The Elephant & The Tortoise, 2016

The Elephant  & The Tortoise is a public sculpture commissioned by London Borough of Waltham Forest.

The 4m x 2m tall stainless steel sculpture commemorates British Xylonite’s Halex Factory which stood on the same site in Highams Park between 1897 and 1971. Built in 1897, Highams Park literally grew up around the factory, which was perhaps most famous for having a worldwide monopoly on the production of table tennis balls. Interestingly, the factory practically invented plastic. Parkesin, later to become known as Celluloid, was initially used to make substitute ivory and tortoiseshell products.

One of their original trademarks was an etching of an Elephant and Tortoise walking arm in arm, which Barford took as inspiration for the sculpture.

The Elephant & The Tortoise sculpture takes into account the history of Highams Park and the importance the British Xylonite factory had to the local economy. One thing that struck the artist, who lives locally, was the lack of identity of the area. Today, once again, there is a sense of excitement and energy for change, and this is reflected in the iconic image of the animals that acts as a lit beacon at nightfall. Barford hopes that the area will adopt this image as its unique identity, not only to celebrate its past, but also to look forward to the future.

When Barford created The Elephant & The Tortoise, he was eager to use the installation as a catalyst for activities engaging the local people. In 2015 the artist ran a series of workshops about the public sculpture which involved primary and nursery pupils from different schools in Highams Park.

During the Highams Park Festival in 2016, people were invited to take a tennis ball and write a single word on it expressing the thing they wanted the most. The balls were inserted in one of the 40mm tennis size holes that perforate the whole sculpture to create a wall of words – a wishing wall.