I have been lucky enough to have spent the past 35 years
doing what I love to do, sculpting animals, and, gratifyingly,
found people liked them enough to buy them. I have also sculpted a series of figures of acrobats not only stand up, but
that they could be stood one upon another in an amazing way. If you wish, you
can see more of this on my web-site Quili.org.
in Bath, England at the outbreak of World War II, as a baby
I narrowly escaped death when our home was destroyed by a
German bomb. Growing up in Plymouth, Norwich, and London,
I attended Nottingham University, (whose only famous scion
of note was D.H. Lawrence) where I obtained a degree in Geology.
Changing direction immediately I moved to studying business
administration at the London Polytechnic and then briefly
went into management. Changing direction again in 1967 I emigrated
to the USA on the British wave led by the Beatles and within
a year found myself making a living, admittedly hand to mouth,
as a sculptor.
had received no formal training in art, but I had from a very
young age enjoyed modeling things of clay. At the age of seven
I was diagnosed with Perthe’s, a rare bone disease related
to the development of the head of the femur. In those days
the remedy was complete bed rest. For almost 18 months I sat
in bed, endless hours at my disposal, and it was there I believe
I developed my skill with my hands. It’s rare but nice when
sometimes in life a major setback can have a beneficial side
effect. I now consider myself truly fortunate to be able to
make a living doing that which gives me so much pleasure.
TAKING A TIGER BY THE TAIL - SEAGULLS
in Southern California I began creating one of a kind sculptures
out of fiberglass. Although most of my output was modern and
abstract, I also made stylized seabirds that I sold through
a few coastal galleries. Late in 1972, however, these seabirds
began leaving the galleries faster that I could make them.
When questioned as to why this was, one of the gallery owners
replied, “It’s Johnathan Livingston Seagull, haven’t you heard?”
Well I hadn’t, but the book by Richard Bach was quietly becoming
a best seller and establishing something of a cult around
the mythical seagull and it seemed that I had created it’s
perfect three-dimensional manifestation.
learning that a motion picture was to be made of the book
I became intrigued by the potential. I re-sculpted three of
the seabirds to make them more seagull-like, hand made about
a dozen and one Friday put them into a store priced according
to what I figured I could sell them for if they were molded
– $20 each retail. On Monday morning the storeowner called
me. He had sold out. He had never seen anything move so quickly
in 30 years of retailing. I realized I had a tiger by the
Being reluctant to relinquish my bohemian artist lifestyle
my first instinct was to try to make a deal with the Johnathan
Livingston Seagull people. After numerous telephone calls
I discovered that Mattel had acquired the licensing rights
to the forthcoming movie. After many more calls to and transfers
within Mattel, I finally reached the responsible person who
declined to even look at my bird, “We have our own seagull,
thank you” (which as far as I know never saw the light of
then figured I would have to go it alone and began looking
for distribution. Exploring the Los Angeles Merchandise Mart,
I found myself in the showroom of the late Vincent Lippe,
unbeknown to me the largest distributor of giftware in the
USA. Timorously inquiring at the reception desk if there was
someone I could show my gull to, I was surprised to be ushered
into the vast office of Mr. Lippe himself, who it transpired,
had been searching high and low for something to fill a new
demand for seagulls.
was a rainy day in January and I was wearing a raincoat. I
had a bird in one pocket and the base in the other. As I assembled
them on his desk, Lippe’s eyes widened.
many can you make?” he asked.
“How many do you want?” I replied.
“How about a thousand a week? Would that be a problem?” he
asked. I gulped inwardly.
“Not at all.” I replied.
send a couple dozen samples to each of my showrooms and we’ll
By working around the clock I laboriously hand-made the samples
and shipped them to the showrooms. As the orders started to
pour in, I began the process of transitioning to high volume
molding. This proved much more difficult than I had ever dreamed
and by the time I had it figured out the order pile was nearly
a foot high. The problems eventually were all resolved and
the birds fluttered out into the world by the tens of thousands.
I had 20 employees, a distributor, and thousands of retailers
all asking the same question – “What next?”
BETTER TO BE BORN LUCKY THAN RICH – DOLPHINS & SHARKS
my second visit with Vincent Lippe, he posed that question:
“Well what do you recommend?” I replied,
“Well dolphins are pretty popular.” He said. He was holding
one of my seagulls.
“In fact the head of your seagull looks almost like a dolphin’s
head, you might say you have a head start.”
I began sculpting various stylized dolphins, some curving
up, others down and one curving sideways. A visitor to my
Studio admired this sideways dolphin, but thought it was a
shark. On reflection I realized the mistake was natural because
the characteristic movement of a dolphin is up and down, whereas
a shark’s is from side to side. Well I had always liked the
deadly grace of sharks so, just for the heck of it, I turned
the sideways dolphin into a shark and made a mold for it along
with several dolphins. Believe it or not, as the word of what
was coming got out, we received a call from a gallery in Nantucket
, “They are shooting a film up here about a shark. If you
could rush some of the new sharks up here I am sure the crew
will buy some. The name of the movie? Something strange –
like maybe Jaws?”
about this time the books of the late John Lilly and his work
on dolphin communication began receiving publicity and the
movie “Day of the Dolphin” with George C. Scott further stimulated
interest in dolphins. As mine were the only reasonably priced
dolphins and the only sharks in the market-place, they were
soon selling as rapidly as the seagulls.
