North Yorkshire blacksmith James Wilkinson creates memorial elephant sculpture in tribute to woman who died of brain tumour

A North Yorkshire-based artist and blacksmith has worked with a galvanizing firm to preserve a memorial sculpture, ensuring it remains a fitting tribute to a young woman who died for many years to come.

Guildford High School commissioned James Wilkinson to create an elephant sculpture to remember a past pupil, Emily Oliver, who

died aged 21 in July 2019 after being diagnosed with a brain tumour identified as a diffuse midline glioma.

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James said: “As an artist, blacksmith and metal fabricator, I’ve created many bespoke sculptures and garden art over the past two decades. However, it was a particular honour to be entrusted to design and fabricate this beautiful and poignant memorial piece, dedicated to a local girl who sadly recently passed away.

North Yorkshire-based James Wilkinson was commissioned to create an elephant sculpture in memory of Emily Oliver.North Yorkshire-based James Wilkinson was commissioned to create an elephant sculpture in memory of Emily Oliver.
North Yorkshire-based James Wilkinson was commissioned to create an elephant sculpture in memory of Emily Oliver.

“Due to Emily’s distinctive initials – ELMO – and her love for elephants, she was often linked to the famous Elmo the elephant.

"We decided to immortalise her in this way and create a bespoke elephant with a patchwork construction, using irregular-shaped pieces of 3mm mild steel welded to an armature. Plus, organic elements, including forget-me-nots, oak leaves, and acorns were requested to be incorporated into the creation.

“The memorial is due to be located in the school grounds as a space for friends, family and school peers to visit. Being exposed to the elements, however, it was paramount that we enhanced its longevity and so I called upon my trusted partners, Metaltreat Galvanizers. Having worked with them for almost 20 years, I knew they were reliable and professional - with the specialism to cater for the intricate detailing of the piece.”

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The elephant sculpture was hot dipped into a bath of molten zinc at temperatures of around 450C to allow a metallurgic bonding to be created, which protects the steel from rust and corrosion for up to 70 years.

Taking just over a month to complete, the finished product, standing at two metres tall, is due to be located within the school grounds, amongst bamboo and grasses to appear to be pushing through the undergrowth. A smaller elephant sculpture was also created and is to be placed in Emily's parents' garden.

Iain McBeath, commercial manager at Bradford-based Metaltreat Galvanizers, added: “It’s always a pleasure to work with James – his artwork is truly magnificent and we’re privileged to play a part in preserving it for people to enjoy for generations.

"This particular project has very important meaning and special sentiment, and so it was vital that we provided the very best quality service to ensure the sculpture remains as beautiful as it is today for many years to come.”

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After her diagnosis in 2018, Emily raised more than £40,000 for The Brain Tumour Charity, and her family and friends are continuing to fundraise in her honour. Emily Oliver’s Fighting Fund has raised over £190,700 to date.

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