MOST artists have a fierce pride in their work, and yesterday a craftswoman who spent three years creating a family of lions with a single crochet hook was finally able to bask in the glory of her efforts.
Shauna Richardson set out to make the creatures for this year’s Cultural Olympiad, an event which ties in with the Olympic Games, and since 2009 has spent almost every day working on the painstaking task.
Known as the Lionheart Project, the sculptures recreate Richard the Lionheart’s three lions crest and have been fixed inside a 52ft illuminated glass case mounted on an HGV trailer to allow them to tour.
They are made with yarn from Swaledale sheep which have grazed in the Peak District and will visit venues in the region before being moved to London’s National History Museum in July in time for the Games.
The first stop for the lions yesterday was the Chatsworth Estate, where they were admired by owners the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, and they will remain outside the house for visitors to see until June.
Ms Richardson, 44, who calls herself a crochetdermist, after taxidermists who stuff real animals, was one of 12 artists selected by the Arts Council to produce work for the Olympic year out of 118 entries.
She said: “I usually make wild animals and have made everything from a brown bear to a baboon – I’ve even made crocheted stag’s heads for people to mount on their wall.
“A lot of people say it’s a nicer way of having a stuffed animal in their house, but the lions have been the biggest project i have ever taken on and I wanted to portray them leaping, stalking and growling.
“They are displayed in the custom-built glass case which is mounted on the biggest truck I could have on the road without a police escort, and I am pretty pleased with how they have turned out.”
An invited audience of schoolchildren was the first to see the lions up close along with Arts Council England regional director Peter Knott and London 2012 director Paul Brookes.
A penful of Swaledale sheep and a wool spinner were also part of the event in an attempt to illustrate to guests the journey through from the fleece to the finished lion sculptures.
Ms Richardson has been an artist since she left school, but undertook further study at De Montfort University in Leicester as a mature student.
After graduating she started working in textiles and has since exhibited in major galleries and exhibitions, including at the V&A and at the Saatchi Gallery.
She said the Arts Council competition, which is called Artists Taking the Lead, was an “extraordinary” opportunity and added: “Here was a truly exciting opportunity to think big and create something spectacular that would celebrate the individual culture of our region and put us squarely on the map.”
Ms Richardson works from a warehouse at her home in Stoughton, Leicestershire, and said the secret of being able to work on such a close project for such extended periods was the use of natural daylight as much as possible.
The artist described how she had been confident of completing the project in time for the Olympics at first, but became more nervous as 2012 dawned.
“Essentially it has been me and one 10mm crochet hook for the last three years,” she added. “I have likened it to running a marathon in that I just couldn’t let anybody else cover one mile of the course for me.
“I just felt like if I had let one other person do just one stitch I wouldn’t have been able to complete the project and I have had to be pretty single-minded about that.
“I have also tried to limit myself to around six hours a day, to avoid repetitive strain injury which is one the biggest occupational hazards you can have when working on something like this.
“Because it was a world-first I had no idea how long it would take to complete, and towards the end, I weakened and started working on it for longer and longer.
“I have done pretty well really and been lucky, I have had a few twinges here and there but I think I’ll be able to carry on with the crochet hook.”