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PROFILE: How a high-end designer went ‘wild'

PROFILE: How a high-end designer went ‘wild'

Sunday 27 September 2020

PROFILE: How a high-end designer went ‘wild'


From designing for McQueen and Givenchy to working with gorillas and macaques at the Zoo... A local sculptor has shared the highlights of her wild career and some of the unconventional 'natural' techniques behind her work.

Ceramics, clay, wax, terracotta, resin, bronze, Pippa Barrow’s sculptures are made of materials as varied as the subject that inspires them: nature.

Hedgehogs, owls, dogs, pigs, but also anemones and bugs, the self-taught artist has given life to hundreds of animals in her distinctive style. Although some might seem abstract there is no mistaking what they represent. Even without eyes or fur, you can easily tell the bull terrier from the Scotty dog and the dachshund.

Looking at Pippa’s sculptures, two things appear clear: her love for animals and how much she pays attention to detail, her work appearing almost impossibly smooth as if they had magically popped out of thin air as such, rather than being painstakingly modelled. Along the path that led her to open her studio in Jersey over a decade ago, right in the middle of a financial crisis, both feature heavily.

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Pictured: Pippa's home studio in St. Brelade.

Born in Zimbabwe, Pippa grew up in South Africa where she qualified as a goldsmith. She left home at the age of 20 for London, where she worked for eight years as a workshop assistant for artist-jeweller Wendy Ramshaw, as well as designing and producing catwalk ranges for Alexander McQueen and Givenchy.

Then, she decided to pursue her “lifelong ambition” of working with animals. “I was meant to go study jewellery design and I was looking for courses in a brochure and I saw a zoology course,” she recalls.

“I did a massive swerve and decided to study zoology, something I had always wanted to do. I loved it, I really enjoyed it. I did my third-year thesis on gorilla behaviour, I was totally fascinated by them, and it became my thing.” 

Her passion brought her to the island after she successfully applied to work with the gorillas and the macaques at Jersey Zoo. For seven years, Pippa was a gorilla keeper and her fascination for the animals led her to create casts of their hands and feet.  

Due to ill health, she sadly had to leave her role at the end of the noughties and decided to set up her “little studio” through the Jersey Arts Trust – now known as ArtHouse Jersey.

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Pictured: Some of Pippa's sculptural work.

 “I was really into art and sculptures in Zimbabwe, there were everywhere,” Pippa says. “It kind of makes sense to me that I ended up doing that”

Although she left that career behind a long time ago, Pippa’s experience as a jeweller still informs her artistic practice to this day.

“I love making things really beautifully,” she explains. “I am always trying to make it look as aesthetically pleasing as possible. When I was casting the gorilla’s hands and feet, I would also cast and bits of bark.

“Wax carving is very precise, that comes from jewellery making. It’s the same skills for something else.”

Pippa’s fascination for animals also transpires in her daily life.

She volunteers at the JSPCA and over the last few weeks, she has been staying up sometimes until past 01:00 to monitor bats. 

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Pictured: Pippa has recently been monitoring bats.

Her intense interest for all things natural even led her to focus on things that most would properly disregard.

Her fondness for owls, for example, prompted her to sieve barn owl pellets to find rodents’ bones. 

“I sat them in layers in resin,” Pippa explains. “I thought it looked beautiful and that it was also interesting from a scientific point of view. Someone who looks at this can see straight away what the owl has eaten."

This article first appeared in Connect Magazine which you can read by clicking HERE.

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