Wells-next-the-Sea’s Lifeboat Horse, we love you

PUBLISHED: 17:12 19 May 2020 | UPDATED: 17:27 19 May 2020

The horse at low tide, about 7am (photo: R. Long)

The horse at low tide, about 7am (photo: R. Long)

Archant

We meet the artist who created what must be Norfolk’s most popular recent public artwork

Public art can be a divisive issue. Take Maggi Hambling’s controversial Scallop, a huge steel shell sculpture on the beach at Aldeburgh in Suffolk.

That installation sparked a row which hasn’t fully subsided, 17 years on. But when a steel horse was placed in Wells Harbour as part of a heritage arts trail a couple of summers ago as a temporary piece the good folk of Wells-Next-the-Sea had a different reaction.

The sculpture was made to pay homage to the real-life horses that would pull the lifeboats through the streets and across sands in all weathers and the townspeople decided that they liked it so much they raised £15,000 to buy it and keep it as a permanent piece.

Artist Rachael Long with Shire Horse, made for a private collection (photo: Rufus Humphries)Artist Rachael Long with Shire Horse, made for a private collection (photo: Rufus Humphries)

It was a wonderful moment for the creator, Norfolk artist Rachael Long. “For a community to want your sculpture...I was thrilled,” she says.

It was a happy accident which led to the arrival of the imposing three-metre tall work at Wells. Rachael had arranged to meet Wells harbour master Robert Smith to see if they could do something for the arts trail.

“Robert had an idea of a site for a sculpture. He produced a photo of five pairs of heavy horses pulling the lifeboat up Wells beach; then it was; ‘Oh no I’ve got to make a huge horse!’ So it was complete serendipity,” laughs Rachael.

The magnificent sculpture surrounded by the tidewaters (photo: Scott Grear Hardy)The magnificent sculpture surrounded by the tidewaters (photo: Scott Grear Hardy)

“That was January – delivery was June I don’t think I had a day off...”

In fact on the day the mighty horse was due to be lifted into position she was still finishing off the welding on the tail, under the watchful, if slightly anxious, eye of brother Vic, who helps Rachael with the installations and the technical side of her projects.

Despite the last-minute touches the horse was safely delivered to the barge and craned into place in the small window that the fierce Wells tides allowed. It was an immediate hit, drawing visitors from far and wide to admire the striking piece and its unusual setting.

The photo that inspired Rachaels work. Harbour master Robert Smith was told, by the son of the man who looked after the horses, that they were kept in a meadow on the edge of Wells. When the maroons went off, calling the lifeboat and crew, the horses knew to gallop to the gate to wait to be caught and taken down to the lifeboat house on the quay. If the tide was out they had to pull the boat two  miles out to Holkham Gap in order to be able to launch (photo supplied by R Smith)The photo that inspired Rachaels work. Harbour master Robert Smith was told, by the son of the man who looked after the horses, that they were kept in a meadow on the edge of Wells. When the maroons went off, calling the lifeboat and crew, the horses knew to gallop to the gate to wait to be caught and taken down to the lifeboat house on the quay. If the tide was out they had to pull the boat two miles out to Holkham Gap in order to be able to launch (photo supplied by R Smith)

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Creating the work was a real challenge to Rachael, who made the horse from rebar (steel reinforcing rod) some recycled metals from agricultural machinery and hoops from whisky barrels. “When you drill into them you can smell the whisky,” says Rachael.

She learned to weld in her 20s. “I’ve always drawn and painted and I was working for a for stonecarver in Yorkshire but not really relating to the process of taking away. When I came home my brother Vic said: ‘Learn to weld, you’ll love it’.”

So she bought a £50 welder and after a 30-minute lesson from Vic began to make small animals in metal, then a dog, then a large red deer stag, which has a home in Scotland.

The sculpture is installed (photo: Damson Ellen)The sculpture is installed (photo: Damson Ellen)

She was so pleased with it that she had a postcard made of it. “That sculpture brought me so much work,” she says.

Her work is a mix of public and private commissions; you can see some of it at Swaffham’s Strattons Hotel and at the Africa Alive! wildlife park which is graced by her giant rhino.

Before coronavirus struck Rachael was making series of small horses and deer about to go to the exhibition accompanying Anish Kapoor at Houghton. But, like many artists, she is using this time to best advantage and working on.

A drawing scaling the work up (photo: R Long)A drawing scaling the work up (photo: R Long)

“We all have to lean in to what we love... and I love being in my studio and being outside.”

And what will she be making? “I love mammals, I love birds but horses are my passion.”

rachaellongsculpture.com / facebook.com/Rachael-Long-Sculpture / Instagram @rachjilong

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