Casting Characters: Comedy Legends Sculptures Features Graham Ibbeson’s Amazing Work

Sculptor Graham Ibbeson with his latest work by Sir Ken Dodd.  Photo Tony Johnson
Sculptor Graham Ibbeson with his latest work by Sir Ken Dodd. Photo Tony Johnson

They were all immortalized by Graham Ibbeson, Barnsley’s super-talent, the town’s famous ‘people’s sculptor’ and one of Yorkshire’s best-loved artists, writes Graham Walker.

His casts of the beloved performers, which were used to create their bronze statues, now feature in a new free-entry exhibition celebrating his work downtown.

Casting Characters: The Worlds Of Graham Ibbeson, is in The Gallery at The Glass Works and lasts until July 31.

It also includes fun sculptures of everyday people, like a mother and child pushing the pam, called Uphill Struggle,

The exhibition presents the works in their raw state, using a fiberglass technique, which is part of the sculpting process.

Inspired by Graham’s studio, the figurines include a first look at Graham’s latest sculpture of Ken Dodd starring Diddyman, Dickie Mint – on display courtesy of the late comic’s widow, Lady Dodd.

Visitors are encouraged to get involved and strike the famous poses of the characters on display and share their photos on the Barnsley Museums social media channels.

The exhibition kicks off Graham Ibbeson’s summer season, which people can experience throughout the spring and summer.

In addition to the cast characters, the summer season includes from noon to midnight, drawings by Graham Ibbeson, words by Paul Thwaites presented at the Cooper Gallery from Saturday July 16 to Saturday September 3.

There will be a limited edition publication and a brand new public art trail showcasing much of the artist’s work at Barnsley.

Born and raised in Barnsley, Graham, who recently received the Honorary Freedom of the Borough award, is best known for his realistic and moving figurative sculptures which have been commissioned for exhibitions around the world.

His work also features prominently in and around Barnsley – including the statue of Dickie Bird, celebrating the life and career of the town’s legendary Test cricket umpire, a tribute by Kes to Barnsley-born author Barry Hines, a memorial to the Oaks mining disaster and its last, a Covid memorial sculpture in recognition of those who lost their lives and in tribute to key workers in the pandemic.

Despite achieving international fame, Graham remained active and close to his roots in Barnsley for over 50 years, including running his Barnsley studio and inspiring future artists at Barnsley College.

Graham said of the exhibition, “It’s a great opportunity to showcase my work downtown and bring people, my community, to a gallery.

“We brought the Cooper Gallery essentially to the city.

Casting Characters: The Worlds of Graham Ibbeson at Barnsley July 31. Photo Tony Johnson

“There are eight rooms in there. These are the originals that I took to the foundry to cast in bronze. We have Eric Morecambe walking away and Laurel and Hardy chatting.

“There’s Benny Hill, which was commissioned but nobody took it to be cast in bronze, so we only took it at the fiberglass level.

“There is also the scales of justice, which is outside the courts of Middlesbrough. And there’s a woman pushing a pram – called Uphill Struggle, with a smiling little baby in the pram, who’s just thrown her pacifier. There is also a girl who swims on a stool, as children do.

“It’s important for people to come see it, enjoy it, laugh and hopefully go see the designs at the Cooper.”

Graham added: “I had been doing public sculpture since 1986. You always think you could have done better and made it better. But you can’t – that error you keep seeing will be there forever. You don’t tell anyone about it, you can see it, but you only tell the closest and dearest people.

“I used to mold the clay and put it in fiberglass. And that’s what’s shown at the Glass Works. However, to speed up the process, we now take a rubber mold directly on the clay.So the clay is destroyed and you just need to finish with a rubber mould.

Cast characters

“So really, your life is in the hands of those mold makers, because there’s no original anymore.”

Graham, who grew up in council residences in Cudworth and Shafton, explained why he is so proud of the town. He added: “It’s about the people, not the buildings. I’m part of this community and proud to be a son at Barnsley.”

Councilor Tim Cheetham, the Cabinet’s Spokesperson for Place, Regeneration and Culture, said: “Graham’s work is featured in locations around the world and celebrates beloved figures in entertainment and sport, as well as only monumental moments in history.

“We are incredibly proud to have an artist of his caliber from Barnsley putting our borough on the world map, and his new exhibition is a real treat for fans of art, sculpture and design.”

Benny Hill
Uphill fight. Photo by Tony Johnson