‘Queen of the Waves’ – The Making Process

My assemblages often start with no pre-conceived ideas, just an item of interest like a vintage puppet or doll’s head or even a component from an old radio set. In this case ‘Queen of the Waves’ was no exception as my brother Chris and his wife had given me the head from a tiny resin figure of a 1920’s bathing beauty which had been dropped and broken. The head was much smaller than I normally use and when they gave it to me I didn’t even notice the little bathing cap and it went into my box of small heads.



For some time I have been using appropriate pages from a 1914 dictionary as ‘wallpaper’ for lining the boxes containing some of my work. I rather liked the Edwardian illustrations relating to the subject of swimming and the strokes and techniques employed, so the idea popped up about using the woman bather in a new piece with these dictionary illustrations. I also had an article entitled ‘Swimmer’s Corner’ from a 1890s edition of the boys’ magazine ‘Chums’. I wanted to use the tiny bather with the paper ephemera but the problem was how to make a reasonably sized piece which featured such a tiny head. The solution was to use a magnifying glass in front of the head, or in my case the front lens and barrel of a 50-70mm zoom lens. This had the effect of enlarging the bather’s head when viewed head-on and giving the piece its unique point of interest, the fact that you have to peer into the lens to see the subject in detail which is otherwise hidden!


Click to enlarge


After lining a veneered Victorian jewellery box and mounting the head against a mirrored star I then encased the lens in a wooden tube and gave it three coats of Cadmium Red acrylic (my favourite colour). This contrasted beautifully with the old jewellery box and the appropriate pages from the 1914 dictionary. To further enhance the swimming theme Jan found three enamel swimming badges on eBay and the most suitable one was then mounted onto a piece of Honduran mahogany which had formerly been part of a Victorian plate camera slide. Other parts of the slide were then used to frame the main box.


Most of my pieces start their new life as a single object with no theme or idea in mind at the beginning and the title is only decided when a story emerges from the creation. From there the work usually grows organically as new items are added to enhance the title and ‘story’. In this case it seemed obvious that I should be looking for a famous woman swimming star and what better than the first woman to swim the English Channel? Jan’s research brought up the name Gertrude Ederle (not really the most appealing) but also discovered that this American ‘hero’, who had been given a ticker-tape reception by two million of people when she returned to New York, was crowned ‘Queen of the Waves’. I needed to look no further for my title.


Click to enlarge


The date of Gertrude’s epic swim was 6th August 1926 and in my vast collection of paper ephemera I found a map of the English Channel from a 1920s atlas. This was set into a nice vintage wooden business-card box and mounted to the top of the assemblage. The year date was added using two counters from a French 1930s Lotto game.

Click to enlarge


I had been undecided about this lower section and as I live just 400 metres from the English Channel I thought it may be appropriate to seal an old miniature glass bottle with seawater collected from my local beach but in the end I decided not to unduly clutter the piece and to leave the illustrations in full view for the onlooker to discover.


‘Queen of the Waves’ the finished piece


I always find it exciting how a piece of broken ornament can be the catalyst that sparks an idea. Whilst writing the details for my online shop (as this assemblage goes on sale today),  it occurred to me that the idea of ‘Forgotten Heroes’ would make a great series and I now need to dig around for other subjects to fit this concept. I expect this one will go to an American collector but do ‘watch this space’ for more!



Within one hour of going on sale this piece has sold to a collector in Stockholm, Sweden (23 Jan 2018 – 13.15 )









About Colin Cadle

I trained as a pilot at the Royal Air Force College Cranwell flying jets and qualified as a captain on Wessex search and rescue helicopters in the Gulf. However, my professional future was destined to be firmly back on the ground... In 1976 a chance introduction to Julie Andrews' husband film producer Blake Edwards really kicked off my interest in photography after he invited me onto the set of the Peter Sellers' now classic film 'The Pink Panther Strikes Again' at Shepperton Studios. Stills photographer David Farrell further fired my enthusiasm when, during a break in filming, I was offered a short photo shoot with leading fashion model and 'Bond girl' actress Maud Adams. From that moment on art and photography have always played a major part in my life. I now live in the beautiful southwest corner of England with​ my designer and photo-stylist wife Jan. Following a serious illness in 2016 we were forced to leave commercial photography behind us but this now allows me to concentrate solely on creating art from my studio in Devon

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