Spirit of the Seas

A heritage in wood

Mr. Richard Hunter reports back from
his exhibition of merchant and naval figureheads


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    In one of the publicity leaflets for the International Festival of the Sea, they say four amazing days in the summer, the greatest festival ever assembled. It was wonderful to be even a relatively small part of this wonderful event, it had always been a dream of mine that for this very special 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, to hold an exhibition of both Naval and Merchant Figureheads and with the help of some very good friends, kind private and corporate sponsors, and the support of Leigh-Beth Campbell Animations Co-ordinator for the Festival, this was possible. With a background in graphic design, display and exhibition work, itís all been very much a in house project. As soon as the management at the festival gave me the go-ahead to start working on planning for the exhibition it was all hands to the pumps.From the very start I was anxious to get the British figurehead carver Andy Peters to come to Portsmouth for the full four days and set up his displays showing the wonderful work he has been doing for the replica of the 18th Century Swedish East India Company ship GOTHEBORG and at the same time demonstrate the art and tradition of Figurehead carving. Together with a selection of original Figureheads from both private and public collections, plus display boards showing the history of figurehead carving from the early 18th century right up to the present day.



    Any exhibition or event of this kind, cannot be a success without the help of others, and for this I have to thank most sincerely my very good friend Phil Hudson, with his team of workmen at his Sign company down in Dartmouth, he was
able to make all the display boards and stand, plus cut all the graphics and lettering for each board, the week before the festival I went down to Devon, to place the large black and white historic views showing figureheads on the bow, kindly done by Lee over at Glendale Nautical in New York, and
taken from the post-cards in my Heritage set. They looked wonderful above the original carvings, as far as possible I
tried to match up the male Figurehead with a male on the bow, or a Lady with a Rose with a beautiful female Figurehead.

    By 9.30 on the first day of the festival, we had built all the display stands, and put on them all the original figureheads, taken from both public and private collection, one of the more interesting was that of the SIR JOHN LAWRENCE from the collection of the Hartlepool Museums, together with three unknown female carvings from the Hull Maritime Museum, in East Yorkshire, at the same time I had my own half Figurehead of GEORGE the Unknown merchant Figurehead from the 1820. I had only just finished his restoration two days before we went down to Portsmouth. I was also very fortunate in that a local Devon company Trinity Marine loaned me three beautiful Female Figureheads from itís collection, as you can see from the following prints they all made a wonderful sight.As well as the Figurehead exhibition and Andy Peters carving.


Setting up the display boards at 6.30 in the morning of the 30th June in the exhibition marquee after leaving Dartmouth in South Devon at 3 AM, the start of a very long day, ( but worth all the hard work.)
    We also had within the exhibition a Figurehead competition for local Schools in the Hampshire area, with the ten finalists on display on boards or as in the case of the large models on the ground. As part of the Festival and to help promote T200 and the Royal Navy, a competition was organized to encourage 7-14 year olds to learn about the history of the Royal Navy and to develop their artistic skills in a nautical background, with a model figurehead competition, and I was asked to help the judging of 10 finalist. Other judges included Emma Tolhurst Director of Youth Children and Disabled Team, Rachel Rhodes, Education and Development Officer HMS VICTORY, and Frank Nowosielski CO HMS VICTORY. After a meeting down in Portsmouth on the 1st June, we made a list of the final 10, and asked each finalist to bring the model Figurehead down to Portsmouth, to be placed on display boards within the exhibition marquee. The prizes for the overall winner was a hosted ticket to the Trafalgar Square Event on the 23rd October, the winning figurehead placed on display in the Figurehead Gallery of the Royal Naval Museum, plus a wonderful trophy, a hand carved figurehead of Admiral Lord Nelson.

The final judging was done on the Youth and Education Day on the first day of the exhibition all the Final 10 models from the first round arrived in the marquee, with the students, and teachers, for the final judging.

    I had the honour of announcing the winner, the Holte School, with the Figurehead The Three Ages of Nelson and giving out all the prizes and making a speech. This all went very well indeed, and the students gave out a great cheer when the announcement was made.

Richard Hunter
The Figurehead Archives