Mantle – 0verall winner Driftwood and Sand 2023

Driftwood and Sand is a beach sculpture event held in the last week in January every year in Hokitika. Here is the story of my winning creation ‘Mantle’.

Usually, I spend quite a lot of time beforehand walking on the beach, looking for materials and inspiration. But this year I had family visiting and didn’t hit the beach until a couple days before the event.

There wasn’t a lot of driftwood but plenty of stones, so I decided to base my work on stones. I am always picking up interesting stones when I walk along the beach. Also, I had helped my daughter create a netted pounamu (jade) pendant before she returned to Australia and thought maybe I could use this technique with larger stones.

I found a long curved slender piece of driftwood, chose a good spot on the beach and stood it up. This formed the structural element which my husband, Rob, helped me anchor it into the sand more securely. I collected a lot of medium-sized flattish stones with interesting patterns and colours.

I made a couple of chains of netted stones as a trial. I used narrow strips of harakeke (flax/phormium tenax) to create the netted basket around each stone and then used the strips to connect the stones with a four-strand whiri (plait). The chains consisted of one to six stones.

Day one (Wednesday)

The trial chains were installed. I had no idea if either the piece of driftwood or the stone chains would be strong enough. But the first indication was promising. So began a labour of love over the next five days.

By the end of day.

Day two (Thursday)

I began making some chains on the beach but the weather deteriorated so I went home and made more chains of stones in my back porch.

Day three (Friday)

Beautiful sunny weather and I spent all day on the beach. I love working in this environment and talking with all the people who stop to look. I was encouraged by their comments and reactions. An interesting phenomenon arose. The longest chain starting rotating and kept this up all day. It must have been a combination of its length and the air movement. The wind increased as the day progressed and all the chains began moving. Also, there were interesting shadows. The work was starting to take shape but was still a long way from filling up the structure.

Day four (Saturday)

People kept asking what it was called. I had had a name in mind from the beginning but it only made sense if I filled the structure. As I wasn’t sure if I would achieve this, I called it something else “Stone Spirit”. Interestingly, the rotating chain from yesterday was no longer rotating. By the end of the day I had 19 chains hanging and estimated how many more I would need to make before midday the next day, and more importantly, how long this would take. I would need to make some overnight at home to achieve my goal and this is what I did.

Day five (Saturday)

I returned to the beach in the morning and hung the chains I had made overnight.

I just needed to make a few more short chains to complete it. So, I changed the title to “Mantle”, my original intention. Then I tied the chains more securely and trimmed the excess,  finishing just after midday. Whew!  I estimate I spent at least 40 hours working on the sculpture, most of these hours on the beach. But I was really pleased with what I had created.  105 stones in 33 chains.

At the prizegiving, I was thrilled to receive the judge’s special award for the “Most aesthetically pleasing” and then was even more thrilled, when I was named the overall winner. 

It is the second time I have been the overall winner, the previous being for “Voyage” in 2012 but in a much scaled down event.

The strings of stones in the back of my car a few days later when I removed the sculpture before a storm struck.

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