Maureen Halson, the internationally regarded figurine sculptress whose beautifully studied creations are works of art on the highest level, decided this year to make a truly big statement, not just about her art but about women.
Gone are the days of gender-separated toyshops. Why shouldn’t boys play with dolls and girls play with Action man? ‘My little pony’ has become ‘My big stallion’ and Maureen, through her sheer professionalism, has created something Bagni has not seen for a long time, perhaps ever! It’s a statement not just about her art but about the politics of gender.
Here is a picture of what I’ve personally christened as ‘Zesty Ziggy’. He’s a shire horse with (I think) a large mix of Clydesdale blood in him, as he stood in Maureen’s studio:
Hearkening back to mediaeval times when such horses were used not just for transporting knights in armour together with their bassinets, shields and lances but also for hauling tree trunks (they are still used for forestry work today) shire horses were later used, like HGVs today, to transport heavy essential loads. I’m old enough to remember such essential loads being carried from Mortlake brewery by a pair of these wonderful beasts. The beer never tasted quite the same again after the brewery decided to change over to motorised transport in the 1980’s.
Regrettably, the only shire (or dray horse) to be seen in London today is that lovely statue to Jacob, who worked for the Courage Brewery near Tower Bridge (in fact, the whole area is known to this day as Horsleydown, = ‘Horse-lie-down’, a place where horses could rest and have a hay-break). We would often make a slight detour on our motorbike to circle round this horse that faithfully brought liquid joy to the mouths of thousands of parched Londoners for so many years.
I believe that if you visit the Wadsworth Brewery in Devizes Wilts you’ll still be able to catch the wonderful shire horses delivering their wares.
(Wadsworth’s magificent beasts)
Anyway, let’s get back to Zesty Ziggy, which Maureen modelled using papier-maché over a chicken wire frame (very much like the float displays at Viareggio’s carnival).
(The artist Maureen Halson, who originally hails from Birkenhead, with her White Shire Stallion)
We had to transport the magnificently virile beast down from high-above Granaiola to Bagni di Lucca Ponte’s Casinò in time for tomorrow’s opening of the week of celebrations, ‘Omaggio alla Donna’, for International Women’s day which is on March 8th.
Coordinating a goodly team consisting of Silvano, truck-driver and master-builder, myself and some locals we managed to lure Zesty to the truck, tucked him in rather unceremoniously on his back, fastened his various safety belts round about together with some sundry cushions and took him down the winding mountain road to the banks of the Lima River.
Now, as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink it. That wasn’t a problem, however, with Ziggy.
Zesty headed instead for the grand ballroom of the casinò where he now stands proud and erect (in more ways than one) before the orchestra stand.
If you are a woman (or even a man) don’t forget to attend the grand opening tomorrow, Sunday, at 5 pm at the Casinò.
In case you don’t have the week’s programme here it is:
See you there and have your picture taken with the biggest and most beautiful creature in Bagni di Lucca!
(On left Morena Guarnaschelli, indefatigable Festival organiser for the fourth time, with artist Maureen Halson on the right – and Stallion in the centre – at Bagni di Lucca’s Sala dei Gigli at the Casinò)