With coiled legs pointed to the sky, the woman’s torso is an intricate weave of serpentine branches and tendrils, gracefully positioned in a supported shoulder headstand. The abstract figure is part of the newest sculptural collection entitled Yoga, in which Kelowna artist, Annabel Stanley gives fresh willow and vine canes – literally – a second life.
“I actually practiced the poses in front of a mirror first,” laughs the charming Brit who soaks the fresh branches in water first to give them the flexibility required to bend, then painstakingly weaves them into a stainless steel wire mesh frame to capture the human form.
Although her present residence is Coyote Vineyard, Okanagan Valley, Stanley’s horticultural roots are very much Downton Abbey. She is the great grandniece of Sir Edwin Lutyens (Lutyens is her maiden name), a renowned 19th and 20th Century British architect who designed grand English country homes, over 100 estate gardens and many national monuments including the historical landmark, the Cenotaph War Memorial in Whitehall, London. “My mother had the most fabulous garden and I remember drinking the dew off her nasturtiums as a child,“ reminisces Stanley.
After graduating in horticulture in England and stints at landscape nurseries in the Loire Valley and Australia, she worked in the ‘80s as a florist for four years in London (“actor Michael Caine would just pop in”), creating imaginative floral displays for Harrod’s, Estee Lauder, Tiffany’s Jewelry (“David Bowie was a regular”) along with “decorating the enormous Christmas tree for the Duke and Duchess of York at Buckingham Palace.”
“I’m very influenced by the amazing sculptor, Serena de la Hey, and visited her in Somerset. Her incredible willow pieces like the public sculpture, ‘Willow Man’ stands 40 feet tall and I think is the largest willow piece in the world.”
After moving to New Zealand with her husband Grant, Annabel Stanley began experimenting with weaving vine and cane spherical sculptures and baskets, taking workshops, speaking to gardening clubs all the while running her own floral shop. In 2003, with a young son in tow, they re-located to Kelowna where Stanley’s husband became the wine maker for Quails’ Gate Estate Winery. (He has recently joined 50th Parallel Estate as Director of Winemaking and Viticulture.)
Discovered while hiking, they purchased Coyote Vineyard in 2004 re-planting the established Chardonnay with Pinot Noir “providing endless supplies of cane for my sculptures but also endless work for me as I maintain the vineyard, harvest the grapes – the whole bit! ” Stanley admits.
Her menagerie of cane and willow sculptures are delightful surprises in natural settings, transformed again with twinkle lights as night falls: quails appear to strut unperturbed at Quails Gate Estate Winery; a life-size heron perches in the serene shallows of lakefront property of a private collector and giant willow spiders and butterflies provide amiable enchantment throughout the Okanagan Lavender & Herb Farm. Stanley exhibits at wineries and galleries throughout the Valley, Vancouver’s Granville Island and in Whistler as well as giving workshops at the Rotary Centre for the Arts. She and other Valley artists will be part of The Art in the Garden Hospice Fundraiser at The Lavender Farm July 21 in which she has organized 6 artists to weave original pieces in their own styles. Their pieces will be auctioned in the gardens with a sponsored butterfly release.
“I’m like that bird forever gathering twigs for its nest,“ explains Annabel Stanley of her love for her art and the open air.
“We must always be reminded of natural things.”