Finishing the clay sculpture of my Barton’s Chair Commission

After 2 weeks of very hard work I have finished the clay sculpture part of my Barton’s Chair Commission for Tonbridge School’s new science building – the Barton Centre. In the final sculpture, six copies of the man and 12 of the baby come together into the hexagonal ring structure of cyclohexane.

The work celebrates the achievement of Derek Barton an alumni of Tonbridge who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on the chair and boat isomers of Cyclohexane. The work combines the scientific accuracy of a molecular structure with a human call for connection and cooperation. In the world of the great novelist and Old Tonbridgian, E. M. Forster: ‘Only Connect’.

Small bronze sculpture of Cyclohexane the inspiration for Barton's Chair

First the creation of the armatures

The photos show the creation of a tetrahedral armature. This three-sided pyramid allowed me to turn my sculpture in different orientations. This allowed me to see if it was working well from all viewpoints. It also ensured that the precise geometry of the molecule was maintained at all times. I then had to play with the human anatomy to create a pair of believable dynamic figures in clay that highlight the movement and energy of the connections. The man represents the carbon atoms, the baby is the much smaller hydrogen atoms.

Cutting and welding the tretrahedral armature
The first stage was the welding the tetrahedral armature


photo of Briony attaching an aluminium armature in the shape of a human, to a the geometric metal structure.
Next I combined the geometric tetrahedral armature made of steel, with a human aluminium armature. A bit like combining the two sides of my practice – the science and the humanities.

Preparing the armatures for the clay



The finished combined armature (figures and geometry).
The finished combined armature. This was toward the end of the first week.

Starting work on the clay

My sculpture tools laid ready to start working in clay
My sculpture tools laid out ready for me to start working in Clay. You can also see the small armature for the extra baby’s arm which will be holding the man’s right hand


It is interesting to note that there will have 2 babies per man in the final sculpture. However I have only sculpted one baby holding the man’s left hand. This baby will then be repeated holding the man’s other hand. To make this work seamlessly, I also sculpted a second version of the baby’s right hand and arm holding the man’s right hand.

Photographs of the finished clay

Shots of the final clay - the baby and man are looking into each other's eyes to represent the bond between the hydrogen and the carbon.
Shots of the final clay – the baby and man are looking into each other’s eyes to represent the bond between the hydrogen and the carbon.


Finished Clay sculpture
Finished Clay sculpture
Final shot of me working on the man's left hand from Saturday.
Final shot of me working on the man’s left hand from Saturday.


So after 13 days hard work in the studio, the finished clay sculpture is handed over to the fabricators. They now commence the next stage of its creation: moulding and casting.

More information about this commission is available on the Tonbridge School website.

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