Meet Jim Milner - shepherd turned sculptor

Former shepherd, passionate mathematician and talented sculptor Jim Milner in his South Yorkshire ga

Former shepherd, passionate mathematician and talented sculptor Jim Milner in his South Yorkshire garden - Credit: Archant

How a former shepherd is carving out a name for himself in the arts

Jim Milner has transformed his 19th century cottage garden into a stunning sculpture park

Jim Milner has transformed his 19th century cottage garden into a stunning sculpture park - Credit: Archant

Don’t let his lived in, practical appearance fool you. Jim Milner might favour comfy beige sweaters but he is nonetheless a very surprising man.

The 62-year-old former shepherd, passionate mathematician and talented sculptor has slowly but surely been transforming the landscaped garden of his 19th century cottage in Thurlstone into a stunning sculpture park. And now he’s inviting the public to enjoy the fruits of his labour with informal tours of the 20 or so large-scale pieces he has lovingly – and skilfully – created.

Jim, who has had a lifelong fascination with geometry, started carving stone when he was just 16 after discovering a mallet and chisel in his father’s shed.

He worked as a farm labourer and a shepherd for many years, and then took over a small farm in Thurlstone, a village near Penistone in South Yorkshire, rearing sheep, cattle and pigs, before taking a maths degree and eventually becoming a full time sculptor.

‘I’ve always been very independent minded,’ he said. ‘Being able to bring together my interest in geometry with art and my practical, hands-on skills as a farmer has been a dream come true.’

Born just outside Paris, Jim moved with his family to Cologne when he was five. His parents eventually retired to Thurlstone, where they set out on a mission to teach him about art and literature.

Most Read

‘Most of my art education was gained around the dinner table,’ said Jim. ‘My father took me to galleries in London, Germany and France and my mother had a degree in English and studied Anglo Saxon, so I was learning from them all the time.’

He was also influenced by sculptors Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Peter Randall-Page, and artists like William Blake, Georges Braque, Ben Nicholson and John Piper. His own work is now widely-acclaimed, selling well both in the UK and abroad.

‘I carved a lot of my early work in the farmyard, whilst shepherding,’ he said. ‘I even had sculptures positioned all over my fields for a while – they looked appropriate set in a rural landscape.’

Following the serious drop in lamb prices in 1999, Jim decided enough was enough and the time had finally come to quit farming and follow an alternate passion – maths. He took the bold but ultimately successful step of taking a degree at Sheffield Hallam University and hasn’t looked back since.

Throughout all his mathematical adventures, Jim has continued to create his sculptures and now bases much of his work on the paradox of the Mobius strip, a seemingly impossible, never-ending loop of paper which has only one surface.

Since taking over his father’s house ten years ago, he has remodelled the garden to provide the perfect gallery for his carvings, blending his sculptural pieces into a landscape which includes natural springs, waterfalls and ponds.

‘It’s a place which is very dear to my heart,’ said Jim. ‘I played here as a boy and I had the freedom to wander around, so the garden almost became part of my personality.

‘My designs are influenced by the elemental shapes I see in nature, such as sand dunes and snowdrifts. I carve in locally-sourced sandstone and the finished pieces are positioned to reflect the light and make the best of the Yorkshire weather.’

Jim’s commissioned work includes a war memorial and boundary stones for Thurlstone, his beloved home village, and a sculpture for a new garden at Cotswold Care Hospice in Gloucestershire, which was visited by HRH Prince Charles in December 2013.

His interest in mathematics has also led him to produce a series of engravings celebrating some of his own geometric ideas as well as the history of mathematics.

Now his sculpture garden is ready for public perusal. If you would like to visit Rose Cottage, you can make an appointment with Jim by calling 01226 763124, emailing or clicking on