Bruce Little’s latest sculpture is now greeting visitors to Longleat after a tortuous journey from South Africa, as he explains to Janet Menzies
To raise awareness for lions in the wild and conservation, Bruce Little has gone larger than life. Despite a journey as torturous as transporting the living counterpart, his enormous bronze statue is now safely installed at Longleat – and he can turn his attention to his legacy.
For more sporting artists, Daniel Crane’s enthusiasm for hunting infuses his paintings. And Luci Maclaren depicts traditional, sporting scenes in a vibrant, contemporary style.
Live African wildlife has been transported to Europe for exhibition since the time of the Roman Empire. Pliny writes about the capture of elephants and second-century sporting writer Oppian gives descriptions of lions being trapped in North Africa, using a pit to catch and hold a lion until a “plaited well-compacted cage” was lowered, baited with meat, so that the now-hungry lion walked into it.
Capturing the animal is one thing but the actual transportation of large African animals is still a massive problem for wildlife conservationists today. African wildlife sculptor and conservationist Bruce Little knows just what this is like. In February, his massive, much-larger-than-life-size bronze lion sculpture, called Dawn Patrol, goes into place at Longleat House to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Lions of Longleat, replacing the temporary fibre-glass version. The transportation of the enormous lion sculpture from Little’s South African home to Wiltshire has been every bit as challenging as the journeys undertaken by its living counterparts.
“Even the foundry where the lion was assembled had to increase the height of its doors to get the completed bronze out,” says Little, describing the complexities of the project. “Then it was put on rollers and we walked it out of the studio. Then we got a crane and put mounting points on the base of the sculpture so that we could lift it onto a low-loader for the next stage of its journey. The lion was too big for an ordinary shipping container so we had to have one purpose-made. That was too big to go in the hold, so it has travelled over the sea on the deck of the ship. Now it has docked in England and the whole process is repeated to get it up to Longleat.”
Compare this with the journey of the giraffe Zarafa, which travelled to Paris in 1827 as a gift from Muhammed Ali of Egypt to Charles X of France. Zarafa went over the Mediterranean by ship from Alexandria to Marseilles. A hole had to be cut through the deck above the cargo hold and Zarafa spent the month-long voyage with her head and neck poking through onto the deck. She arrived in the south of France in the autumn and the plan was then to ship her on up the Atlantic to the mouth of the Seine. However, it was too much to ask her to survive another long voyage so, instead, it was decided to walk her through France to Paris. Wearing a yellow coat and horse-shoes, and accompanied by a small herd of cows, she spent the next month or so wandering through Provence and northwards, growing inches – and a fan base. By the time she arrived in Lyon, a cheering crowd of 30,000 turned out to greet her.
Little would be delighted if his Longleat lion wins as much publicity. “With this project I really want to celebrate lions and I planned this massive lion to be a beacon for lions in the wild, because the conservation issue is so important. I want to raise awareness. The size was a way of attracting public attention and giving a voice to the animals. So the lion had to be even bigger than the lions in Trafalgar Square, though that means the challenge of making it has been long and complex.”
The lion is already meeting Little’s objectives. He explains: “I was a wildlife guide when I started and that is important to my sculpture, so it is wonderful to be able to bring the two together. The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation heard about what I was doing and gave me the opportunity to enter a copy into its auction last year, where it raised more than 14 million rand. Conservation runs in my veins and I want my work to make a positive contribution to that. I may only be able to achieve a little personally but if everybody did their bit the planet really would be a better place. I would make a lion twice that size if I thought it would help.”
After a successful exhibition in London, he has to get back into the studio to make more sculptures – but his next big idea is already forming. “I want to get a community art project going in Cape Town. There are great artists basically working on the streets and they find it very difficult to get a platform to show their work, so my next aim is to create a base and a structure for these talented young artists. It has taken me 20 years to get this far – now it is time to think about legacy.”
You can see Bruce Little’s enormous lion sculpture, Dawn Patrol, in place outside Longleat House, Wiltshire (www.longleat.co.uk). Visit his website, www.brucelittle.com, or his gallery on the corner of Church Street, Stellenbosch, South Africa.