Sean Henry: a chance encounter with a Windy Oceancraft 760 led this internationally recognised sculptor to start dreaming…
My passion for boats started in 1969 when I was just four years old. My parents took me and my three brothers on holiday to France but my father got so frustrated with the overcrowded beaches that he bought a secondhand 13ft Dory to escape the crowds. We towed it back home with us and from that moment on we never looked back. Mum made us all wetsuits from a DIY pattern, Dad fashioned a pair of wooden skis from a kit, and we grew up messing about on the water around Langstone Harbour. The Dory was upgraded to something called a Blagg 380, followed by a Delta, before he settled on a Boston Whaler. I loved that boat and promised myself that if I ever got a boat it would be a Whaler too.
My career as a sculptor began in 1988 and took a step forward in 1998 when I won the Villiers David Prize, which came with an £8,000 travel grant and an exhibition of my work. I started to gain an international following after shows in New York in the early 2000s, but I’m probably best known for my larger than life public works in places like Newbiggin and the Yorkshire Moors.
Even so, it wasn’t until I turned 50 that I started to think about buying a boat. I’d been enjoying a day out with a friend when I spotted a pretty sportsboat going into Yarmouth harbour. It turned out to be a Windy Oceancraft and when I got home I pinned a photo of one in my studio.
I discovered that Windy had made just 76 of them and the only one currently for sale was in Oslo. A 2004 inboard-engined 761, it was still out of my price range, but I emailed the owner to see if he would consider an offer. He spotted my name and asked if I was the sculptor Sean Henry. Amazingly he knew my work from my Walking Woman sculpture in Ekebergparken in Olso. Not only did he accept my offer, but he later went on to buy a sculpture for his own house.
I think there is a connection between sculpture and boating. Art is very single-minded and boating gives me an escape that I can enjoy with family and friends. There is also a physical link as I use JOTUN marine paint to make my work weatherproof!
As an artist I constantly aspire to capture some essence of the human experience. I think we all have a desire to leave our mark in some way. My parents’ influence extends beyond introducing me to boating but I feel very grateful they did; it gives me great pleasure and I’m hoping I can pass this passion on to my kids.