Eddie Hallam, wildlife sculptor

Final Diving Kingfisher on Two ReedsIf I pass anything on when I go then it has to be the importance of passion for whatever you do in life.”

Poignant words from a 76-year-old artist and conservationist whose time on this planet has revolved around his own passion for nature.

As a child he walked and cycled for miles, investigating every inch of the countryside in his quest for knowledge about wildlife; as a young man he set up his own zoo and had plans to save endangered species and now as a grandfather he has carved out a niche for himself as a sculptor of beautiful bronze birds and mammals.

Eddie Hallam is a man who has spent his life setting goals and always achieving them. Even now he is not content to sit back and relax and says so long as it involved wildlife he would never say no to something new.

For the moment though, when he is not out on his daily walk with the dogs updating his nature diaries, he is in his workshop at Greenways Farm, Riber, creating his stunning bronze sculptures.

“The first thing people always ask is how long they take me, but I don’t really know,” he says.

“The sculpting time varies but it is the hours I have spent researching my subjects which count. The details I have observed and the field sketches I have made while out walking are what make the sculptures so special.”

As well as his dogs the artist will always be seen out with a game bag that he uses to carry his sketchbooks, pencils, a knife, and materials for his initial sculpting.

“I can only retain what I have seen for a couple of hours so it is essential that I start work on a sculpture immediately I have inspiration from something I have seen,” he explained.

“I don’t like taking photographs as depending on the angle they can distort the dimensions. There is nothing like being instantaneous.”

Once Eddie has designed his sculpture they are cast by an ancient lost wax method and then he meticulously applies the patina with a paintbrush.

Fans of his work come from far and wide to his exhibitions and open days and he says that they all want a little piece of him to go with the artwork. They want to know what makes him tick – and it’s a fascinating tale.

He was born in Sheffield just 500 yards from the Sheffield Wednesday football ground (being an Owls fan is the only other passion to which he will confess) and he was destined to be a city lad.

It was on fishing trips to the countryside with his father that Eddie first discovered an interest in wildlife.

The truth is he was rubbish at fishing and although he went along with his dad to the riverbank both man and boy were happier if he sneaked away to explore his surroundings rather that fumbled about tangling the fishing line and rod.

“I loathed the fishing but loved the trips to the countryside. I hated the idea of catching the fish and was much happier walking the banks, fields, and woods.

“My family moved out of Sheffield to the countryside when I was 13 and then I became even closer to nature and spent every spare moment outside.

“Nothing would stop me if I wanted to do it. When I was about 12 I remember cycling with three friends from Sheffield to Suffolk so we could see the avocets at Havergate Island. It was 187 miles but I just had to see those birds,” he said.

His idol then, and now, was the naturalist and artist Sir Peter Scott who was the founder and first chairman of the World Wildlife Fund.

It was the influence of the great man that led Eddie to Chester Zoo as an assistant curator; inspired him to open his own wildlife park at Riber Castle and more recently to fight to protect the grass snake population at Lea Meadows, near Cromford, for which he won a special award from English Nature.

Eddie is too modest to compare himself with Scott but he is certainly one of Derbyshire’s leading conservationists.

It was during his time at Riber Castle that Eddie started his love affair with the lynx.

“Without doubt the lynx is the most beautiful thing I have ever set eyes on. I always loved wild cats but there is something special about this one. I just love its strength and sheer power.”

In fact the lynx is the one animal that could drag Eddie away from his beloved Riber and his sculptures.

He is part of a group working to have them reintroduced into Scotland where they once roamed before human persecution wiped them out.

“If I got the call to say that was happening I would pack up and go tomorrow. No hesitation,” he declared.

Eddie once even raised a lynx. Harvey was a zoo kitten that needed hand rearing and he ended up living with the artist, his late wife Margaret and their two young children for 15 years.

With a twinkle in his eye Eddie showed me a sideboard on top of which were two huge scratches. He explained that while playing ball in the house with his son Scott the wild cat had missed a catch, crashed and skidded to a halt on top of the furniture.

“I won’t get rid of that sideboard and I won’t repair the scratches. They remind me of Harvey and the fun we had,” he says with a giggle as he recalls the scene.

In the mid 1980s the family sold Riber Castle Wildlife Park and set up home at a farmhouse in the village where Eddie still lives today with his partner Pauline.

It was in that decade that Eddie decided to enroll as a mature student for a biology degree. It was perfect for him as to study biology you had to be able to sketch and his could combine his art and interest in science.

While at university his natural love of painting and drawing saw him hanging around the art department – and it was then that his life took a change of direction. He discovered carving.

“I realized that three dimensions were far better than two as I could get my hands around it and it felt like I was creating something.”

He eventually got hooked on bronze after a customer who wanted to protect his carving asked for it to be cast.

“I have never looked back. I took to it immediately. There is something tactile about bronze and I can capture so much more of the movement and feel of the bird or mammal I am working on.

“Nature is like food and drink to me I have to have it everyday. I am trying promote interest in wildlife and conservation and if my skills as a sculptor do that then I am happy, very happy.”

Eddie needn’t worry about passing on his passion – it is totally infectious and anyone who spends time with him will definitely leave feeling inspired to add a touch into their own lives.