Baroness Floella Benjamin completed her tenure as Chancellor of the University of Exeter in 2016 and this sculpture commemorates her time here at the University.
The sculpture is a bust of Floella Benjamin and includes her hands giving the work a very tactile quality and capturing the way she stood as she greeted each student at graduation.
Creation of the work involved ten sittings over a four month period for the artist to complete a clay model which was then cast in bronze.
To assist in the sculpting of Floella Benjamin’s hands and to reduce her time sitting, a plaster cast of her hands was taken.
The clay, which weighed 60 kg, was transported very carefully to London from the sculptor’s Ashburton studio for each sitting. The final bronze sculpture was poured at the Arch Bronze Foundry in Putney.
The most challenging part for the sculptor was Floella's hair as it was important not to make it heavy and flat. So the sculptor had to find a way to give the clay life and lightness.
The easiest part for the sculptor was bringing the clay to life as Floella has such a buoyant personality, although the artist said that sometimes it was difficult to see her expression as she had so many wonderful stories to tell of her childhood and coming to Britain when she was nine years old. He said that Floella was wonderful and immediately made him feel at ease.
Floella herself was surprised to see different aspects of herself when seen from different angles. She could also see a resemblance of her father in the clay almost from the second sitting, as well as one of her brothers.
The siting of the work is close to the students Guild, where Floella is now ready to greet the students as they pass by.
The sculptor was Luke Shepherd, originally from Cardiff and now based in Ashburton, Devon.
Luke is one of the few sculptors in the SW creating bronze portrait sculpture. He finishes and patinates all his own bronzes having studied sculpture at Cardiff Art College and the Royal College of Art.
He said of his working methods, "A portrait bronze must capture an essence and be instantly recognisable. I try to start with a totally open mind and let the sitter’s personality impress itself upon me.”
Luke has created portrait sculptures of celebrities and politicians and has works in national museums across the UK. His work has been exhibited at the Royal Academy London and the Académie Des Beaux-Arts, Paris.
Photograph: © University of Exeter