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Introducing the newest addition to the Chestnut family, our very own packhorse. Standing pride of place at The Packhorse Inn, in Moulton near Newmarket, the willow sculpture has been handcrafted by local artist, Helen Colletta. We sat down with Helen to ask her a little more about her art, her unique method and the inspiration behind it.

What would you describe your profession as?

A Willow Sculptor

Are you able to tell us more about your background and life before willow sculpting?

Once my three boys fled the nest, I finally had the time to let my creative and three-dimensional brain work in a new way. It has been a new experience for this chapter of my life. I have always been a keen painter too, working in Oils and Acrylics.

How did you get into willow sculpting?

I originally went to a workshop locally, that was for Willow Wicker Baskets. Although my hands were twitching and I very quickly created a Willow Animal, much to everyone's shock! Safe to say, I was not invited back to the basket making workshop! From that point, I haven't been able to stop. It's my escape and it's the most rewarding hobby I could have found.

Describe your method in designing and creating the sculptures?

Once I have the metal work, I carefully select each willow rod and use a dense, random weave to create form with detail, giving a feeling of movement and injecting expression. My sculptural work is innovative with no pattern or formula to follow. I am self-trained whilst always trying new ideas and concepts in my work!

How long did it take you to create the Packhorse?

The Packhorse took me nearly two months. Most of the sculptures can be very time consuming, but it's 100% worth it. I love the constant company from my beautiful dogs, Pickle and Oona! Endless cups of tea and the odd gin and tonic always help too!

Did you know? Our pub is aptly named after the village’s 15th century Packhorse Bridge, so we thought it fitting to have our very own packhorse, panniers and all. Packhorses have been used since the earliest period of domestication of the horse. They were invaluable throughout antiquity, through the Middle Ages, and into modern times where roads are nonexistent or poorly maintained.

Describe the sustainability element to your work?

I am particularly passionate about sustainability and this is what makes the Willow Sculptures so special. Willow is eco-friendly, natural and versatile. The word 'wicker' is believed to have Scandinavian origins; with the word, 'vika', translating as 'to bend'. For the sculpture’s metal bases, I always try to re-use metal and give it a new life. For example, from old agricultural machinery.

How do you source the willow?

Most is from Suffolk, some I source from Somerset then soak it before it can be used. Willow is so versatile with no two sculptures the same, to see how the sculptures can change and evolve as my style changes over the seasons is fascinating. I try to bring spirit into the sculpture from past experiences and visualising of fields and habitats whilst I’m working. Unfortunately, I do often talk to the pieces whilst I work!!

What kind of sculptures have you made so far?

All sorts! Life size animals, oversized fruits, abstract shapes and human figures. I am always open to trying new things and will never say no to a commission. The possibilities really are endless for willow.

What is the inspiration behind your work?

My long-lasting love of animals and the countryside has helped my sculpture journey. Creating instantly recognisable animals which are more than simply an outline. They encapsulate movement, expression and always have a hint of personality! Growing up on a farm gave me a strong connection to animals and the way they move. I look at animals from a confirmation point of view like the Stockman would on the farm. As a child I spent many hours inspecting our livestock and cattle.

Watch Helen in action, creating the packhorse with our Instagram reel by clicking here.

Follow Helen’s creations on Instagram: @sculpture_by_helencolletta


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