THE WHALES AND FLO
got lucky three times, ridden on three sets of coat-tails
as it were, I resolved in my next sculpture to go out in front
and make something for which there was no demand: I would
make a whale. I had been hearing the few voices trying to
be heard, protesting that whaling was driving the great whales
to the brink of extinction.
1974 on a vacation in Hawaii I had an encounter with a whale.
Lying in the net trampoline of a 50 foot catamaran running
down to Lanaii from Maui on one of those incredibly beautiful
Hawaiian days of rainbows and flying fish, as I gazed into
the depths, a huge dark shape materialized. It’s speed and
direction matched the boat’s and it surfaced just ahead, it’s
enormous back about 12 feet wide seeming to fill the space
between the hulls of the catamaran. I had an almost irresistible
impulse to leap onto its back, (which fortunately for myself
I managed to resist.) and then the whale and the moment were
gone, leaving me transformed.
that time there was little public awareness of whales or concern
for their plight. I felt that a beautiful sculpture of a whale
would help remedy this situation. As I began searching for
reference material I was surprised to discover that there
were no photos available of whales alive in their environment.
Pictures of dead whales, bloated and distorted on the decks
of whaling vessels, abounded, but of live whales there were
this point I was easily persuaded to finance an expedition
to Hawaii to film the Hawaiian Humpbacks that, it was reported,
could be approached underwater. As it turned out it was possible,
but not easy, and after weeks of frustration we returned with
the first footage of these extraordinary looking whales.
studying this film I was able to create my Humpback Whale
sculpture - which was an instant flop! People did not recognize
it as a whale! ‘The Sperm Whale of Moby Dick fame was a whale
– what was this odd-looking object?’ It would take a year
or two of growing awareness before the public at large would
come to recognize the Humpback as a whale.
the whales in Hawaii, seeing them underwater and familiarizing
myself with their grace and gentleness, drew me to become
more committed to their welfare.
then Greenpeace had begun their campaign of disrupting whaling
operations on the high seas. The dramatic film of their efforts,
showing them willing to risk their lives to save whales, captivated
the media but it was the resulting raising of public awareness
that was the real weapon for progress.
creating publicity and raising of public awareness were what
was needed, what could I as an artist contribute, I pondered?
The Humpback with its long flippers often looked like it was
flying underwater (in fact it’s Latin name Megaptero means
“long winged”). The idea of a flying whale came to mind.
searching around for someone who could build such a thing
we discovered George Stokes, a pioneer in the design and construction
of unorthodoxly shaped pressurized, hot-air balloons. For
about a month, working night and day, he sewed piles of blue
and white cloth together according to some formula he had
mostly in his head. Then one bright morning we switched on
a huge fan in her belly and magically Flo was born.
was an immediate hit. Her huge smile charmed and her immense
size, 110 feet long, commanded attention. When juxtaposed
against a significant landmark she created a montage that
the press, even though they knew they were being hyped, usually
could not resist. For the next six years I, with a group of
friends and volunteers, campaigned Flo in both anti-whaling
and pro-whaling countries around the world.
original Flo – Big Flo as she came to be known – with her
blowers, burners, generator and propane tanks – weighed over
300 lbs. Since we always flew her tethered to a vehicle or
boat, in any sort of breeze she became an uncontrollable monster.
So we had George build smaller Flos – two 40 footers, a veritable
flotilla of ten 25 footers and even little 15 foot walk-about
Floettes that one got inside, inflated around one and walked
smaller Flos, that could be inflated very quickly and used
in confined urban situations, often generated as much press
as Big Flo. They were loaned out or donated to other groups
to campaign in their own countries and were particularly effective
in Spain, Brazil, and Sweden. As a result of all this activity
Flo eventually became such a symbol for the movement that
no major save the whale demonstration or event was complete
the momentum towards the moratorium on whaling grew, the Flo
campaign became frenzied, almost obsessive. At times it felt
that Flo was doing the pulling, dragging us from one demonstration
to the next. Some financial support for the campaigns came
from the Animal Welfare Institute in Washington, D.C., Greenpeace
and some private donors, but most was provided by the Studio.
By the time the moratorium was passed in 1982 Big Flo was
literally worn out and the Studio neglected and drained to
the point of ruin. “Oh, but what a ride it had been – to have
been part of a movement that seemed so hopeless and quixotic
as late as 1976 to such a clear cut victory in 1982.”
returned to my art and the Studio and began a burst of creativity
that resulted in a plethora of new pieces some of which are
still part of the line up and retain their appeal even today.
Studio and I remained active in many animal welfare and environmental
causes. Flo continued to create publicity for many campaigns
from land-use to nuclear disarmament. In fact it was a Flo
at a rally in Washington, D.C. that first spouted a “Save
the Humans” banner.
on the concept of the Flos, other inflatables were created,
notable among them Joanna, a 17 foot tall kangaroo walk-about,
that was used extensively to publicize the uncontrolled slaughter
of kangaroos, and Betsy the Beaver, a 16 foot tall fake-fur
covered beaver that has been campaigned widely against inhumane
1992 I briefly reconnected with the movie industry with the
creation and distribution of the Friendship Doves that were
featured in the 20th Century Fox’s Home Alone II.
In 1998 I emerged from retirement so to speak to join the
front lines when I was invited to join a group touring Europe
with Betsy the Beaver to protest the World Trade Organization’s
actions in forcing the European Union to repeal it’s humane
trapping laws. [A video of this trip, called “The Trap Tour”,
is available from the Studio.]
we mark the twentieth anniversary of the passing of the moratorium
the prospect of a resumption of commercial whaling raises
it’s ugly head again and we ponder the next step.