Floral Tribute

_DSF2127©Geoff Wilkinson

Nicola Burrell is the artist behind South Woodford’s iconic flower sculptures, installed opposite George Lane roundabout 20 years ago. Photo by Geoff Wilkinson

It’s lovely to be asked to write something about my flower sculptures on their 20th birthday. It is hard to believe that it was two decades ago, and that many of the school children who took part in the project will now have children of their own, who might themselves have grown up with the flower sculptures. 

What pleases me most is the obvious affection people have for the flowers. This was not the universal feeling when I first made them, when some thought them an odd intrusion between The Shrubberies and George Lane, but that is often the case with public artworks. It takes time for them to ‘grow’ into a place and become part of people’s fond memories. 

The project all began when Redbridge Council commissioned me to work with Churchfields Infants School, Oakdale Infants School, Wells Primary School and Churchfields Junior School to design a new sculpture for South Woodford, by making art together, exploring the themes of nature and flowers. We did this by making lots of flowers out of cardboard and painting and colouring them.

After working in the schools, I went away and built a big model of the whole of the George Lane roundabout and worked out the overall design with little maquettes of the flower sculptures, about two inches high. This model then led to making full-size patterns in wood for the sculpture, which I had cut out in Southend and then took to my studio near Colchester, where I formed all of the flowers and welded and painted the sculpture. 

For me, this was a very special commission. I trained as a painter and sculptress in Belfast. Up until the flowers, I had made lots of big, three-dimensional paintings and constructions, all built from either wood, thin steel metal or cardboard, but I hadn’t yet made a big, permanent public artwork for outside, and it was the first time I’d worked in thick steel. The whole project was part of a joyful time, which I think is reflected in the fun and happy character of the flowers.

I like making artworks that are visually appealing and tactile, and I trust my instincts and imagination to come up with them. You don’t need a degree in art to appreciate the flowers, and I often surprise myself in coming up with ideas. You could say they have something anthropomorphic about them, they add something fun and strange to George Lane, but when I see children playing about them, I think they have understood them, as well as me, and anybody else.

For more information and to contact Nicola, email n.burrellartist@gmail.com