Alan Ingham was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, on the 19th of August 1920. His father, a labourer, was an English immigrant from Lancashire; his mother Harriet Mccree, was New Zealand born. He was the seventh child of the family.
He left school at 14 and was apprenticed as a motor trimmer from 1934 to 1939. In about 1938, on a camping trip with the painter and sculptor Russell Clark, he watched Clark carving a moray club of the kind called a patu. He remembered "I was still a watcher, but I had a rather strange urge to try to do something similar myself." Ingham became fascinated and, encouraged by Clark, made a number of carvings based on Maori designs. One of these, a scale replica of the Maori war canoe Te Toki a Tapiri, is housed in the Auckland Museum.
His first attempt to extend his engagement with art in a formal way, at the Christchurch School of Art, was not a success. He says "I hopped on my bike one night and went to this strange place and walked into find it lined with plaster statues. I turned around and went home."
However, he went back the next night and enrolled. Although only a part time student, he went to classes 4 nights a week (one of drawing and three of sculpture), while working as a motor trimmer from 8 to 5 each day.
Teaching sculpture was the English sculptor Francis Shurock, who introduced Ingham not only to art but to the world of ideas. He and Ingham struck a rapport that went far beyond the classroom. Ingham says" I was a tidy minded New Zealander that thought NZ was the most democratic, free country in the world " - this was 1939, " ..but Shurry not only talked sculpture, he talked about political philosophy and the inequities that existed in the world, no matter which country you lived in."
Ingham’s studies were interrupted by war service between 1941 and 1946. He served with the New Zealand Air Force ground staff.
After the war he moved to Sydney and studied sculpture at East Sydney Technical College under Lyndon Dadswell (1946-48). In 1949 he was awarded a Diploma of Fine Arts.
While a student he met Ann Nettlefold, whom he was to marry some 6 years later, after what he describes as a "tumultuous courtship".
In 1949 he traveled to Europe en route to London. "I’d planned my European tour by searching through my books of sculpture and finding where they are located….but constantly found other things of course, small Etruscan bronzes for example, that hadn’t been photographed or published. This opened up a whole new world to for me."
He arrived in London with twenty pounds to his name and found work making plaster shop fittings. "The work was deadly monotonous. They had to turn out hundreds of plaster figures for a hair-wave company."
He was rescued from this work by a scholarship from a fund administered by the Royal Academy called "Birds Charity". On the basis of photographs of his work, this fund gave him a grant of 100 pounds. He left the plaster shop and joined the central School of Arts part time, studying sculpture and drawing.
A friend from Art school days, Oliffe Richmond, was working for Henry Moore and when he left the position suggested Ingham for it. Moore met Ingham and took him on.
The initial job he was to do for Moore was a commissioned work, a large (10 feet) reclining figure for the 1951 Festival of Britain, Ingham’s job was to make a form of the figure from an 18-inch model, using a steel frame. This process was filmed over weeks by the BBC.
Ingham and Moore got along well. Ingham babysat the Moores’ daughter and always went to the house for morning and afternoon tea. Over tea he would meet and listen to Moores eclectic group of visitors, including Sir Herbert Reid, Sir William Walton, Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Barbara Hepworth and Nancy Cunnard.
Ingham describes Moore at that time as an affable kindly fellow to meet, with absolutely no pretence and always greeted you with a smile….later I was to find that he had a Yorkshire canniness about small, detailed things. If you wanted to buy a pound of nails, he would insist on half a pound of nails. I needed a pencil once and he insisted I buy only one."
After the Festival figure had been completed, Moore wished to do some lead castings, but they ran into technical difficulties with such large castings, in particular enlargements of six-inch models of the Helmet head. He wanted to make 15-18 inch high castings.
Moore encouraged Ingham to go to a foundry to see how it was done there, "a well-kept secret as it was a skilled trade " and Ingham did so. He was able to design a special kiln for the moulds and other devices to overcome the technical difficulties of large-scale casting.
Having mastered the casting of large pieces with lead, Ingham was able then to apply the same principles to bronze casting for Moore.
Ingham says "The worst part of the result was that every cast was successful, and thus I was condemned to become a sculptor/caster for the rest of my life. Bronze casting is slow and laborious and cuts down on your production of sculpture. My first advice to anyone who asks me how to do bronze casting is to tell them to have somebody else do it."
During the years at Moore’s, the main works completed were the Festival "Reclining Figure", "King and Queen", the Bond St Time Life carvings and the "Helmet" series.
Those were happy years, but finally Ingham felt that as Moore became more celebrated, working for him became less satisfying. "I began to feel like an automaton, churning out another person’s work."
Ingham had been away from New Zealand for 8 years by this time, and his mother was not well, so he decided " with considerable regret " to leave.
Not long after his return to New Zealand, Ingham married Ann. She had been in Europe at the same time as he had and the relationship between them had continued to develop. They married on Boxing Day, 1954.
Ingham says "It was obvious there wasn’t much for a sculptor to do in Christchurch", so the Inghams settled just out of Auckland, Alan built a somewhat primitive foundry with a kiln and set up business as a bronze founder and sculptor (among other commissioned work was a stone carving for Takapuna Library in Auckland). Ann worked as a saleswoman and model for a city department store.
The move to Australia
The following year Ingham received a letter from the Australian sculptor Tom Bass requesting him to carry out a large wall mural relief designed by Douglas Annand and Tom Bass for the University of Melbourne (Wilson Hall). The Inghams moved to Australia and in 1956 settled in Sydney.
For the rest of Ingham’s life he lived and worked in Newport, on Sydney’s northern beaches. He established a studio foundry there along the lines of the one he had established with Henry Moore and had a lot of work casting in bronze for other sculptors. He also carried out many commissions "private and corporate" of his own work, as well as doing non-commissioned works.
Ingham taught part-time at the University of New South Wales (Schools of Architecture and Industrial Design); East Sydney Technical College (Art Department); Alexander Mackie College, Seaforth Technical College, and gave private studio classes.
Anna and Alan had three daughters, Jane, Kate and Anna. At Newport they were part of a lively social group of artists and intellectuals.
Sculpture at that time did not have a high profile in Australia. Abstract sculpture in particular was misunderstood and unvalued. Ingham remembers: "There was no public for sculpture, no audience, no collectors. Painters were being publicized and sought after, but sculpture took a back seat."
For two years he was president of the Sydney Sculpture Society. During his tenure, the Society held an exhibition of fountains at the David Jones Exhibition Room, as a result of which several new fountains in Sydney were commissioned.
In 1982 Ingham was commissioned to make the Winfield Cup and the Giltinan Shield, awarded to the team winning the NSW Rugby League Premiership. He did so, selling the copyright to Rothmans and giving them the three copies. In 1993 he was quoted as saying: "I have felt guilty about the Winfield Cup as the years go by. The public links the trophy with smoking. I’m anti-smoking and I don’t want to have anything more to do with it."
In 1989 Alan Ingham was diagnosed with prostate cancer. After treatment he enjoyed a remission of several years, but the cancer returned in 1993. He died on March 13, 1994.