beccaloniThis was a fascinating project because of the remarkable personality of Wallace himself. Quite apart from his groundbreaking work on evolutionary theory, he was a polymath of Renaissance proportions who achieved his extraordinary eminence in spite of disadvantaged beginnings, having to leave school early because of family financial difficulties. If this sculpture encourages people to take a closer look at the man it will have been a success. I would heartily recommend Wallace’s autobiography “My Life” as well as his more famous “Malay Archipelago” which deals with the period when his ideas on evolution came to him.

Producing a sculpture of someone from the past is akin to writing a historical novel. In order to produce anything other than the blandest of portraits, you have to try to get inside the person, to understand and empathize– and then produce something which expresses both the personality and its historical context.

One of the most fascinating historical issues relating to Wallace was that he developed his ideas on natural selection at much the same time as Darwin, but independently of him. Like most (indeed, perhaps all) amazing discoveries, however, their work did not come out of a vacuum, and with hindsight, we can see how the time was ripe for them –which is in no way to disparage their tremendous achievement. In my sculpture, Wallace is reaching out for a bird of paradise, a creature which fascinated him and of which he collected many specimens to send back to England. But it seemed to me that the bird with which he was preoccupied at the time of his discovery could also be seen as symbolic of his ideas on evolution, which were, as it were “in the air” and ready to be plucked from it by someone with remarkable perceptive capacity. And that idea has had the happy consequence of enabling me to develop a design in which the relation between man and bird allows for an interrelation of form which I could not have achieved simply by portraiture. unveiling

The sculpture also had special resonance for me personally. Like Wallace, I attended Hertford Grammar School, where my artistic abilities were encouraged and helped under the tutelage of Oscar Chapman, a truly remarkable art teacher. The school was a wonderful establishment, and a dictum of the then head of the history department, George Duckworth, could well be applied to Wallace – “you can’t keep a good man down”.  It was therefore a very great pleasure for me that the school (now Richard Hale) was represented at the unveiling both by its band and its headmaster. It was also a pleasure to give back something to the town which gave so much to me in my developing years. wallacergm

 Dr. George Beccaloni of the Natural History Museum and chairman of the Wallace Fund (bottom centre and top right) performed the unveiling. I am indebted to his friendly encouragement and  invaluable advice with regard to the correct representation of the bird of paradise, and suggestions as to the appearance of Wallace himself. He has  placed an article about the event on the Wallace website, and his speech given at the unveiling, which
gives an  excellent brief outline of Wallace's career and achievements can be seen here.

The commission was funded by  Hertford Civic Society, Hertford Town Council and East Herts Council, and the sculpture steering committee was chaired by Dr. Malcolm Ramsay (bottom right).

Since the unveiling, Rodney has been presented with a copy of Avi Sirlin's fascinating new novel about Wallace, The Evolutionist  by the publisher's Aurora Metro Books, for review.

HomePublic CommissionsHuman Form