A step into nature often leads to exciting places. Read about an artist's journey from the UK to South Africa and back again!
All photos provided by Spencer Jenkins
Children often absorb the interests and activities of those who surround them. In Spencer Jenkins’ case, early experiences of watching African children fashion toys out of recycled materials such as wood and wire inspired his later use of sustainable materials for creative purposes. He saw the need for recycling first hand in a country often plagued by poverty and low resources. After a number of years in Africa, Spencer returned to the United Kingdom, where he remembers helping his grandfather collect waste wood from dumpsters outside woodshops. It seemed to follow naturally that Spencer would keep some for himself and he began to hand carve objects which he mounted on driftwood.
This pattern of repurposing continued when Spencer moved to living accommodations opposite a landfill. The speed at which he witnessed the site fill up confirmed his belief in the need to breathe new life into a variety of materials. In his own words, Spencer uses “ancient techniques to make modern pieces that blur the boundaries between sculpture and function.” His website reflects not only his gifted artistry, but a life committed to sustainability and active community engagement.
Considering that Spencer was the lead artist to weave the massive willow arches in Windsor Great Park in honor of Queen Elizabeth’s 60th jubilee, made the 13 sculpture for the Black Sabbath album cover, has exhibited throughout the UK, and has sold his work worldwide, we were excited to learn that he also reserves time to work with children and adults of all ages in workshops for schools, outreach groups, art galleries, museums and community centres. For these programs, Spencer typically works with willow and hazel woods due to their versatility. He lists possibilities such as “giant creatures, arbours, seating areas, decorative garden fencing, gates” and, our personal favorite, “props for theatre productions.”
We were happy to have the opportunity to seek him out and ask him to tell us more!
Where in the world did you grow up?
I lived a fairly nomadic life in the first half of my childhood, which started here in the U.K.. I was born in Birmingham, England. When I was 10 months old my parents moved out to Zambia in Southern Africa where I spent another 12 years. Zambia was my first African experience for 4 years where my first brother was born, then my family moved to South Africa for 2 years. My family eventually settled in Botswana for 6 years where my second brother was born. As I was hitting my teens we moved back to Britain where I have lived ever since.
What are some of your favorite childhood memories associated with nature?
I have fond memories of spending time on beaches in South Africa. My father has always loved fishing which created a life of spending hours and days playing on the beach while he fished. My other profound memories are living in Botswana where I had an amazing amount of freedom playing up in the hills called Koppies around the mining town of Selebi-Phikwe, climbing and exploring in the caves there. We shared the area with dassie (rock hyrax), baboon, assorted birds, lizards, bats and insects; I was not only able to enjoy a beautiful rocky environment but was always surrounded by wildlife which I feel very privileged to have experienced.
Do you remember one special place with particular fondness?
This is a difficult question to refine to one place as I have many special memories associated with places I’ve been, but one of the places which has had a profound effect on me is the Chobe game reserve where an elephant once chased the family Volkswagen Kombi (minivan). I remember my parents shouting at my brother and I, “ Quick! Take a photo!” but we were too busy jumping under the seat in the back as we thought the elephant was going to hit the Kombi. That’s how close it was!
How has nature inspired you to live the life you are currently living?
I use objects from nature within my work because the natural world has had a massive effect on me. It helped make me who I am today; I try to be as sustainable as I can in my life and my aim is to get the public to think more of the environment around them. I enjoy helping people to develop an awareness of how fragile this amazing planet is that we all live on and inspiring them to keep nature for future generations to see and appreciate.
Spencer, can you recommend a special book from your childhood?
There is a book called Okavango; Sea of Land, Land of Water by Peter Johnson and Anthony Bannister, which is a natural history book on the diversity of the Okavango Delta in North Botswana. I found the photographs captivating, beautiful and amazing, especially the aerial shots of the delta during the wet season. Looking back to my childhood, I always found the extremes in the seasons there particularly special.
In 2014 The Okavango Delta that Spencer mentions was added to the UNESCO Heritage list. His anecdote about the elephant was not only entertaining but also significant; Botswana supports the world’s largest population of elephants, and the Okavango Delta has been acknowledged by UNESCO as a core area for the survival of the species.
Our gratitude to this busy artist for taking time out to chat with us! You can admire some of his incredibly diverse works at www.spencerjenkins.co.uk as well as on Instagram @salixrobotspencerjenkins.