Artist profile - Woolley Moor sculptor Andy Knighton

A double sculpture of Spitfires in flight

A double sculpture of Spitfires in flight - Credit: Archant

A chance decision to create a metal sculpture has seen engineer Andy Knighton’s career going in a completely different direction, Mike Smith writes.

Andy Knighton at work on the sculpture of a Short Stirling he is making for a memorial at the former North Creake Bomber Base

Andy Knighton at work on the sculpture of a Short Stirling he is making for a memorial at the former North Creake Bomber Base - Credit: Archant

The exhilarating experience of taking a brief drive in a Ferrari was the catalyst for Andy Knighton to embark on a hobby of building his own racing cars. Using the skills he had acquired while working at his father's construction firm, supplemented by a good deal of trial and error, he learnt how to adapt and re-design road cars for use in 'Special Saloon Car Racing'.

Showing me a racing version of a Lancia Stratos, which he had modified until it shared almost no features with the original car, Andy said: 'Rules governing adapting road cars for use in this class of racing allow for an enormous amount of latitude, so the designing and building of the Stratos and several other cars gave me a lot of satisfaction. Also, the cars proved to be very successful in competition, usually with my brother Simon at the wheel - he is a much better driver than me.'

As Andy admits, a hobby involving the building up of cars from little more than an existing floor plan, together with the installation of new mechanical parts, was so time-consuming that it allowed him very little opportunity for social contact. The small amount of free time he did have outside his daily job and the many hours he spent in his workshop on racing-car construction was devoted to sailing a dinghy at the sailing club at Ogston Reservoir, near to his home in Woolley Moor in north-east Derbyshire.

When the club began making plans to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2010, Andy realised that he would be invited, along with all the other members of the club, to attend the Anniversary Ball that was being arranged. Knowing that his lack of social skills would make attendance at the event too stressful, he decided that he would show his support for the club in some other way.

The sculpture made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Ogston Sailing Club

The sculpture made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Ogston Sailing Club - Credit: Archant

Inspiration on this occasion came from a remark made by a friend to whom he had shown a section of an exhaust system he had designed. When his friend declared that the construction was 'a work of art', Andy began to wonder if he might be able to use his engineering skills to create 'real works of art'. It was this thought that made him decide to produce a steel sculpture of a sailing dinghy he would be able to present to the club to mark their special occasion.

When the members of the club saw the sculpture, which has the number 50 integrated into its structure, they heaped praise on Andy and urged him to attend the ball, where the sculpture could be received formally in the presence of the members. Andy said, 'I resisted all attempts to make me hand over my sculpture in some sort of ceremony, but I did agree to turn up for a drink at the end of the anniversary evening.'

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The positive reception that members of the sailing club gave to his dinghy sculpture not only boosted Andy's self-confidence but also made him resolve to produce further sculptures. His second effort was to make a representation of a Spitfire, chosen because he had always admired the distinctive shape of the legendary aircraft. He said, 'The most important decision I made was to mount my sculpture of the fighter plane on a tall pole, allowing it to be seen from below against the background of the sky, as if it were actually in flight.'

More sculptures followed, including one depicting two Spitfires flying in formation, as well as several other constructions designed to mimic winged creatures in flight, with owls and dragonflies being favourite subjects. Andy quickly realised that he was obtaining more pleasure from creating these sculptures than he had ever done from constructing racing cars.

An A C Cobra, the most recent and last car to be built by Andy Knighton

An A C Cobra, the most recent and last car to be built by Andy Knighton - Credit: Archant

He said: 'I have just finished building an A C Cobra. Whilst this is a beautiful and powerful car, I found the process of making it rather like constructing Meccano, so I decided that it would be the last car I would make. As well as giving up my former hobby, I have also stopped working in the family business, enabling me to devote all my time to making sculptures. My life has also changed in an even more important way. After remaining single until my mid-forties, I met Alison in 2015. We are now very happily married and Alison gives me a lot of encouragement to pursue my art. In fact, I think it was seeing a photograph of my sculpture of an owl on Facebook that probably sparked her interest in me in the first place!'

The artist has now extended his repertoire by constructing some large-scale sculptures. These include a model of a Lancaster Bomber with a 22ft wingspan, which Andy has donated to the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre. The curators are so pleased with this gift that they refer to it fondly as 'The Gate Guardian', having positioned it at the entrance to the former Second World War airfield at East Kirkby, where the centre's Lancaster is housed.

The sculpture Andy is working on currently is a response to a commission he has received from Claire Nugent and Nigel Morter, the proprietors of a unique vegetarian Bed and Breakfast housed in the control tower of a former bomber base at North Creake in Norfolk. This new sculpture, which also has a 22 ft wing span, will be an accurate representation of a Short Stirling, which was the first four-engine bomber to be used by the RAF and flew from Norfolk on secret missions in support of D-Day.

Nigel and Claire, who bought the control tower in 2011 and have furnished their novel B & B with suitable period features, aim to create a fitting memorial on the former airfield to the airmen who were based at North Creake. Nigel said: 'At the present time, we are fundraising for the project and our aim is to have the memorial in place by August 2020, which is the 75th anniversary of the disbandment of RAF North Creake. Having seen examples of Andy's sculptures on Facebook and having gone to see his installation at East Kirkby, we think that his art is amazing. We have been delighted to commission him to produce a sculpture of the Stirling to be used as the centrepiece of our memorial.'

An owl sculpture

An owl sculpture - Credit: Archant

With this important commission and with lots of positive comments being received from various parts of the country in response to photographs of Andy's work on the internet, there is little doubt that the Derbyshire artist's 'flying sculptures' are taking off in a big way. u

Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, East Kirkby, Spilsby, PE23 4DE, The Control Tower, 'a vegetarian B& B with a generous helping of history', Bunkers Hill, Egmere, Walsingham, Norfolk NR22 6AZ, 01328 821574, For Andy Knighton see, email: