The swan is one of nature's most majestic creatures and is steeped in history. From fossils in caves and the crusades of Richard I, to Arthurian Legend and Greek mythology. Aristotle, Plato and Socrates all believed that the swan's singing prowess was heightened as death approaches, giving rise to the idea of the 'swan song', or the final performance.
During the Middle Ages, the mute swan was considered to be a valuable commodity and was regularly traded between noblemen. In the early medieval period, like most wildfowl, swans often found themselves on the dinner tables of both rich and poor.
The owners of swans were duty bound to mark their property by way of a succession of unique nicks in the beaks of their birds. It was the duty of the Royal Swanmaster to organise the annual swan-upping, a tradition that survives to this day.
Today, while the crown retains their right to swans on the Thames, it is purely ceremonial. 'Swan Upping' still takes place in July each year, and the Queen's keeper of swans oversees a count of all swans. However, the swans are no longer served as a meal, but counted as part of a general census of wildlife and monitored for health problems.
I'm currently working on a new swan taxidermy piece. It's thought the bird died when it flew into overhead cables near Crow Point here in North Devon. When I first saw its carcass I thought it was a dead sheep, such was its size.
As someone who is deeply committed to conservation, I only ever use ethically and legally sourced animals or re-use vintage pieces in my taxidermy and assemblage art. I hope my completed work will be a fitting tribute to this beautiful bird in its swan song.