Shrouds artist finds a patron in Downton Abbey star

By in Arts

A MAJOR television star is backing Washford artist Rob Heard’s epic attempt to make over 72,000 hand-stitched epic figures in less than 18 months to complete his mammoth Shrouds of the Somme installation.

Hailing it as “one of the most extraordinary artworks I have ever witnessed”, award-winning Downton Abbey star Jim Carter has become Rob’s patron as he struggles with the gruelling 15 hours a day, seven days a week schedule needed to complete the project on time.

The figures will depict British and South African soldiers killed in the Somme campaign and who have no known grave.

“The scale of Rob’s task is unimaginable, but so is the scale of the loss of life 100 years ago,” said Jim, who played butler Mr Carson in the ITV cult drama, for which he received four Emmy award nominations.

“I support this project in the hope that devastation like this will never happen again. We will remember them,” said Jim, 68, who is married to actress Imelda Staunton.

“The artwork is stunning because it represents grief in such a dramatic manner.”

The star of hit movies like A Private Function, Brassed Off, Shakespeare in Love, The Singing Detective and Cranford said he first met Rob when he was giving a recital at Exeter Cathedral last summer to remember the centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

He saw the first phase of Rob’s installation – 19,240 individually-shrouded figures each about 12 inches tall, laid out in lines in an Exeter park and commemorating those who had lost their lives on the first day of the battle.

On hearing this was only the first phase of the project, Jim decided that he wanted to support Rob’s extraordinary creation.

Rob is now working on figures which represent every soldier who died at the Battle of the Somme but whose body was never recovered from the battlefield.

Jim said that last year’s display of Rob’s shrouded figures was “an acutely moving depiction of loss and remembrance”.

He added: “When The Last Post was played over those figures, over those lost lives, it was one of the most moving depictions of loss and the folly of war that one could have imagined.”

Working single-handedly in a studio near Washford, Rob, 49, said: “I don’t expect to have any time off before the deadline, except maybe a few hours on Christmas Day!”

A crowd-funding scheme is helping to pay for the materials.

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