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Creating an exhibition for Bergdorf Goodman

For the last 6 months I've been working for my first show in New York:
'Secret Society at Bergdorf Goodman'
from 22nd May


The exhibition comprises a plaster banquet attended by characters from my Plaster Bust Collection.

The New York Times came to my studio to document some of the preparation for the show as part of their 
'Making it' series

photo by Jo Metson Scott

When Bergdorf Goodman asked if they could visit my studio over a year and half ago I was delighted that they were interested in my work but I certainly never imagined that that unexpected meeting would lead to my creating on of my Secret Society Banquets for their iconic Fifth Avenue store 18 months down the line - and my first exhibition in New York City. What a venue.

It's certainly been an intense few months work in the studio to create the over 80 objects and busts for the banquet. I have no idea how many bowls of plaster I mixed or how many miles I tramped backwards and forwards across my studio in the making of the work - a LOT!!

The banI made a number of 'still life' sculptures like this tray with decanter, glasses, a vase of roses and bowl of grapes.  Everything is dipped in and then fused together with plaster.

There should always be plenty of delectable food at a banquet and everyone loves cake! 

There are 13 different busts in the exhibition. I make these by first creating a sculpture from real objects and materials and then making a silicone mould of this original, and finally a plaster cast. This cast is being taken from the silicone mould.

A mini mock-up banquet in the studio to show Bergdorf how the work was going.

A pile of artificial flowers to be transformed into voluptuous plaster bouquets.

'Librarian' being carefully extricated from the silicone mould.

I lost count of how many bags of plaster I got through.......

Another 'still life' - I source the original objects in charity shops, thrift stores, flea markets, ebay.....anywhere I can find interesting looking pieces which fit the aesthetic of an '18th century banquet'.  I'm interested in how plaster can transform objects of low intrinsic  into high status sculpture.

Demoiselle D waiting for her plinth. Her hat was inspired by the iconic 1960s 'coolie' hats designed by Dior. When I reference fashion - contemporary or historic - I'm always looking for designs with a strong sculptural form.

When the bust comes out of the mould there's a lot of finishing work to do, cracking of the flashing (plaster which has seeped from the mould joints) and using a sharp mini chisel to work smooth these rough edges.

My studio got fuller and fuller by the day..

I sourced my exotic fruit and vegetables from a company which makes fake food for advertising - interesting how the brightly coloured hollow plastic is transformed into solid three-dimensional sculpture by coating it in plaster.

Lots of processes and layers of plaster to turn the fake flowers into plaster bouquets.

The thing with plaster is timing - you have to get it right. Pour too early and it isn't strong when set, leave too long and it's too thick to pour. There's a lot of hanging about waiting and if you go and do something else for too long you return to find the spoon sticking out a solid bowl of plaster!!

One of the trickiest things when making the plaster flowers is finding a way of placing them to dry without the petals getting squashed and misshapen. The plaster is very heavy when wet and the flower heads have to be supported while they dry.

This was the 3rd attempt at creating a giant pedestal fruit bowl. the first two times the plaster was too thick making the shapes below blurred.  Hacking off the plaster each time was difficult as it's a very hard alpha plaster - almost like concrete - and my assistant had to use a drill with a masonry drill bit to prise off the fruits from the base - twice!  But I didn't want to put anything in the exhibition that I wasn't 100% satisfied with so that's the way it goes.

Always a slightly nervy moment pulling off the silicone and hoping the cast has come out in one piece.

I think shellfish look particularly exotic and very fitting for a deluxe banquet.

These tea cups were a great find, I knew the whirly stripes would make a great relief pattern in the plaster.  Sourcing all the objects was really a fun - and the easiest!! - part of the project.  Even now the exhibition is up and running I still can't stop myself from rummaging around charity shops in search of that 'perfect' Bergdorf banquet object!

Bergdorf Goodman - iconic 5th Avenue store  and somewhere I never imagined would play host to my Secret Society Banquet. Still, it's a fitting venue for the plaster bust collection, those girls have always had ideas above their station!
For images of sculptures in the exhibition

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