do, that he made such a remarkable contribution.
“As far as I was concerned, I got the quiet dignity of the man, not so much his public persona.
“When somebody came in he would seem to inflate and draw himself up to his full height and he looked almost three times as big. It was a funny thing.”
Mr Doubleday believes politicians have a lot to learn from Mandela’s legacy.
He said: “Sometimes I feel we have got comedians making decisions on our behalf and you feel someone like Mandela was making decisions from a secure moral point of view rather than short term political expediency, of which there seems to be rather a lot of.”
Another of his subjects was the Queen, for a portrait commissioned by Gibraltar.
Rather than posing for him, the Queen held a a series of meetings.
Mr Doubleday said: “That was interesting because she’s done a remarkable stint and that was basically a celebratory portrait of her 60 years on the throne, which Gibraltar wanted to mark.
“It is not without its political slant, but that is fine.”
Mr Doubleday, 66, studied sculpture at Goldsmiths College and held his first show at the Waterhouse gallery in London in 1968. His bronze public sculptures include Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Charlie Chaplin, and Sherlock Holmes, which can be found in London’s Paddington, Leicester Square and Baker Street respectively, and, closer to home, Brythnoth, in Maldon’s Promenade Park.
He is currently working on a life-sized tribute to a Walton soldier, Private Herbert Columbine, who died in the First World War.
The statue was masterminded by Walton resident Michael Turner, who helped to raise £50,000 towards the project, but died of a sudden heart attack before it was completed. Columbine’s statue, to be unveiled next summer on the seafront during the centenary year of the war, will symbolise the soldiers who won the war, but are often forgotten.
Mr Doubleday works with clay, which is then moulded and cast in bronze, but he also paints.
It takes about a year to create a sculpture, including six months of solid work and long hours, sometimes until the early hours of the morning.
Mr Doubleday’s wife Isobel and his family are used to his long hours, although his sons Robert and James have not followed in his footsteps into the world of art.
Through the course of his career, his work has taken him around the world, including a four-month stint in India, and similarly his creations can also be seen across the world.
But whether he is recreating the image of a famous figure or not, it is of no consequence.
He said: “The thing about portraiture is whether someone is in the public eye or not, people are always interesting.”
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