‘Blessing’ is a Shaftesbury town centre sculpture that hundreds of residents and visitors pass each day. Alfred heard how a kind-hearted workman repaired this artwork and lifted the spirits of its creator when she was at a low ebb.
Tucked away in a leafy corner of the gardens opposite Shaftesbury Library is a cement statue called ‘Blessing’, which has an angel-like quality as it reaches out towards people who sit on the park bench.
“It’s a female figure with one outstretched wing,” said Janet Swiss, the artist who made this piece of public art. “It is very simple, but then that’s been so with all my work.” Until now, few people knew who was responsible for this sculpture. “There’s no sign to say so,” said Janet. “But a couple of people have said how much they enjoy seeing her.”
“It is made out of cement, not stone. I like the medium. I taught myself how to use it and make it. Rendering and pointing a house is good practice!” smiled Janet. “I learned a lot while I was doing that. I thought it was just such a wonderful medium and it’s so fast. You have to keep your hands off it for periods of time when the cement won’t allow you to do anything or add anything.”
There’s no religious symbolism behind the title, ‘Blessing’. Janet says the name means blessing in the context of being grateful. The sculpture was made over thirteen years ago for Janet’s garden when she lived in Woodville, near Stour Provost. Almost two years ago, Janet decided to move to Bimport in Shaftesbury, to be closer to the town.
“It was my favourite piece of work in my garden. When I decided to move, I thought I would give away my favourite ones, which I did.” Janet made and sold dozens of sculptures each year from her home studio, which became a popular stop on the Dorset Arts Week trail.
“I’ve been doing a series of several figures in combinations. ‘Blessing’ was always one of the ones that I was particularly interested in,” said Janet. “There was another one called ‘On First Glance’, which was a male and a female figure very close, six inches apart. That one has gone to Sturminster because they’re starting an art trail.”
When Janet decided to donate her sculpture, she felt that it should be displayed in a peaceful place. “It must be for gardens in my opinion. Because the textures in the garden are quite complex and decorative, my work was always very simple so that it would stand comfortably in the garden. My work is usually related to health, wealth and the well-being aspect of gardens.”
‘Blessing’ was taken, ready to be placed in the small green space at the side of Bell Street. Janet gave instructions for the sculpture to be laid flat before it could be properly fixed into position. It seems that that advice wasn’t followed. Janet found that her work had toppled over. “She must have been pushed over, because she was initially on her back until she was properly put up.”
Janet made the upsetting discovery that ‘Blessing’ was damaged on the day that she took possession of her new home. She had just returned from the solicitors and, because of the move, she was already emotional. When she stopped to chat to workmen on Gold Hill, the emotion took over and Janet broke down crying. The workers, understandably, asked what was wrong and whether they could help.
“One turned out to be a stonemason, and he said, ‘I’ve got glues that I could use’. He went and had a look at it in his lunchtime. I was very touched. He did it and it’s part of it. You can see where she was mended.”
Janet says she would like to thank this selfless worker for helping to give the public a piece of art, which should remain a feature of this quiet space for years to come. “A long time – if she’s just not broken again,” said Janet.