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Devon artist makes stainless steel sculpture of his Suri Alpaca

PUBLISHED: 17:00 13 August 2013

John's sculpture of Emma

John's sculpture of Emma


Sculptor John Stewart spent over 400 hours perfecting the creation of his Alpaca, Emma

John working on the sculptureJohn working on the sculpture

Sculptor John Stewart has led a varied life in his route to becoming a scrap metal artist. After an apprenticeship as a welder in his home county of Essex, he moved to the South West during his twenties. Here, surrounded and inspired by Devon’s glorious countryside, he used his creative skills to renovate old houses and fitting them out with individually crafted items.

In 1994, he and his business partner set up their own engineering company, Devon Engineering Services. DES specialised in stainless steel fabrication, and despite working long hours, John still found time to nurture his creative mind, making fascinating and unique sculptures from any bits of scrap metal he could lay his hands on.

He took several courses in art and crafts, but it was through his work that John discovered his passion - exploring the versatility, beauty and creativity of stainless steel. His work became increasingly diverse, and through the nineties he was frequently commissioned to make architectural items such as the stainless steel Millennium Spire for the Denbury Cistern.

Struggling with the demands of working long hours and finding less time to be creative, John sold his business in 2004 and moved to France. He bought a beautiful old Maison de Maitre in the Charente Maritime and embarked on a total re-build and modernisation, a massive project that was to take him the next seven years.

Emma and her fellow Suri AlpacasEmma and her fellow Suri Alpacas

In 2011 John said goodbye to France and returned to Devon, keen to make sculptures again. He made several, and his beautiful angel wings were exhibited at the Gloss Gallery in Exeter. But it was when his partner, Karen, began to breed Alpacas, that inspiration truely hit once more. John quickly became fascinated by the gentle and intelligent animals, his favourite being Emma, a Suri Alpaca female, who became the star of his latest creation.

John spent weeks taking hundreds of photographs and measurements of Emma the Alpaca, eventually making a core frame in grade 304 stainless steel rod. During this time spent studying Emma, John became aware of how much Emma was studying him, and as he wanted to reflect this in his sculpture he decided to make her fleece out of individually cut and shaped pieces of sheet stainless steel. He had to cut and de-burr more than three thousand pieces, every one of them shaped and finished by hand in his labour of love. John then spent hundreds of hours hanging these tiny pieces on the core frame, adjusting each one to allow her “fleece” to move realistically even in the gentlest of breezes.

Perhaps the hardest part of all, John will tell you, was making her feet. These almost became works of art in themselves, so much so that he’s been asked by a breeder in Devon to make some individual feet as paperweights.

In total, John worked over 400 hours on his creation and the final touches were her gorgeous eyes made from glass supplied by the House Of Marbles in Bovey Tracey.

‘Emma’, now sculpted in steel, with her magical moving coat and her almost hypnotic expression, stands as gracefully as only a Suri Alpaca can. Her many admirers comment on how she ‘watches’ you in return as you admire her beauty. She’s been gaining much interest around the world, including South America (the true home of the Alpaca), the USA, and of course Alpaca breeders here in Devon.

Although ‘Emma’s’ permenant home has yet to be decided, John hopes she will find her place with someone who’s taken these beautiful Suri Alpacas to heart, just as he has.

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