National Recording Project

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Detail from: Memorial to 158 Squadron by Peter W. Naylor, 2009

The Stratford Jester

Summary

Type Statue

     Figurative full length sculpture representing a jester in active stance. Mounted on a pedestal comprising two blocks of machine cut and polished stone, one on top of the other. The Jester holds a poll (a small head on a stick) with the mask of comedy balanced on his left, upraised hand. His right hand is behind his back concealing a poll with a mask of tragedy. The bronze has been chemically treated and heated during the manufacturing process to give a mature patina of rich greens and browns like the costume of a Harlequin. The design of the costume is based on drawings from theatre programmes of Shakespeare's time.
     James Butler was approached by Anthony Bird, a member of a local family that now owns a multi-national company, after 'an aborted competition that produced nothing of interest'.(4) Butler first decided upon a figurative group portraying the seven ages of man from the soliloquy by Jacques in 'As You Like It' but the cost was prohibitive.(5) The work was modelled in clay, being based on sketches of John Mowat, it was then cast in six sections by Mike Davies at his specialist foundry near Milton Keynes.(6) The plinth was erected some time before the figure, (it was said because Anthony Bird did not want the Jester added until the end of the recession), and many people believed the plinth was the sculpture(7). The sculpture was unveiled on 22 July 1994 by Viscount Daventry, 'the unveiling took the form of a frame of wheels that was mad to look like a Punch and Judy stall in bright coloured fabric that had curtains on the front that were opened to reveal the sculpture and then the frame was wheeled away'.(8)
     James Butter has explained his choice of the Jester as a subject: 'The character of the Fool or Jester appears in many Shakespeare plays and I decided to portray him dancing- almost leaping off his plinth. He is holding two polls. One is smiling , one is grim. They represent the symbols of drama.'(1) Butler sees the Jester as symbolising the precarious balance of life: 'my point being that we dance through life finely balancing optimism above us, but tragedy lurks behind'.(2) The model for the Jester was the international mime artist John Mowat who danced and struck various poses to inspire Butler's final form.(3)

Inscriptions

serif, title of play in smaller capitals, NE side: 'FOOLERY, SIR, DOES WALK / ABOUT THE ORB LIKE THE SUN; / IT SHINES EVERYWHERE / (TWELFTH NIGHT)' SE side: 'O NOBLE FOOL! A WORTHY FOOL! / (AS YOU LIKE IT)' NW side: 'ALAS! POOR YORICK ./ I KNEW HIM HORATIO; / A FELLOW OF INFINITE JEST. / (HAMLET)' SW side: 'THE FOOL DOTH THINK HE IS WISE / BUT THE WISE MAN KNOWS / HIMSELF TO BE A FOOL. / (AS YOU LIKE IT)' On plaque inscription on plinth, SE side, centralised: 'THE JESTER / BY JAMES BUTLER R.A ./ UNVEILED BY THE LORD LIEUTENANT / OF WARWICKSHIRE / THE RT. HON. THE VISCOUNT DAVENTRY / ON 22ND JULY 1994 / A GIFT FROM ANTHONY P. BIRD O.B.E. / TO STRATFORD UPON AVON AS A TOKEN OF / HIS ESTEEM FOR THE TOWN IN WHICH HE / WAS BORN, LIVES AND WORKS AND WHICH / HAS GIVEN HIM SO MUCH FRIENDSHIP, / GOOD FORTUNE AND PLEASURE' on plaque on NE side of base, inscribed above and below a coat of arms: 'STRATFORD-UPON-AVON DISTRICT COUNCIL / that what in time proceeds May token to the future of our post deeds / opened by the chairman of the council / Councillor Mrs Ruth Styles on Wednesday, 10 May 1989 / Henley Street Pedestrian Priority Area'

Contributor details

Contributor Role
Butler, James Walter Sculptor
Hornton Quarries, None Stonemason
Davis, Mike Foundry

Element details

Part of work Material Dimensions
Jester Bronze 224cm high x 98cm wide x 115cm deep
Plinth Westmorland Stone 92cm high x 88cm wide x 88cm deep tapering to 54cm wide x 54cm deep
Base Hornton Stone 109cm high x 135cm deep

PMSA recording information

Reference Region
WAsaSAtg024 BM
General condition Good
Surface condition
  • No damage
Structural condition
  • None
Vandalism
  • None
Road Henley Street
Precise location Junction with Windsor Street
A-Z ref 4199925517
OS ref SP200551
Date of design 1990s
Year of unveiling 1994
Unveiling details 22 July 1994
Commissioned by Anthony P. Bird
Duty of care Stratford-upon-Avon Council
Listing status Not listed
At risk? Not at risk

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