Eric Block

Anton Smit on Sculptures

After a ten-year closure, Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens have finally reopened and, in addition to the beautifully restored Grade 1 listed gardens, new owner Penny Streeter OBE has created a new sculpture park, dedicated to the works of Anton Smit, the monumental South African sculptor. I had the opportunity to talk with Anton Smit and discuss his work at Leonardslee and beyond.

You have an amazing collection of sculptures presented within Leonardslee Lakes & Gardens, can you tell me what inspired these works and are they all built around one central theme? Were you inspired to create the work once you saw the gardens at Leonardslee?

If I could isolate one central theme it would be the amazing glory of God and His reflection of it in His Creation.

Certainly. In Oct 2019 I visited Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens which was a truly unique experience…There is a spirit of calmness and peace that transcends understanding. Many of the Ladies of the Lakes were created with the memory of the lakes firmly embedded in my memory.    

You first worked with Penny Streeter OBE opening the Benguela Cove Sculpture Park and Art Gallery in Hermanus, South Africa a few years ago — what was it like working together again on another exciting project?

It has been an absolute joy and pleasure working with Penny on this, the most exciting project of all! I value her and her husband’s unwavering support throughout the two years that it has taken to put this show together

I read that the seven ponds within the gardens were originally dug out in the 1800’s to be ‘hammer ponds’ for smelting iron ore which produced cannonballs for Oliver Cromwell’s armies — was this an inspiration for your work?

Frankly I was not aware of this when I first visited Leonardslee, but I firmly believe that love transcends war.

The largest sculpture in the show is a work entitled Faith which is an incredible 12m tall — is this the largest sculpture you have ever created?

Definitely the largest single figure I have ever created, but not the largest sculpture *

What are the core aspects that inspire and define your work?

The primary importance of Faith, Hope and Love in everything I do, I wish to permeate my work with these principles and the wonderment of witty inventions

What is your own measurement of success for this exhibition at Leonardslee? What do you hope to relay to the viewers through this incredible fusion of nature, sculpture, and the human form?

This is the biggest project I have ever undertaken encompassing my entire career with representative works from every period of my career. I firmly believe that the exhibition will be a resounding success! Visitors will be enthralled by the harmony created by sculpture, nature and the human form as Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens is the ideal canvas to offset my work

This sculpture presentation will be on view for two years to the public, have you ever had an exhibition like this in your career? What were the challenges involved in staging a presentation of your work of this scale in the UK? What are some other notable projects or exhibitions that you are particularly proud of?

Together with my wife Roelien I collaborated with architects in designing a permanent solo sculpture exhibition in and around a new lifestyle mall in Pretoria, called Menlyn on Maine, (a green precinct)

I designed a 13m tall sculpture as the main art piece with many components; i.e. large masks attached to a permanent structure depicting the “SPIRIT OF TSWANE” (Pretoria’s indigenous name) Many of the other 38pieces exhibited at Menlyn Maine have bespoke landscaping designed in harmony with the sculptures

I also made the Spirit of Kungwini (a 5m tall head standing on a 4m high stand) as a landmark piece standing next to the R25 main road). We live in the cultural heartland of South Africa which is called Kungwini –The misty place …

I also have a permanent open air ART Exhibition at Century City in Cape Town. As well as my own 8-hectare sculpture park sitting against the backdrop of a large lake. This is my main studio where most of my creative ideas originate. I also work at my Firlands Studio when I am in Cape Town

The logistics were a little frightening; getting enough work ready (fortunately Covid delayed the process for a year and we could get more bronzes ready)! It took 3 months and nearly 4 kilometres of bubble wrap to pack 2x 40ft shipping containers. We were blessed with no serious damages when they opened the containers at Leonardslee. Penny’s son Adam and his team are champions and have installed all the pieces themselves (I couldn’t be there to assist due to the Covid restrictions). Penny and her husband Nick gave me all their support and encouragement.

My wife Roelien carefully selected each piece and placed them in pre- selected locations within the park; taking in consideration the design of the sculptures relating to each other.  Each piece was weighed, measured, numbered and catalogued – a daunting task, taking into consideration there are 161 sculptures!                  

There is a lot of beautiful merchandise that has been created around this presentation, for example a wine bottle label, have you ever done anything like this before?

In recent years my wife Roelien produced many merchandizing products including a range of wines, pillowcases, T-shirts, napkins and Maquettes 

Do you have any future projects going on or a new body of work that you are working on?

I am forever working on new sculptures. Currently I am planning a 14m Faith. I am also working on a sculpture Park in Croatia. The President of Colombia has invited me to exhibit in his country and I will soon be erecting a large triptych in a park in Cartagena.
I am currently working towards another exhibition in Belgium next year. Currently I am working on a 4m tall COLOSSAL YOUTH and a 4x life size CROUCHING MAN.  

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