Hackney has long been a home for creative and artistic talent. Now, one council employee is displaying his own highly artistic skills and carving a niche in the borough’s parks.
Gary Marsh, 43, a Park Ranger in Hackney for over two decades, is also a skilled wood carver and is now donating two of his latest pieces to one lucky park in the area.
The two giant heads are carved from trees that were cut down in Hackney Marshes to make way for the Olympic development earlier this year and were recently displayed in an exhibition at the Oxo Tower.
They will join a fleet of benches and sculptures that Marsh has already made for nine of the borough’s green spaces.
The carvings are from Hackney and they are going back to Hackney” he explains, “it makes sense because of that connection”.
Originally from Birmingham, and now living in Harringey, Marsh taught himself the skill while working as a ranger in London Fields. “I had a bar of soap in my hands while I ate lunch, so I started whittling away at it and without realising I carved a dragon. So I decided to carve a bar of soap every lunch break for the next month.”
In 2007 his skills were discovered by his managers at Hackney Council, who put him on a chainsaw course and asked him to run a series of soap carving workshops for local children.
After this he made his first bench for Haggerston Park, lovingly known by locals as ‘the bone bench’ because of its unusual, curved shape.
Marsh was then accepted at City and Guilds London Art School to complete a diploma in architectural stone carving, and went part time while he perfected his craft. He returned to create countless more bespoke benches across the borough, using chainsaws, angle grinders and fallen wood from the area.
There’s no doubt that he is a man on a mission: “I want a sculpture or bench in every single part of Hackney” he says. So far there are benches in Mabley Green, London Fields, Haggerston Park and six other areas, with a sculpture that doubles up a ‘bug hotel’ unveiled in Haggerston Park this week. He was also commissioned to carve a stone gargoyle for Windsor Castle in 2008 The location of the two carvings he has just donated from his exhibition is still to be agreed with the Council.
With 62 official green spaces in the borough there is plenty more carving to do before his mission is complete, but Marsh is certain his efforts will pay off: “The bench in London Fields was put in a place where before people would just take their dogs to do their thing. Now kids sit down there and people hang out – it has changed the whole dynamic of that part of the park”, he explains, “Hackney’s parks, its trees and its people; they all come together in these sculptures and benches”.