Bench and Article by Andy Blackwell
Every now and then, as an artist, you get a commission that has an extra level of poignancy, a special resonance. When my very good friend Wayne Whittingham asked me to make a memorial bench to commemorate his late mother Elisabeth I was both flattered and a little daunted. The bench was to sit in the gardens of Plymouth Chiropractic Clinic, an institution that she founded with her husband Kenn over 40 years ago, the very first in the city.
I met the Whittinghams when I was 13 years old and remember the glamorous Elisabeth behind the wheel of a white Stag convertible, blonde hair and sun glasses, her friend Marie sat up front beside her and five kids in the back, on our way out to Mothecombe beach. My first encounter with Yvonne, eldest daughter, herself now a Chiropractor in Sweden. She claims I was her first boyfriend, a relationship that existed in her mind rather than in reality. Truth was, I fancied her, I just didn’t think I could handle her, she was a force of nature like her mother.
I encountered Elisabeth again as an adult, as a Social Worker, looking for residential home placements. Her home just off Thorn Park was definitely one of the good ones. Her innate sense of family, her determination to ensure quality for those she cared for was not executed from an office far off but administered on the front line, she lived and breathed it. Her funeral at a bulging Emmanuel Church in February 2012, a testament to the respect she was held in.
The bench, solid oak, with green oak legs and uprights, sawn, split, shaved and shaped, sourced at 7th Rise. My son Jake not only sharing the considerable physical effort but also offering me guidance as he acquires this suite of wonderful new skills. As we installed it on a bumpy, uneven paved surface, adjusting and tweaking each leg, Wayne insisted that we fix it to the ground. The next day, having failed to source stainless steel brackets from either DIY store or chandlers, my dad Tony recovered a set from his archive of ‘things that will come in handy’. He and I secured it in place, he as Wayne reminded me, had made Wayne’s first skate deck. Family. Connection. The bench resonates like a German glockenspiel, a fitting tribute to a fine German woman.