Shirley Pace obituary | Sculpture

My friend Shirley Pace, who has died aged 89, made her most public mark as an artist with two bronze sculptures of dray horses, somewhat larger than lifesize. Jacob (1987) is in Bermondsey, south-east London, on the site of the former stables of Courage’s Anchor brewery. Drummer (2014) is on the site of the former Eldridge Pope brewery in Dorchester, Dorset.

Born and brought up in Worthing, West Sussex, Shirley was the daughter of Elizabeth (nee Martyn) and Arthur Blasdale. He was not only a chemist and estate agent but a composer, and encouraged her outstanding soprano voice.

As a girl she was pony-mad, but her first love was art, and from school at the Convent of Our Lady of Sion she went to Worthing Art School. Her first job, in 1951, was to paint ghost train backdrops for the Festival of Britain. The following year she went to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, while continuing to work part time in interior design.

Shirley Pace’s sculpture Jacob, 1987, in the Circle development, Bermondsey, south-east London
Shirley Pace’s sculpture Jacob, 1987, in the Circle development, Bermondsey, south-east London. Photograph: Steve Vidler/Alamy

In 1956 she married a fellow artist, Roy Pace, and found particular success singing in Canada, as Flora in Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring with the composer conducting, in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, and in Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate. Following her return to Britain in 1958 she continued with television work, including commercials.

Roy set up Camera Effects, a studio in Soho that did animation work and provided title sequences for films, in 1964. That year, too, they started a family, and moved from London to Emsworth, on the Hampshire coast, where I got to know Shirley as a neighbour. From there they went to a house with a field in the village of West Ashling, near Chichester, West Sussex.

Shirley Pace with her statue Drummer, 2014, in Dorchester, Dorset
Shirley Pace with her statue Drummer, 2014, in Dorchester, Dorset

When her two daughters started school, Shirley had a stable built, bought a full-size thoroughbred and set about fulfilling her ambition of taking a partially trained horse to dressage.

Working with Sienna led her to sketch out a horse with a soldering iron on a large sheet of polystyrene insulation. Lit from behind, it gave the impression of galloping across the end wall of their living room: the idea of movement was integral to her work.

Then Shirley found a tangle of rusted baling wire and pulled and shaped it into another large moving horse. She found that she was now back into being an artist, and the bronzes followed.

Her first prancing horse came to life in the way she was looking for. Through the 1970s her work went from strength to strength, displaying great awareness of where every part of the horse was. She took a studio in the Bosham Walk arts centre, Chichester, began to sell pieces, and received commissions including Jacob and Drummer.

Shirley applied comparable creativity and attention to detail in making her garden. Her beans and tomatoes were as great a source of pride as her horses.

Roy died in 2021. Shirley is survived by her daughters, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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