In her Hampshire barn-cum-studio, Alison Crowther hand-carves great tree trunks into elegantly organic sculptural forms. Her “fungal and fluid” shapes are wrought predominantly in English oak, echoing their woodland origins. “The timber I use is unseasoned or green, which means it will crack and weather with age,” she says of her highly textural work, which spans huge snaking benches at Glyndebourne in Sussex, curvaceous tables at the Shard’s Shangri-La Hotel, and supersized seed-like structures that grace gardens around the globe. “Her work breathes and expands while it acclimatises to its new home,” explains Becky Harle, manager of London gallery Contemporary Applied Arts, which has fielded bespoke requests for metre-high candlesticks and a three-panelled screen.
“We are currently working on a number of private UK-based commissions [from £1,450 for smaller works; £10,000 for larger forms], including a garden bench and a card table,” says Yorkshire-born Crowther, who has just shipped a 1.5m-high spherical sculpture to a client in California. “We generally produce about four or five commissions a year, as they take on average six months from initial sketches and meetings through to installation.” She cites a triptych of intricately carved works created last year for the One Shenzhen Bay development in Guangdong, China, as a favourite, featuring the vertical, 5m-high Scale Tree 1 and two smaller, horizontal forms. “I put forward three proposals and the client asked me which one I would most like to do, which is a wonderful position to be put in as an artist.”
For this ambitious 18-month project, Crowther worked with a team of local timber-frame carpenters. “There were five of us working away with hand tools for two months,” says Crowther. “The studio swells when it has to, but sometimes it’s just me chipping away at little pieces, like the ones I created recently for Sarah Myerscough Gallery.” Another London gallery she works with is Flow, whose founder, Yvonna Demczynska, describes Crowther as a rarity: “She’s quite amazingly talented; not many women work in wood on such a scale.”
“It took about eight years for me to be taken seriously at the local wood yard,” says Crowther. “This little woman who would pop in, sometimes with a baby in a BabyBjorn sling, to get her timber. You have to be tough.”