A pat on the dragon’s head – one of the secrets of Romney Marsh

Rural Chruch with sheep and stream in foreground.
“St Clements and Romney Marsh Sheep” by brianfuller6385

Despite the risk of rain, I made a repeat visit to Hope All Saints Memorial Garden and Sculpture Park recently. Everything was looking especially green in the late afternoon sun when I arrived, something to do with the angle of the rays I think. 

Briony Kapoor, one of the trustees and creative director of the project, took me on a guided tour.  The donkeys in the paddock closest to the road brayed a welcome as we entered the gate while the four Soay sheep, Mathew, Luke and John made a beeline for the hay on the other side seizing their opportunity for a tuck in while the donkeys backs were turned.

St George in full regalia is shown gently patting the dragon on the head presumably advising that in contemporary times issues are settled by negotiation rather than by force.  The dragon with half closed eyes and curled lip appears to agree.

The entire work in clay is glorious and a triumph of both composition and technique.  The same artist has recently completed St Patrick for the site.  He is an austere looking character on a pillar decorated with shamrock while all the snakes of Ireland flee from its base.

In austere contrast St Andrew of Scotland by Robert Powell is shown overseeing the history of that nation. He wears a tartan halo and is atop a narrow pyramid tower. Each side is mounted with etchings on copper plate that tell the stories of the land north of Hadrian’s Wall. If you don’t know your history it will be hard to read this one but, a warning, one panel shows two fat Scotsmen eating a deep fried Englishman. 

Ruined church

Beyond the moat that surrounds the ruined church on all four sides are a number of wonders.  Amongst them works worthy of considerable admiration are the Quaker Light Sculpture, Mahatma Gandhi and the very beautiful St Agnes. Respectively these are by Louise V. Durham of Shoreham by the Sea, Nicola Ravenscroft of London and Dan Davidson of Canterbury. The variety of materials used includes, here in order, stained glass, bronze resin and Portland stone.

I understand that saints are the subject because the ruins about which the sculptures are presented are those of the 12th century Hope All Saints Church. Each figure will be of a traditional saint with distinctive iconography, a saint with local connections or a person outside the Catholic Canon who has greatly benefitted humanity – a person or a group of any race or religion. 

Thus, the sculpture park has become the first liberal and inclusive one, Interfaith and Humanist, in Britain. It is a mark of the forward-looking vision of the IMOS Foundation that recommends them highly.

On one bank of the moat an array of stained glass and decorated windows each dedicated to a different religion will be completed soon. If you can read Arabic and Hebrew script or know your Yin from your Yang you can soon work out which is which. Beethoven and Mozart carved in hardwood by Estonian artist Juri Vavulin are to join the throng soon, while Chinese artist Mr Li is working on Confucius.

The whole place has a beauty and tranquillity that draws visitors back more than once. A simple phone call to the IMOS Foundation (01797 363099) is all that is required to arrange a visit. I understand that the Roger de Haan Charitable Trust has been one of the funders together with the KCC through their Member’s Grants programme. 

The modesty of the overall budget has meant that creative solutions and original interpretations are the norm for the works. Indeed, they are encouraged and given precedence as are younger and less well-known artists.