Willie Leece was a well known, quiet and reflective Manx farmer, who lived all his life at Ballaotes, St. Johns, but had a hidden artistic passion.
Alongside his busy farming life, Willie found time to create what might best be described as “countryside” sculptures from found items which had previously been discarded. These intriguing surreal objects could frequently adorned the hedgerows and gate posts around Archallagan from the 1950′s until he died.
The range and variety of the of these artworks clearly demonstrates the quirky imagination and creative flair of this unlikely artist.
Quite by chance, these sculptures first came to the attention of photographer Richard Cowley, whilst on a Sunday afternoon outing with his aunt as a child. He spied some old work boots threaded onto fence poles and discarded oil drums randomly arranged at strange angles. These ”sculptures” were arrangements of found objects discovered along the roadside or in nearby fields. They came as a wonderful surprise and made people smile.
As Mr Cowley explains, “For more than 50 years, motorists and walkers have enjoyed a surreal exhibition of everyday material that adorned the hedgerows and fences of Ballavar Road, The Hope.” Since then, new incongruous objects have mysteriously appeared and old ones vanished, never to be seen again.
Richard moved to Australia but whilst on a holiday revisiting the Island in the 1980′s, he became reacquainted with these sculptures and happened to meet their creator Willie Leece.
On subsequent holidays, Richard, now a photographer, decided to photograph the sculptures so that their images would be preserved.
There were a great number of works and many were beginning to deteriorate. Sadly, a line of fencing on which many works were displayed, has been removed and many works lost.
Fortunately however, several hundred examples were photographed and digitally preserved, with a small section now available on the internet (willieleece.blogspot.com). It is planned to add more.
Although Willie made these artworks for his own amusement, by placing some sculptures along the roadside, there can be little doubt he wished others to enjoy and speculate upon his creative endeavours. They certainly show great ingenuity, introspection and Willie’s wry sense of humour.
A selection of these images is being currently being exhibited at the Sayle Gallery.
The photographs will be on display and available to purchase until 24 October, with part of the proceeds very kindly being donated by Richard Cowley, going towards the Baillie Scott designed Village Hall in memory of Willie Leece and Jean Davie