When army spouse and artist Keziah Burt was commissioned to create a sculpture of Her Majesty The Queen for the National Army Museum last year, little did she know how poignant it would become. Her finished work will be unveiled in February. We caught up with Keziah to find out more…

What’s your army connection?

My husband is in the Royal Engineers, we met before he joined up, so it’s been over a decade of service family life. We had our little girl Imogen in Germany and our son Sullivan back in the UK at Hermitage. I honestly love being part of the military community. You know wherever you end up you’ll meet lovely, welcoming people. You get an extended military family with each new house which fills the gap you have when moving away.

How did you become an artist?

I was making arty mess before I could walk or talk, so inevitably I trained as an art teacher. I did a sculpture degree and masters, then teacher training, with the aim that it would be easier to work around being a parent. I’ve only been a full-time artist since September – it’s tricky to juggle with all the moving.

At school, undiagnosed dyslexia and dyscalculia had me convinced I was a bit thick – it was the eighties. Turned out I wasn’t, I just learned in a different way. I love the freedom of creating. There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing something I’ve made with love is treasured in my clients’ homes.

How have you managed to juggle your career alongside army life?

My lovely neighbours and friends have shared their skills, photography, proofreading, media strategy, accounting, even modelling so I could develop my skills.

Figurative sculpture wasn’t taught at art school in the early noughties, so I made a point to study with the best in the business. I have massively relied on the support of my incredible husband Will to take on all the parenting responsibilities when I go away – just as I have when he goes. His wonderful mum Sue and my own lovely mum Nicki are always ready to lend a hand with childcare even though they both live several hours away.

Getting subsidised childcare at our posting at Wyton made a huge difference. You can directly correlate my career taking off with my kids both being at school.

How did the NAM commission to sculpt The Queen come about?

I had created a ceramic portrait of the first female General, Susan Ridge, which the NAM purchased in 2020. The day I delivered it, the then head curator Emma Maudsley was talking about the Platinum Jubilee celebrations and the seed was sown for a special artist’s residency during which I would sculpt The Queen’s portrait.

Tell us a little bit about the sculpting process?

I took a week of unpaid leave from my school for the residency and sculpted every day in front of the public. It was very intense but something I loved because I used my teaching and sculpting skills to create the work right in front of them.

The museum was keen to have The Queen depicted as her 19-year-old self in her Auxiliary Territorial Service uniform. We took original insignia to the foundry and cast them directly to ensure the level of detail was perfect. I had special instruction on uniform detail from the head curator Julian so that the jacket, shirt, tie, and hat, as well as the likeness were all accurate to the period. The sculpt itself took several weeks after the residency to fully complete, before being sent to the foundry for the casting stages to create it in bronze. I start every portrait by building the clay to create a penny-like profile from the side. Then gradually building up the volume of the face and features – the hat was one of the last things to be added.

Did you feel an extra special connection as you’re an army spouse?

It certainly did feel special having Will’s ‘boss’ in my studio (dining room) for several months. Will’s commission with her signature is in our bedroom, so for us as a family it was a huge honour to have been chosen. We have always said to the kids, as a way to explain another posting, that The Queen needs Daddy somewhere else, so it was a really big deal for them too.

How did it feel when you finished the work?

It was such a surreal week. The official unveiling was meant to be at the museum on 16th September. The day The Queen passed, I was five minutes’ walk from Buckingham Palace at my exhibition in a Mayfair gallery live sculpting for visitors. Will called to say the Royals were all going to Balmoral. I’d spent that morning demonstrating my portrait technique by sculpting the then Prince of Wales. Having sculpted his mother, I thought it might be fun to try sculpting Prince Charles. Little did I know that by the end of the day he would be King. It was a very serendipitous and poignant moment, toasting her late Majesty and the new King with his portrait right beside me.

Your family and military friends must feel very proud of you, what sort of reaction have you had?

It has been amazing, but it doesn’t feel like just my success. I honestly couldn’t have done it without the faith, kindness and support of so many military families I have met along the way. I would just like to say a huge thank you to everyone who came to watch me working, shouted me out, shared with their friends.

It feels like a win for all of us, those who have had to sacrifice our career dreams, or put them on hold to follow the people we love and support their service. It feels much bigger than just me.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m booked up with private commissions until spring which is more than I could have hoped for! The long-term dream is a familiar one to lots of us – to buy a home for the family (with a studio space that isn’t the dining room) where we can paint the walls and finally put down roots.

I plan to teach sculpting to adults and in schools. I’m also in talks with other museums about events for the coming two years and now have permission from the Palace to cast my finished portrait of King Charles III.

As a full-time sculptor, I’ll now be looking for opportunities to share my skills and find homes for the portrait edition of her late Majesty The Queen, which I would prefer to go to military regiments as a priority.

To see the sculpting process – head to Keziah’s Instagram @keziahburtartist to find a short film to learn more, or go to keziahburt.co.uk

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