DESMOND TUTU

THE PEACE POLE IN CHINBROOK MEADOWS

There are some great moments in the life of a sculptor and I didn't expect a hug to be top of the list but being hugged by Archbishop Desmond Tutu! How good is that? He does like a hug but there aren't many people who can say that they have been hugged by him.

Back in 2010, the opera singer Suzanne Clarke discovered that she was living in the house where Archbishop Desmond Tutu had stayed when he lived in London. In the early 1960s Archbishop Desmond Tutu came with his family to London to study at Kings College and to be the curate at a local church in Lewisham. Suzanne rang his office in South Africa inviting him for tea when he was next in london and when he accepted the offer she realised that there was nothing locally to commemorate this wonderful man. A project to create a Peace Garden was proposed and when a small part of the local Chinbrook Meadow was given by the council for a Peace Garden, the project became a reality. Chris Beardshaw the garden designer got involved, along with participants at the Chelsea Flower Show and local people.

Dedication of Peace Pole sculpture

Suzanne rang me after a recommendation by a friend. The brief was to have a five sided pole with the quote by the Archbishop an enemy is a friend waiting to be made carved in five languages, - English, Gaelic, Polish, Xhosa and Arabic. Xhosa is the mother tongue of the archbishop and the others are all spoken locally. However given such a short timescale, finding a five sided pole would prove tricky and well beyond the budget. I popped into my local timber suppliers. They had a large quantity of oak from the Port of London Authority which I felt was ideal. I felt that it had a connection with the world and the people coming and going. Recycling is important to me and having a weathered feel would make the post feel 'at home' more quickly. With only four sides I opted to carve the languages that use a European script where I knew that I would be able to carve the letter forms correctly.

I now needed to get the translations done correctly and checked with several different people and organisations to be certain that they were absolutely right. An online translation gives a literal word by word conversion but wouldn't necessarily be grammatically proper (sic).

I was then fretting! Less than two weeks to have the wood delivered, cleaned and prepared, carved, collected and placed in position. I had teaching commitments too, so opted to carve at home when I would be able to put in the time saved by not traveling to the studio. My social life was non-existent! Somehow I managed and I had a celebratory cuppa once it was collected!

The day of the opening was glorious and I was off to meet Desmond Tutu! Chairs and tents decked the meadow, flags were fluttering, children from the school that Desmond Tutu's own children had attended sang in Xhosa, there were huge numbers of the clergy, speeches by local dignitaries, Suzanne Clarke and Terry Waite - and the Archbishop had a smile from ear to ear.

When the delegation went over to formally inspect and open the garden I followed. When I was introduced I held out my hand to shake but Desmond Tutu thought better and I got a wonderful hug.

Alexandra Harley

Guardian report.

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