Work of late famed “driftwood horse” artist on show

Heather Jansch, pictured in 2008 flanked by Atlantis and The Eden Horse.
Heather Jansch, pictured in 2008 flanked by Atlantis and The Eden Horse. © Kieron Jansch, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Exhibitions of the work of the renowned “driftwood horse” sculptor Heather Jansch are being held this year in both the USA and in Devon, near the late artist’s home.

Jansch, who died on July 5, 2021, in Olchard, Devon, at the age of 72 after suffering a stroke, was internationally known for her life-sized driftwood and bronze horses. Among her best-known works is The Eden Horse, which was voted visitors’ favourite at The Eden Project, an eco visitor attraction in Cornwall. She was the project’s first artist in residence, in 2001.

Her work is in the collections of contemporary art collectors, royal families, and horse lovers around the world, and she also sculpted stags, female dancers, warriors and elephants.

The free-standing equine sculptures were said to take up to three years to create, and weigh three-quarters of a ton. That meant they were strong enough to withstand public display and heavy winds.

Jansch pioneered a technique of translating her work into bronze that was indistinguishable from the driftwood originals.

Born Heather Sewell, she was the daughter of artist Gordon Sewell and Edna Bridgens, a pianist. She was inspired by the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci and her lifelong passion for horses ran parallel; her childhood sketchbooks were crammed with studies of ponies. She studied fine art at Walthamstow Technical College and at Goldsmiths, University of London.

She married folk musician Bert Jansch in 1968 and they moved to a farm in Wales, where they bred welsh cobs.

They separated in 1974 and in 1981 Jansch moved to South Devon, where she began working in driftwood, which was abundant on the beaches of Devon. She opened her garden to the public as part of Devon Open Studios and the National Garden Scheme, where thousands of people viewed her sculpture over the years.

She was also the author of Heather Janschs’s Diary, Living with the Legend, about her life with Bert Jansch, and The Italian Job, about her expeditions to Italy.

A selling exhibition of Jansch’s work, at Lympstone Manor, a Michelin-starred hotel overlooking the Exe estuary in Exeter, is being held ahead of a more formal retrospective.

Her work is also on display at the Diehl Gallery in Jackson, Wyoming, USA, which has represented Jansch for the past seven years. Principal Mariam Diehl said it had been an honour to work with and represent Jansch in the US.

“She was a gifted artist and her talent for forming horses and other animals from driftwood was unique and remarkable.

“Her ability to see life in the dead branches she used as her primary medium was frankly astounding,” Diehl said.

Heather Jansch is survived by her son, Kieron, granddaughter Ottilie, and brother, Malcolm.

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