Harrogate artist's work at centre of flower celebration at sculpture park

Artist Anna Whitehouse
Artist Anna Whitehouse

A major new sculpture will celebrate what’s believed to be the largest collection of rhododendrons in the North of England.

It will be unveiled at the spring opening of Yorkshire’s Himalayan Garden and Sculpture Park.

Harrogate artist, Anna Whitehouse, will complete two giant spheres adorned with hundreds of individual pollen grains sculptured from clay.

Visitors will be able to see her in action over the first few days of the garden opening to the public from Tuesday April 16.

Based near Ripon, the award-winning garden and open-air gallery boasts more than 80 sculptures over 45 acres, featuring an arboretum and three lakes.

Anna said: “When I first approached the concept of the sculpture I knew that the gardens had this huge collection of rhododendrons and I wanted to create something that celebrated that and invited viewers into the fascinating, microscopic world of pollen grains, which is something I’ve been working with for a couple of years.”

Anna’s work has evolved from growing up in the region with a love of landscape; the sculptures are designed to awaken a sense of wonder and appreciation of the natural world.

The artwork marks a new path that’s been installed to allow visitors to view the rhododendron collections up close for the first time.

Anna said: “I viewed the path as a Himalayan temple with these rare species within. The two sculptures on plinths act as a gateway, similar to the Indian gateways which mark the entrance to a shrine or temple, which are often covered with exquisite sculptures, so as you walk through you get a sense of what lies beyond.”

The designs are based on microscopic images of pollen, working in collaboration with research students at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh - the largest research institution of rhododendrons since the 19th century.

The clay used was dug from the gardens.

“The clay is a wonderful rich terracotta colour which really fits with the colours of the Buddhist temples, with rich reds and bronze. To be able to finish it in clay from site really gives that sense of place and celebrates the landscape. People who visit the garden are aware of what the flowers look like, but not the pollen, so it gives an insight into a hidden world.”

The project took two months to design. Anna created 400 individual pollen grains with support from Harrogate College who appointed her an Artist-in-Residence to access their giant kilns.

Anna’s work will join six new major sculptures in the gardens by internationally-renowned conceptual artist Dr Subodh Kerkar, founder of the largest contemporary art space in India, the Museum of Goa.

Peter Roberts, who created the gardens with his wife Caroline, commissioned the Indian artist as an admirer of his work. Kerkar’s work also combines natural materials from the gardens, including 3,000 pine cones with 10,000 shells shipped from Goa.

Also new for 2019 is Norse Shelter by local craftsman Paul Grainger, an example of Viking occupation in the area.

Owner Peter said: “We started the garden because the acid soil, abundance of springs and microclimate is ideal for growing Himalayan plants. The planting enhances our large, internationally recognised art collection and we add more features every year.”

Anna added: “The gardens are an absolutely stunning space. When I first visited this hidden valley just opened up into a beautiful, serene calm space, which you just wouldn’t expect – it’s just so lovely. It’s clearly a family that really cares and loves their gardens and artwork and wants to create this beautiful space for people to enjoy.”

The Himalayan Garden and Sculpture Park opens for 2019 between April 16 and July 14, and October 5 to November 3. Opening hours are 10am-4pm on Tuesdays to Sundays and Bank Holidays.