Meet the artist creating a dinosaur for Eaves Green in Chorley
- Credit: Linda Viney
Sculptor Thompson Dagnall has been getting his teeth into a monstrous new piece of work. Linda Viney went to visit him
In a small Lancashire village, a monster is starting to come to life. With giant, jagged teeth delicately holding an egg and eyes that seem to size you up as a potential meal, this dinosaur is gradually emerging from a large piece of sandstone.
It one of the latest works by Thompson Dagnall, almost certainly the county’s most prolific creator of public works of art. This commission will eventually become a talking point on a housing estate at Eaves Green in Chorley.
Thompson does a lot of research before embarking on a project and he talks about the timeline stretching back to when the area was embedded on red sandstone and dinosaurs were around long before the ‘Ascent of Man’ from apes to modern man. ‘Some might say descent of man,’ he says with a glint in his eye.
The huge rock he is currently chiselling away at was sourced from a quarry at St Bees on the Cumbria coast and the geology is important. ‘For example, the red sandstone needed here wouldn’t have fitted in when I did a sculpture of the Tolpuddle Martyrs in Dorset. There I used local Portland stone,’ he explains
‘The idea for that work was to draw people in. A long stone bench, raised up in the manner of a dock or a gibbet, was backed by six posts with only one occupied, allowing visitors to sit alongside. However, with this work here I am still delving into history and geographical features and plan to include footprints leading from one piece to the next. Sculpting is a journey.’
He is also working on a buzzard, a bird of prey regularly seen over the nearby Yarrow Valley Country Park. He chose to depict this magnificent bird spreading its wings and tail over its food, an action ornithologists call mantling.
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Another local commission is a testament to Myles Standish, the Lancastrian who travelled on the Mayflower with the pilgrims, electing him as military commander of Plymouth Colony, a post he held until his death. The portrait of Standish is created by relief carving, and at the far end of the block of stone there is a Davy lamp, a nod to the fact this was a mining area.
Once all the research is done - he will visit the area first to get a lay of the land and the type of stone found in the area - then he explains the concept to clients, though the actual designs are in his head. He will often say: ‘Trust me, I’m a sculptor.’
Thompson also works in wood and while Dutch Elm disease ravaged trees across Britain, for woodcarvers, it meant a bonanza as limitless supplies of the material became available. Even the darkest clouds have a silver lining.
One of those artists was the young Thompson who was off to Chelsea College of Arts. The availability of elm meant he could concentrate on wood carving and his mother was so delighted with a sculpture of a gargoyle that she sent him a fiver. This set him into his way to becoming professional sculptor, today using anything from stone and wood to casting in metal.
Born in, as he puts it, ‘the posh part of Kirkby’ in Liverpool, he now works from the family home in Bretherton, near Chorley. Although I met him working on this large project, he also gets commissions for small features for people’s gardens. ‘Sometimes when a tree has to come down people ask me to create a feature such as an owl on the remaining trunk,’ he says.
He took me down to a log cabin he constructed and where several indoor sculptures created in wood were displayed. These included Man with Teeth, which he feels shows his own mortality, and Knuckle Down Man, his take on the Piltdown Man. Being at the far end of the garden, this is also somewhere he can escape and, as a musician, he can jam with friends without disturbing anyone.
As we walked back to the house I spotted a stone mask. ‘This was created when I was demonstrating at Earl’s Court,’ he says, a remark which led me to discover he is very involved in the community. He has had considerable experience running projects some as sculptor in residence.
He has also worked at Beacon Fell Country Park, where you can see several of his works, as well as numerous school and community based projects chiefly for The Groundwork Trust at St Helens, Blackburn, Rossendale, Wirral and Wigan. Thompson explains they always have a hands-on element and are invariably met with great enthusiasm by the participants.
It is clear he loves his job and is prepared to take challenges – though his passion was put to the test when he worked on a sculpture at Junction 4 on the M65 in atrocious weather conditions. However, the end result, demonstrating the regeneration of the area with the Blackburn Rovers’ motto Arte et Labore was given rave reviews.
His next project is across the Pennines in Hull where, with his daughter Tilly, he will work on a memorial to the First World War involving the creation of a trench and incorporating the portraits of young men using pictures of local teenage lads.
As he chips away at his dinosaur, there is no disguising the sense of humour, creativity, passion and great craftsmanship that shines in everything he makes.
Like most artists, Thompson’s career hasn’t been entirely without controversy. A couple of years ago he created a beehive sculpture next to the children’s play area in Hyde park in Manchester.
However, the wooden work of art got the chop – quite literally – after someone with an over-active imagination deemed it ‘too rude’.
A few days after being unveiled, staff were ordered to take it down. Thompson told the local paper he had been informed it was ‘too phallic’. At the time he was quoted as saying: ‘It was a fair stretch of the imagination to have it as something phallic. I find it a bit sad and a bit silly.’
You can find out more about Thompson Gagnall’s work at www.sculpturecarving.com