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Waiting for fish

Immortalised in bronze, Holly Bendall’s sculpture finds its home by the sea.

Words by Hannah Tapping

Left | Dave, looking out to sea

Right by Rebecca Hawkey

Holly Bendall is a West Country girl. Born in Devon and brought up in Dorset, she touched upon sculpture at A-level, but actually went on to study sustainable product design at Falmouth University. On graduating, she emailed her portfolio to the high-end London-based cycling clothing label Rapha and was offered an internship in sustainability, instrumental in the early days of the brand, swapping out materials for more sustainable alternatives. “I then went on to work for Red Bull in sports marketing, which was like a dream come true at the time as I love extreme sports,” explains Holly. “But then mum became ill in my last year of working for them and I decided to re-evaluate things. That’s when I first got back into sculpture; it was a kind of therapy for me.” Holly had been travelling so much for Red Bull that she was based at her parents’ house in Dorset, which is where she met local sculptor Clare Trenchard: “One day I just wanted to get my mum out so that we could have a break from what was going on. We went to try and find some of Clare’s works that are located in Lyme Regis. We found a couple but not the ones I really wanted to show mum, so I ended up reaching out to Clare and going to her studio for a chat.”

This chance meeting was to be instrumental in changing the course of Holly’s career as she ended up being taken on as Clare’s assistant for a time. Moving between London and the West Country, it was when Covid hit that Holly moved to St Agnes in Cornwall.

Finding a new job for the American mountain bike manufacturer Cannondale running their social media, Holly worked from her house in St Agnes during lockdown. However, unsociable hours and the loneliness of working remotely took its toll, and so in a brave decision Holly left her job, put her house on the market and embarked on a year out: “I didn’t really know what lay ahead but I had started getting back into drawing and was introduced to poetry, and suddenly I felt there was a lot of creativity waiting to pour out of me.” Holly had always been someone who was very conscious about the environment and provenance, both in terms of her job and her lifestyle and seeing the BBC documentary, Fishing Lives, inspired her to discover more about fishing in Cornwall.

Left | The real Dave, Holly and Hugh by James Warbey

Middle by James Warbey

Right | Bird by Greenpeace - Ned Megaw

“While I waited for my house sale to go through, I ended up going to Cadgwith and falling in love with the place. It was the people there, the community and the passion that I felt made it very magical. I was trying to get a few sketchbooks together as I wanted to apply for a course and I ended up visiting Cadgwith pretty much every day during this time, sketching the local characters, the cliffs, the beaches and scanning the horizon for when the boats came in to land their catch so I could be ready to draw them too. Once the house sale went through, I moved back to Dorset and found myself a little lost again. My sculptor friend Clare suggested I fill my days by making a sculpture from one of my Cadgwith drawings. “I chose the sketch I had done of ‘Dave and Bird’ on my first day in Cadgwith, as it summed up so much to me.” Holly’s style of drawing is not exact; Clare taught her to look at the subject and not the page and to let the pencil movements flow, drawing a continuous line, capturing the essence of the character and the moment: “I try to draw from a feeling,” says Holly.

Holly was helping on one of Clare’s courses and in return was allowed to set up her own little corner in the studio. The course only ran for a few days, but Holly ended up staying two weeks in order to complete her project. “All I had for reference was the drawing. I wanted it to stay as true to that as possible, so I basically had to use my dad for the measurements! To start, I made a wooden armature structure which sits inside the sculpture and holds all the plaster. I then used scrim dipped in wet plaster to build up the shape. I also used wire, especially around the belly where it needed some reinforcement, and then it was a case of building up the shape as much as possible. I had to look at various different people sitting in different positions to get it just right.”

Using an old shirt and some jeans that her Dad hadn’t worn in a while, these were also dipped in plaster and draped over the sculpture to form the contours of Dave’s clothes. “The head was super-challenging and I started it too early, so I left that to the very end. You use the plaster a bit like butter icing, slowly building up, building up and building up before using a tool to sculpt the fine detail and definition. In fact, I just used this one tool that I found for the whole project, something akin to a palette knife, and became very attached to it!”

Left by Greenpeace - Ned Megaw

Right | Hugh, Dave and Bird by Greenpeace - Ned Megaw

“You have to work so fast with plaster as it sets so quickly, but once it’s gone off you can start to carve it back. So, it was a process of lots of pasting on and then waiting for it to go hard and then carving away and then pasting on again and repeating the process. It’s all-encompassing and all you can think about, which for me is why it was such an amazing thing to do. I had to be hyper-focussed which also made it very therapeutic as the carving is an incredibly slow process and very meditative. I spent about two weeks solid, maybe eight hours a day, of literally just sanding and smoothing.”

Dave was first exhibited in his plaster form a year ago at Holan, a pop-up gallery in St Ives which was also his first foray to Cornwall. “I took him in a trailer and he was in a studio looking over Porthmeor beach. On his last day there we took him out at dawn and sat him on the beach to watch the sunrise. It was from that moment that people began to ask if he was going to stay. Porthleven Arts Festival reached out and asked if I could bring him to the event in September. While meeting with them, owner of the Porthleven Harbour and Dock Company, Trevor Osborne asked me what my plans were long term for Dave to which I replied that I would love him to have a forever home by the sea but that he would need to be cast in bronze. Trevor’s reply was, “if you can raise the money to cast him in bronze, he can have a home in Porthleven!” It was perfect timing.”

The Crowdfunder was launched in May 2022 and with the target being reached in just a month, Holly was able to put the sculpture through the bronzing process. The Lost Foundry in Axminster cast Dave and Bird using the traditional ‘lost wax’ method, which took three months to complete.

Above by Greenpeace - Ned Megaw

“I went to meet the real Dave who I sketched for the first time back in Cadgwith, and had a cup of tea with him and his wife overlooking the cove whilst they told me stories about their pet seagull,” Holly reminisces fondly. “I gave them a miniature bronze of Dave and Bird and an etching of the sketch, and invited them to the unveiling that evening – it was so special with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall coming to unveil them, and local small-boat fisherman Jeremy delivering an incredible speech alongside Hugh and Dan Crockett from the Blue Marine Foundation on sustainable fishing and their hopes for the future. I was so grateful to have my mum fully recovered, and with my family and friends there to see how proud they were. It’s the best feeling to see and hear about all the people (and dogs) enjoying Dave and Bird and hopefully thinking about where their fish comes from.”

Completed just in time for the 2022 Porthleven Arts Fesitival, Waiting for fish, as the sculpture is officially titled, has found its final resting place sat atop a lookout shelter on Porthleven’s Breageside, where Dave and Bird will watch the fishing boats float in and out of the harbour, weathering the storms together for years to come.


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