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Funnel and another carving, Final Flourish, were purchased by the University in 1987. Two further companion pieces, Kentish Fire and Hawser, Higham Bight were given to the University by the artist in 1990 in memory of his brother, Christopher Smith (1961-1987) who had been a student at Warwick.
The four carvings are from a five-part frieze made from redundant railway sleepers from the London Underground entitled Variations on a Braided Rope. This group and Spear and Estuary (also in the University collection) form part of the artist's larger Navigator series produced between 1983 and 1984.
Keir Smith describes Variations on a Braided Rope as follows:
"The first in the series was a carving of a sinuous length of rusted steel hawser; the Final Flourish was the last and depicted a coil of rope. Between these carvings were three images describing aspects of the landscape along the Thames Estuary: Kentish Fire represented stubble burning in the fields. Funnel showed the superstructure of a cargo ship truncated by the sea wall.... Like the sleepers from which they were carved, the Variations on a Braided Rope evoke a journey through a much used land."
The artist integrates his personal feelings about the estuary landscape into his sculptures; this is where he grew up and his great-grandfather was the captain of a Thames barge. The past therefore provides both the materials for his work and its inspiration.