A STUNNING SCULPTURE ON GUILDFORD CASTLE GROUNDS
By C M Rubin with Jeanne Argent
On August 14, 1868, a young clergyman by the name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson visited Guildford in Surrey, England for the first time. He was age 36, and he was house hunting. By this time he had become the famous author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (which had been published three years earlier under the name of Lewis Carroll).
Carroll’s father had died in June, 1868, and left him as head of the family, responsible for finding a home for his six unmarried sisters. Within a few days of his visit to Guildford, the new Dodgson family home was selected. In November of that year, the family moved into “The Chestnuts”, a large house built around 1861 that stood near the Guildford Castle grounds. This home remained the Dodgson family home until 1919. Although Lewis Carroll never actually lived in the house (he was a don at Christ Church Oxford where he had rooms), he visited his family often at “The Chestnuts”.
“In 1988,” said Jeanne Argent, “Guildford Borough Council acquired the back garden of “The Chestnuts” in Castle Street. An idea was suggested for a sculpture to be sited in the garden. The theme was to be “Alice”. Mutual General Insurance Limited, a local business which had offices in the town, agreed to fund the casting as a publicity project, and a competition was announced to the sculpture department of the local Adult Education Institute. Several sketches were sent by students to the Borough Council offices, and three of these were selected to be realised as three dimensional maquettes.
I was a then mature student at the sculpture department and did not get involved until after the shortlist had been made. I was asked by my tutor, the late Trevor Collis, if I would consider making one of the maquettes because the person who had submitted that particular design was a painter, not a sculptor. The idea had come from one of the original Tenniel drawings for Alice Through the Looking Glass, and illustrated the moment when Alice steps through the mirror into the world on the other side. I agreed to make a clay model, thinking that it would be interesting to use a sheet of real glass through which the figure would emerge.
When the Council met to view the maquettes, this was the one they chose, and I then went on to make the over-life-size figure. This was modelled in plaster of Paris over a metal armature. It took most of the next year, and I used my eight year old daughter Annie as the model for the face.
The finished work was cast in bronze by the Morris Singer foundry, and incorporated a sheet of 1 inch thick, bullet proof glass. The sculpture was installed in the garden and unveiled on Tuesday, 18th September, 1990, two years after the centenary of the death of Lewis Carroll, by the Mayor of Guildford, Mrs. Mary Lloyd Jones.”
Today, Guildford Museum in England possesses many of Carroll’s family treasures, including many fascinating artifacts and Dodgson family photographs. Lewis Carroll wrote his second Alice book, Through the Looking Glass, while he stayed at “The Chestnuts” in Guildford in 1871.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass were books I read as a child and enjoyed, says Jeanne, “although I found the ‘eat me’, ‘drink me’ part of the story very worrying, since, as a country child, I had always been told never to eat anything that I was unsure of, especially mushrooms. I appreciate Carroll’s quirky humour, the nonsense verse, and the general absurdity of the story. Living in Guildford, Lewis Carroll is part of the town’s history. We have his grave in the Mount Cemetery, and I think perhaps we rather take him for granted.”
Jeanne Argent’s stunning sculpture, “Alice Through The Looking Glass”, can be seen in The Real Alice In Wonderland book by C.M. Rubin and Gabriella Rubin. To see Jeanne’s work, go to www.surreyopenstudios.org.uk