Arts: How Saddam Hussein parted an artist from his money

An artist has won a legal battle for damages after a foundry lost the mould for his sculpture. He looked forward to collecting pounds 38,500 in damages after a 10-year wait, only to discover that Saddam Hussein had come between him and his money. Michael Street

Sculptor Denis Curry was understandably proud of the image of a barn owl he had carefully crafted from lengthy studies of the aerodynamics of birds in flight.

However, his plans to produce a series of nine of them, each worth thousands of pounds, were rudely shattered when the company producing the bronze statues announced it had lost the mould.

Mr Curry was only able to receive one bronze cast from the series before the company admitted it had lost the synthetic rubber mould, which to this day remains missing.

Now he has won his court case after nearly 10 years of struggle. But the Wales-based artist may never be able to collect the pounds 38,500 High Court award; because the firm, Morris Singer Foundry Ltd, went into receivership after being owed hundreds of thousands of pounds by the Iraqi government for a 36ft-high bronze flag in Baghdad.

The company - which also made the famous crossed-swords statue in Iraq - has since been bought by new owners and the new firm is trading successfully as Morris Singer Ltd.

Yesterday the artist, from Clynderwen, Pembrokeshire, said that despite the unlikelihood of ever receiving damages, his legal claim could bring hope for sculptors in the future. "Foundries will think twice in the future about throwing out someone's mould. They will have to be more careful about it."

His barrister, Monica Carss Frisk, said it was clear from the High Court award that foundries had to take reasonable care of sculptors' moulds. "It gives some comfort to sculptors in the future."

The long-running saga of the missing mould began when former art teacher Mr Curry, who is in his seventies, made the first plaster mould for the 2ft by 2ft barn owl in 1988. Morris Singer Foundry Ltd then made the first bronze cast of the bird, marked 1/9, which was quickly sold for pounds 2,500.

However, when Mr Curry asked for another cast in the planned series of nine to be made, he was told the mould had been lost. The original plaster model was, as is normal, destroyed when the mould was made.

"It was a real shock," said Mr Curry. "I have never been given an explanation of what happened to it. The foundries have absolute control [over the mould] and generally you trust them."

He said normally a mould was only destroyed by a foundry with a written undertaking that it had been properly disposed of. This is to protect illegal copies of the sculpture being made - in this case the barn owls are now valued at around pounds 12,000.

The owner of the only existing bronze owl is now reluctant to allow new copies to be made, because his purchase is now unique.

"This has been a long long case," said Mr Curry. "I believe it establishes a precedent for an action by a sculptor against a foundry."

The receivers for the old company, BDO Stoy Hayward, confirmed they were taking action via the United Nations to get payment from the Iraqi authorities for the flag statue.

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