See & Do

Brand New Willow Sculpture Trail Installed at the Heights of Abraham

By J Farrington

12 January, 2022

There's more to see and do than ever before at the Heights of Abraham, and to set the year off, renowned Cheshire artist Caroline Gregson has been commissioned to install five intricate willow sculptures across the 60-acre hilltop estate. 

The sculptures aim to bring to life moments in history that have all played their roles in shaping the Heights of Abraham into the place it has become today. Each moment in history, although not all significant moments, are important to be remembered as a unique period in time all experienced on the same hilltop that visitors of the present stand on today. 

From a 15th Century farmer and his herd of sheep, to a 17th Century miner and his son taking a break to enjoy a spot of snap. The sculptures celebrate visitors of the past from all periods of time.

The first two sculptures will be installed for the opening date of the 11th of February, with the rest following on throughout the Spring. Tickets for the Heights of Abraham are now on sale.

Willow Sculpture of children playing.

But how does she create the sculptures?

1. Caroline discusses ideas with a client. She then researches and shares photos and drawings to ensure all parties agree on the concept. 

2. Then, more detailed drawings and descriptions are made for approval.

3. Using the drawings, Caroline creates small scale models (macquettes) of the steel support frame structures required for the willow sculptures. These are sent to her blacksmith and are scaled up and made by him.

4. She then covers the steel with a layer of randomly wrapped willow to allow her to attach the structures that make up the sculpture to the frame.

5. The willow is woven into hollow spheres and Caroline attaches these to the frame, gradually working out to where the approximate edge of the sculpture will be. At this stage the sculpture is still unrecognisable.

6. Once the body is made, Caroline can now weave the surface. It is really important to get the surface as smooth as possible so there is a real contrast with the muddle of random weaving that makes up the structure to this point.

7. Finally, Caroline adds the detail. There is a limit to how much detail she can represent because of the limitations of the material, so she is careful to give an essence of what should be there. The viewers eyes and imagination are clever things, and fill in the rest.

A little more about Caroline Gregson...

From the very first moment she wove a basket using willow rods, Caroline knew she was going to be inspired by the material. Willow is a fascinating tree and the process of coppicing is one which keeps her very much tied to the land and the seasons, a truly sustainable process.

Her initial shaky steps into basketmaking over 20 years ago were driven by a love of gardening and a desire to make structures to support plants in my garden. It wasn’t long before friends and family were regularly receiving gifts of wonky willow baskets!

With a desire to learn more, Caroline completed an HND in Design Crafts at Wrexham NEWI (now Glyndwr University). Help from basketmaking friends and lots of practise honed her craft over the years. Caroline became more certain that she was interested in the form of what she made, rather than its specific function. It wasn’t a difficult step from here into creating lifelike sculpture.

Her sculptures are rooted in tradition using weaving methods that can be seen throughout history. She prefers to use unstripped willow and other natural materials in her work, with the material often being a guiding force behind the design.

A willow sculpture of a stag.

Visit the Heights of Abraham to see the intricate weavings and workings of Caroline Gregson's sculptures come to life on Masson Hill. For a look at what else is new in 2022, click here.