It isn’t often you get to shake hands with a gorilla, but in Pippa Barrow’s studio, life casts of gorilla fists share shelf space with lobster claws, baby feet and even a crab on castor wheels.
The jewellery designer turned zoologist left London to work with the gorillas at Durrell, allowing her to continue her passion for sculpture, life-casting the hands and feet of Durrell’s best-known residents, from gorillas to gibbons. The casts are irresistibly tactile; ‘It’s one way to get close to an animal that you’re never going to be able to touch in real life’ says Pippa. Now working as a full-time sculptor and life-caster, Pippa has turned her attention to local wildlife, creating ornate decorative bronzes and quirky home accessories from casts of crabs, lobsters and even snail shells.
Life casting is a long process. Pippa explains: ‘You start off by making an alginate mould – it’s a dental impression material which hardens really quickly. Then you can remove the mould and pour the plaster in to get a rough cast. Then you work on the plaster, taking off any rough edges and correcting any faults from air bubbles, and create a second mould that will take resin mixed with bronze powder.’
As well as casting the hands and feet of Durrell animals, Pippa can also create baby hand and feet casts. ‘The animals were sedated for regular health checks when I took the casts, but the babies of course are awake. But they’re actually really good – I’ve had little boys that just love the messy, squishy feel!’
Pippa’s recently started work on more local designs, inspired by the countryside around her cottage in St Peter and the coastline at St Ouen. ‘I’ve life-cast a lobster door handle and a range of claw coat hooks, and I’ve just finished a commission of a decanter covered with navelwort, ivy and tiny snails. I was in London for such a long time working on geometric shapes, so it’s probably a reaction to moving to Jersey and being surrounded by fluid softer shapes. I find myself recreating them in my work.’
How does she approach a commission? ‘I tend to go straight into the wax if I’m carving, and assemble more than design so it grows and develops organically. As you work on a piece, it changes – you see how it comes out and you work with what you’ve got, without trying to control it too much. Life casting is like that, you have no idea what you’ve got before you pour the plaster in. Especially the children, they move while they’re in there!’
You can see a sample cabinet of Pippa’s creations on display in the windows of unit 15, Liberty Wharf, and to see the full range of Pippa’s work take a look at her website: