Author Philip Pullman unveils new Bodleian gargoyles based on children's designs

12 September 2009

OxUni_TCW_groesques2_7Award-winning children’s author Philip Pullman has unveiled the newest gargoyles of the Bodleian Library in a special ceremony today. The stone carvings are based on the drawings of nine schoolchildren from Oxfordshire following a competition launched by the University. For the very first time the winners have seen the grotesques gracing the north-west wall of the Bodleian Library when Mr Pullman has cut a giant ribbon at the unveiling ceremony.

The winning designs were selected from hundreds of competition entries. Children’s books provided inspiration with designs for the new grotesques including Tweedledum and Tweedledee from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and the lion Aslan from CS Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. Oxfordshire stone carvers, Alec and Fiona Peever, interpreted and transformed the winners’ designs into the finished grotesques. 

Winner Hannah Duckworth, 14 years old, created a drawing for ‘The Green Man’. She said: ‘It’s absolutely amazing. It’s turned out really well. It’s going to be there for so long and I will still be able to show it to people when I am much older. It will be a piece of history.’

13 year old George O’ Connor is very pleased with the grotesque based on his design of the ‘Dodo’. He said: ‘It is quite spiky and gothic and visceral. It’s amazing up there as part of Oxford history for ever.’

OxUni_TCW_groesques2_8Competition winner Alfie Turner, who is also 14 years old, is delighted with the grotesque of the founder of the Bodleian Library, Sir Thomas Bodley, which is based on his original drawing. He said: ‘It looks amazing. The transformation from 2D to 3D has been astonishing. I love the ruff they have given him. It was a vague little last minute detail that I put in my drawing but the way they have done it gives him a mysterious feel.’ He added: ‘I heard about the competition so I typed in the word ‘Bodleian’ on the internet and Sir Thomas Bodley’s name came up. I thought if anyone was worthy of a place on the Bodleian it was him.’

The University of Oxford decided to stage a competition inviting children to submit their ideas for replacement gargoyles and grotesques because the originals had crumbled away over many years with no historical record of what they had once looked like. The competition, entitled 'Millennium Myths and Monsters', was launched in June 2007 as part of a citywide festival celebrating 1,000 years of Oxfordshire.

Bodley’s Librarian, Dr Sarah Thomas, said: ‘I am delighted with the new grotesques, particularly given that many of them are based on characters from children’s best-loved books. They have been beautifully interpreted by the stone carvers who have managed to create grotesques that work as sculptures and yet still capture the original charm of the children’s drawings.’

Head of Building Conservation at the University of Oxford, Isobel Hughes, said: ‘I hope the winners will be able to revisit their stone carvings many times, bringing their children and their grandchildren to see them too. The grotesques will stare out over Oxford for hundreds of years and should still be around when the competition winners’ grandchildren are old and grey!’

The winners are George O’Connor from Oxford for ‘Dodo’; Hannah Duckworth from Oxford for ‘Green man’; Henry Chadwick from Oxford for ‘Three men in a boat’; Eva Masmanian from Oxford for ‘Tweedledum and Tweedledee’; Ben Bryant from Abingdon for ‘Wild Boar’; Alfie Turner from Longworth for ‘Sir Thomas Bodley’; Hayley Williams from Abingdon for ‘Aslan’; Kerrie Chambers from Bicester for ‘General Pitt Rivers’; and Alex Sermon from Abingdon for ‘From Myths to Monsters’ (based on Tolkien characters).

The unveiling will mark the launch of the festival Oxford Open Doors, a weekend of events organised by the Oxford Preservation Trust and Oxford University to celebrate the culture of the city and open the colleges and other University buildings to the public.

Debbie Dance, Director of Oxford Preservation Trust, who is leading Oxford Open Doors and is one of the judges of the competition, said: ‘We are delighted that the unveiling of the children’s grotesques will mark the start of this year’s Oxford Open Doors. The grotesques project is a tangible demonstration of the University’s commitment to the wider Oxford community as is their support for the open weekend.  Oxford Open Doors offers free access to many buildings and places across town and gown which are not usually open to the public, and with over 130 events taking place there is something for residents and visitors to the city of all ages to enjoy.’

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