Children’s train designs sculpted in steel for station display

Published: 10 Dec 2020

Five young artists have been watching a blacksmith turn their drawings of trains into spectacular metal sculptures, to be installed at Glynde station for passengers and passers by to enjoy.

The artist blacksmith at historic Glynde Forge, Thomas Gontar, was commissioned to create the steel sculptures by the local community, his work being funded by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) as part of its network-wide, multimillion-pound station improvement programme.

Before the programme began, GTR asked local passengers and communities how they wanted their station to look and work better. The Glynde community were especially keen to involve local artists and gardening enthusiasts in the improvements, and the train sculptures were the idea of Helen Sadler of the Friends of Glynde Station.

Through the parish magazine, the Friends invited local children to send in their design for a train sculpture. Out of 40 submitted, five designs by children aged five to 11 were chosen by a judging panel including Helen, fellow Station Friend Janet Seller, and Catherine Simmons of the Sussex Community Rail Partnership.

Helen said: “We’re taking a fully community-minded approach, to appeal to all ages and abilities, involving children as much as possible in enhancing the station. We were determined to use local artistic talent so I approached Thomas at the forge, and he was very keen to add his creativity and skills to the project.

“Having seen what Thomas has produced so far, I’m as thrilled to bits as the children. They are so excited and proud that their designs will be on display for everyone passing through. These works of art will make the station really unique and special.”

Thomas said: “It’s been great fun working out how to take the children’s ideas off the paper and turn them into solid sculptures – that’s where my artistic contribution has come in.”

The five fully-finished sculptures will be installed at the station early next month. Another unique station feature being created by the community will transform a Victorian tramway tunnel, that once connected the station to a local chalk quarry, into a gallery of local historical displays including a Glynde time-line. The locally designed multi-media displays will include movement-activated elements and braille translations.

Angie Doll, Managing Director for Southern and Gatwick Express, said: “We asked our customers and neighbours what improvements they wanted to see at their station and the whole community at Glynde has responded magnificently, not just with unique creative ideas but a lot of hard work too. These stunning sculptures and an amazing local history display will be complemented by landscaping and planting, with contributions from volunteer gardeners, a local tree surgeon, the Glynde Estate, Glyndebourne, and Firle Bonfire Society from the neighbouring village.

“Across our whole network we are undertaking over a thousand improvement projects at around 250 stations. We want our stations to be true assets to the communities they serve, and there’s no better way than working in partnership with local people themselves in making their stations better places. Glynde is a prime example of that idea in action.”

Thomas Gontar explained his process for creating the sculptures: “After making paper templates from enlargements of the children’s drawings, I make a two-dimensional sculpture by cutting the main train shapes from sheets of mild steel, using a plasma cutter. Then I shape the details like wheels, window frames and smoke as 3-d elements using good old-fashioned forging and hammering on the anvil - once the steel is heated in the forge it can be shaped and pulled like plasticine. Most of these pieces are welded to the main body, and some of the more elaborate details are rivetted together.”

The complete sculptures have now been sent to a galvaniser to give them a more textured, weathered finish. Back at the forge next week they will be “fettled” by Thomas to remove any sharp snags, and given a “t-wash” solution (an etching solution for newly treated galvanised steel) that gives the metal a darker, softer patina.

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