Campaign launched to save M5 Willow Man

The M5 Willow Man who strides beside the M5 near junction 23 at Bridgwater – picture copyright: Chris Chapman

A campaign has been launched to secure the future of the iconic M5 Willow Man.

The 12m-tall (40ft) sculpture – who’s proper name is The Withy Man – strides alongside the motorway near junction 23 at Bridgwater.

Created by artist Serena de la Hey in 2000 as part of Arts Council of England’s Year of the Artist, The Willow Man was conceived as a temporary structure and now nearly two decades on, it needs a complete rebuild as well as a fund for future maintenance.

A Crowdfunding page to raise funds was launched at Toby’s Garden Festival at Powderham Castle in Devon in April. It hopes to raise £75,000 before 22:30 on 7 June 2018.

Ms de la Hey also built a willow sculpture at the event to raise awareness of The Willow Man’s plight.

The sculpture will then be moved to Forde Abbey in Chard for Toby’s Garden Festival on 15 and 16 September.

“Willow is an ephemeral material, and no-one realised The Willow Man would become a cherished part of the landscape – least of all me – so we have to do something soon or he will be lost,” she said.

Artist Serena de la Hey and Toby Buckland stand in front of The M5 Willow Man

Broadcaster, author, and festival organiser, Toby Buckland, said: “When I heard The Willow Man was under threat I picked up the phone and asked Serena how we could help.

“Several meetings and a lot of coffee later, a plan was hatched and we commissioned Serena to build a willow sculpture for my 2018 Garden and Harvest Festivals.

“We can’t bring The Willow Man to the festival so this was the next best thing
to raise awareness of his plight.”

Sketch of Serena de la Hey’s proposed Willow Wonder to feature at Toby’s Garden Festival 2018 at Powderham Castle, Devon

In a nod to the Willow Man’s roadside location, the festival sculpture – known as The Wonder – will be located as a welcome to visitors near the festival entrance on the driveway at Powderham Castle, before it is moved to Forde Abbey for Toby’s Harvest Festival in September.

Serena is building the sculpture in-situ at the castle in the run-up to the festival in collaboration with willow artist Stefan Jennings, and Mr Buckland.

Toby said: “For the millions of holiday-makers who visit the West Country, The Willow Man is a sign they’ve arrived!

“For me he’s a symbol that I’m nearly home. If he did disappear it’d be huge loss to our
landscape and I’m only too happy to help give him a future.”

Serena de la Hey pictured weaving the head of The Willow Man – picture copyright: Chris Chapman

The Willow Man sculpture is the size of two-and-a-half double-decker buses stacked on top of each other, with an arm-span of 5m (17ft).

It is made of 30-bundles of locally-grown steamed black maul willow, woven around a steel skeletal frame. There are over 3 tonnes (3,000kg) of steel in the framework.

Ms de la Hey had to work from scaffolding 10m (33ft) off the ground in order to create the sculpture. It took six-weeks to build.

The current figure is the second on the site. The original was destroyed by fire in 2001.

Some 18 corporate and public bodies, as well as members of the public, contributed to the rebuild, making it a truly public piece of the art.

The Editor

Hello! I'm KATE, a journalist, editor and broadcaster with 20 years experience in the industry. I have worked at the BBC, ITV, Heart and Sky Sports News. I've lived in Somerset for most of my life and set up LOVE SOMERSET ONLINE in 2016. I love the seaside and am partial to a good gin and tonic.

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