Home » Skip-diving dynamo Dawny Tootes makes hot metal headway in the powerful world of sculpture
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Skip-diving dynamo Dawny Tootes makes hot metal headway in the powerful world of sculpture

Dawny Tootes with her crown of thorn

Dawny Tootes may be diminutive in stature, but when it comes to belief in her art, she’s nothing less than a tiny little powerhouse of dynamite.

This is the woman who didn’t think she was clever enough to be accepted at art college but who is now being hailed as one of the most inspiring and original sculptors that Wales has to offer having been shortlisted for the Welsh Artist of the Year award.

“I just never believed I was clever enough,” she tells the Pembrokeshire Herald from her gallery in Pembroke Dock.

“ I really wanted to go to art college but I didn’t think I’d ever get accepted.  So I decided that instead of being a cleaner, because that was the only other option, I’d disguise myself as a life model in Withens Lane College, Wallasey, just so that I could listen to what the tutors were saying and have a look at what the students were drawing.”

This was when Dawny began to realise that she really was capable of achieving her dream of going to art college, and was accepted at Birkenhead Technical College which was part of the John Moore University.

“In those days I didn’t know the difference between fine art and contemporary, but I just loved it.  And this was when I began to discover the power of sculpture.”

After five years at Birkenhead Tech and another period at the University of Glandwr in Wrexham, Dawny arrived in Pembrokeshire in 2002.

“I’ve lived in virtually every part of north Pembrokeshire that you can think of because I kept chasing sheds that were large enough for me to work in.”

Soon after her arrival in Pembrokeshire, she met Miles Pepper at the West Wales Arts Centre in Fishguard who introduced her to the MB Fine Arts foundry in Clynderwen. And this was when her dynamic style really began to blossom.

“By now I knew that I didn’t want to follow the typical method of using moulds.  I’d spent a lot of time working with plaster and loved its movement as it dropped and solidified.  It still looked as it if it was moving.”

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And so Dawny began foraging for what she describes as ‘real material’ – in other words, scrap metal, from which she could create her stunning works of art.

“I was skip-diving wherever I went, looking for discarded pieces of metal which I’d take back to the studio and melt in my propane-fired crucible.”

The metal takes up to eight hours to melt and this can only be achieved when the temperature has reached a minimum of 660 degrees Centigrade. She then uses a cast iron ladle to shape her molten metal on traditional foundry sand.

“The metal sets very quickly which means this is quite an instinctive way of working, as you have only a certain degree of control over what you’re doing.”

Ten years ago however, Dawny’s career came to a sudden stop when she was diagnosed as having breast cancer.  Following her surgery, she was barely able to lift a mug, let alone her large sculptors which can weigh up to seven stone.

As she began her recovery process, she was asked to do some art therapy sessions at the Adams Bucketful of Hope centre in Haverfordwest.

“They converted a tiny little shed at the bottom of the garden as a therapy room and it was a wonderful way for me to slowly get my strength back after my illness.

“ One day a lady came in and commissioned me to make a crown of thorns which would be displayed in St Clements Church, Neyland, over the Easter celebrations.  And this was a beautiful way of starting to sculpt again.”

Since then, Dawny’s career has gone from strength to strength, culminating in her opening the Dockside Gallery in Pembroke Dock last July which is managed by Petra Bourne. 

Meanwhile the crown of thorns has been displayed in St Clements every Easter since it was made.

“Making items such as this, which can be viewed and enjoyed by the community is what art is all about,” she added. 

“Art is there for everyone.”