An interview with Richard Cowdy, Sculptor

Richard Cowdy at his home in Calne.
Photo Credit: Dee La Vardera.
Even as I walk through the garden gate, I see sculptures that I recognise. Upon walking into the old Guthrie Juvenile School which Richard shares with his wife, Helen, I am taken aback by all the wonderful art on display. As we sit with friends, Richard pours the tea and I am already feeling enriched by the paintings and sculptures that envelope me. 

Richard Cowdy, most famous for the animal sculptures on public display in Calne and Chippenham, was born in London. He worked at the Morris Singer Foundry for two years after graduating in sculpture at the Camberwell School of Art. 

In 1973, Richard acquired the old Guthrie School for £3,600 before spending the next two years converting the building for both domestic and work purposes. When the foundry was operational, Richard, who used the lost wax method of casting his sculptures, would only use it at night as it required all of the windows to be open to let out the large amounts of smoke and steam it generated. 

One humorous anecdote entails Richard being woken in the middle of the night by voices in his foundry. He opened the door, in his pyjamas, to a smoke-filled room, to see figures moving about. Eventually he bumped into a police officer and explained that all was well, that the smoke was generated by firing some moulds and not an actual fire. The police officer, brought to life by Richard’s animated story telling, radioed based saying, “Charlie to base. The building is still standing”. He then found around ten firefighters, to whom he explained that he ran this process around once a month and that there was no need to attend. However, they disagreed, as they needed to attend each report. This situation happened once again, after which Richard moved the foundry outside. 

The Pig Sculpture in miniature, at Richard’s home.

Two Pigs Sculpture

Richard, of course is most famous in Calne for the pig sculpture that has been clambered upon by generations of children since its installation in the late 1970s. After witnessing the outpouring of anger and grief when the sculpture was stolen in 2017 it is hard to believe that the sculpture ever had any detractors. However, it seems to have been quite a slog to have the sculpture approved by the Council. 

Taking Richard’s words from his leaflet, ‘The Story of Calne’s Pigs’, we discover the struggle, which began in 1978 when he was first approached by Dr. Arnold Hare, Chairman of the Calne Civic Society: “I suggested a pile of pigs made of cement, as there was very little money available, and made a small plaster model to be presented to the Town Council for planning consent. 

When it came up on the agenda the Town Clerk unveiled it, the response was laughter and it was rejected, because it was not considered to be dignified enough to represent Calne.” 

The account continues: 

“After more rejection I proposed a bronze casting of two pigs, smaller than the cement sculpture owing to the lack of funds” 

Richard and Dr. Hare lobbied some of the Councillors, however one Councillor objected to the sculpture as she felt it would attract young children into the street, resulting in traffic accidents. Fortunately, she was not able to attend the final vote due to having the flu. The sculpture got through by one vote! 

The adversity did not stop there, however, as when the sculpture was cemented in place a crowd of mostly hostile people surrounded them. It seems that this hostility came from a misunderstanding about where the money had come from for the sculpture, with many saying it would have been better off spent on education or the NHS. However, Richard, who was happy to have a piece of his artwork on display in public, received no financial payment for his services. It cost the Calne Civic Society, £148 for the 148 lbs of metal required for the project. 

Upon seeing the sculpture, people started to change their minds. The first being Cllr Frederick Eley who had initially voted against the sculpture, but was delighted to see that instead of the two fat sows he had envisaged were two young and healthy porkers. Then tragedy struck as the pigs were stolen during the night of the first and second of October 2017. 

Hopefully, many more generations of Calne children will be able to clamber on the sculpture for a long time to come.

Part of the fabric of Calne: The pig sculpture is often ‘dressed up’ to celebrate events.
Here they’re embracing the flag of St. George’s Cross for the FIFA 2018 World Cup.


In 1990, Richard was contacted by Gordon Mitchell, Project Director of The Calne Project to be involved in their Art for Architecture scheme; which Richard agree to readily. He then joined the Calne Artists’ Group, who were responsible for many of the public art on display around the redeveloped area. Richard, as part of the Calne Artists’ Group was involved with the design of the piazza at Sainsbury’s, creating the sheep sculpture – another sculpture that restless kids can climb over and enjoy during ‘boring’ shopping trips. 

Richard has other pieces of public art, such as the Devizes Pyramid and the Chippenham calf. Along with two other sculptures at Kingsbury Green Academy, one of which was unveiled by The Queen. It should come as no surprise that such an accomplished sculptor has had work shown as the Royal Academy in London, along with many other galleries. Richard’s work is owned by collectors all over the world. 

Now in his eighties, Richard shows no sign of stopping. He shows me wonderful pieces he has made using a printing process, many smaller pieces of sculptures; including a Venus figure, and now spends his time making ceramics. 

I found Richard to be a humble man. I am not sure if he realises that importance of his public art in the day to day lives and wellbeing of those who consider it part of their routine. Whether walking down Borough Parade in Chippenham or Phelps Parade in Calne, Richard’s sculptures are ever-present – whether you see them or just a huddle of kids climbing all over them. These sculptures are part of the fabric of these towns.