I want to talk about Esther on behalf of her other ‘family’ – her family of sculpture students or perhaps ‘tribe’ would be more accurate. Their numbers over the years run into dozens. We all feel linked to Esther in profound ways that stem from her great gifts as a truly inspirational teacher and loyal caring friend. As a teacher, Esther connected people from all backgrounds and ages to their unexplored talents and also to one other. It is no exaggeration to say that she created around her a universe of goodwill.
At art college in Cambridge where she went late in life to study, her tutors were clearly impressed by this feisty woman looking for ways of expressing her creative talent and inner feelings. She soon discovered that sculpture was to provide that release for her. But it was not until after graduating that she taught herself to carve in stone which makes the quality and power of her work all the more remarkable. The emotional charge extracted by Esther from within the stone itself is her work’s unique strength. Esther had fallen in love with Renaissance Italy and Michelangelo and Donatello were her gods. Together with us her students, she made two study trips to Italy, one to the marble quarries of Carrara from where Michelangelo had chosen his stone.
When she wasn’t supporting her own family, Esther was truly happiest when carving in her wonderful studio in Cambridge. She was always searching for a new stone, a new challenge, a new story to tell in three dimensions. She single-mindedly followed her heart and never bowed to what was considered fashionable in the fickle contemporary art world. She unashamedly championed the human figure which is the basis for all her work and her knowledge of anatomy was formidable. The carving by hand of her sculptures, both large and small, represents a formidable physical feat as much as an artistic one.
Once she had discovered that stone carving was to be her direction as an artist, she found studio space at Artworks in Cambridge which is where I met her around 1998 and persuaded her to offer classes.
It was clear from the start that alongside her talent as an artist, Esther was a natural teacher. Many people shy away from carving stone as they think of the medium as being too challenging. Esther showed us that the stone was our friend and if carefully handled, would yield to our chisel and to our vision. Her students have ranged from small children though bolshie adolescents to timorous oldies. Almost all came away from Esther’s sessions shining with new confidence and a desire to continue to develop their skills under Esther’s patient guidance.
Whatever our approach, we students came to rely on Esther’s impeccable eye when it came to helping us solve an artistic problem. If a key piece of stone fell off accidentally she had the glue ready as a last resort!
Under such a great teacher, you wanted to give of your best. She was someone who, if you earned her respect, would become your most loyal and supportive friend. Esther was always ready to help her students through difficult times. And when she herself encountered difficult and tragic periods, Esther never complained. She used her natural sense of humour as a way of keeping her unshakeable optimism intact. The memory of arriving at the studio each week to be greeted with Esther’s wonderful smile and the offer of a cup of coffee will be with me always. Esther was the most generous-spirited person of anyone I know. She always put the needs of others before her own. “I’m here for you, if you need me,” was her mantra and she never let us down.
Knowing Esther has transformed my life immeasurably for the better, and I suspect she has also transformed the lives of many others who passed through her studio over the years. You can be certain that we, as her students, will do our utmost to make sure that Esther’s unselfish ideals and her wonderful approach to life, endure. I like to think that there is a little bit of this amazing person in all who were fortunate enough to know her. This is her lasting gift to us and in this troubled world, we must use it well. We owe her so much and I feel she is still with us, encouraging us every step of the way.
Martin Thompson July 2016