The Tree Climbing Lions of Lake Manyara

April, 2013

 
Mid 2012 I started work on the centrepiece for my Chelsea 2013 exhibition. Always drawn to new challenges and subject matter, I was overjoyed to find a massive long dead tree, still standing, that seemed to be crying out for a pride of lions!
 
Final sketch of the Tree Climbing Lions of Lake ManyaraIt took several weeks to negotiate the purchase of the tree and transfer all 800kg of it to my studio from the remote hills 100km away. Once there, I made a number of sketches of the tree, the last of which served as the blueprint for the final sculpture. I have worked out that my small team and I spent some 3,000 hours bracing the tree with a network of 75mm thick stainless tubing that we embedded into the inner core of the tree, connecting the body of the tree to a massive stainless steel foot at the bottom side, and bolting onto the individual armatures of the lionesses on the other side.
 
 
Having braced the tree, we started work on the Lionesses. The first that I made was the top Lioness, standing proud and alert. The second was the lioness descending the tree and the last was the resting lion, which is actually my favorite.
 
Throughout the making of the sculpture, I communicated with the Chief Warden of Lake Manyara, Mr. Njau Dominican, and his staff - and he gave invaluable background information. Upon sale, I will donate 10% of the proceeds of the the Tree Climbing Lions sculpture to Lake Manyara to assist with radio collars for the distinctive members of the 7 prides that roam the National Park.
 
The making of the Tree Climbing Lions was an emotional helter skelter. Some days went blindingly well and they were inevitably balanced with periods of bleak disenchantment. Sleepless nights would draw me to the studio at 4:00am and I would rarely leave before 8:00-9:00 at night. Due to the size and nature of work, the 4 components of the sculpture had to be made separate from one another, and it was really difficult to get an idea of how the finished piece might look. I eventually erected the tree late March and on one glorious afternoon we winched the 3 lionesses into place. By the time we had bolted their respective armartures to the tree structure, night had fallen and quite by chance a full moon was on the rise. With the moon behind the standing lioness, the sculpture claimed an identity and reality of its own - and the moment ranks as one of my most satisfying. If you have a couple of minutes to spare below is a short U-Tube video of the making of the Lions
 

 
 
 

James Doran Webb