Bronze statues and human banking

From a purpose-built foundry in Nairn, Farquhar Ogilvie-Laing casts stunning bronze statues for sculptors, architects and clients across the world. Duncan Buchanan, Farquhar’s personal banker, tells the story of a family business with a fortified castle, a Pop Art legacy and a special talent for celebrating heroes.

Every owner of a new business dreams of getting off to a flier, but not many hit the ground running quite like Farquhar Ogilvie-Laing. At the age of just 24, Farquhar established a foundry called Black Isle Bronze. He’d developed a passion for bronze through his father, Gerald Laing, a leading light in the British Pop Art movement, who both painted and sculpted. And it wasn’t long before Farquhar landed his first big commission.

It was the mid-1990s and Twickenham Stadium, the HQ of English rugby, was being redeveloped. Farquhar spotted an opportunity. “I sent a handwritten letter to Tony Hallett, the secretary of the Rugby Football Union, asking him if he would like some large monumental bronzes outside his brand-new stadium,” Farquhar explains. “I phoned him up a couple of days later and he said, ‘I got your letter and you’re the only person who has written to me about this, so come and have a meeting’.

“I jumped at the chance and, when we met, I told him that the bronzes would be £50,000 each. Tony replied: ‘I thought you’d say something like that, let’s have four of them’. It was one of those moments. I was trying to keep a straight face but, inside, I was pretty excited.”

It was the perfect start. From his small foundry at the family home of Kinkell Castle near Dingwall, Farquhar commissioned his father to sculpt four giant bronzes of rugby players which he cast, and which can now be seen at the Rowland Hill memorial gate at Twickenham. As well as the revenue, the commission rapidly helped to build a reputation for Farquhar, whose business is now regarded as one of the world leaders in bronze casting. His work with sculptors is typically focused around sport and ‘heroes’, including seven bronze racehorses for Sheikh Mohammed’s Palace in Dubai, several sculptures outside Premier League football grounds, ‘The Batsman' at Lords, the Bank Station dragons in London, and Frankie Dettori at Ascot. After upgrading premises a couple of times, Farquhar and his team now work out of a purpose-built foundry in Nairn.

“There are some very clever people out there,” he says of the competition. “However, we’re now the biggest and do the most prestigious work. We’ve invested heavily in the business and that’s one of our strengths – we’ve never rested on our laurels. We’re also very strong on our environmental credentials in terms of recycling and moving away from burning LPG.”

Like many businesses in the art world, cashflow is unpredictable. “It can be quite lumpy,” says Farquhar. “We have flat spots and then phases of being incredibly busy. We’ve managed to stay in credit and manage the cash pretty well but managing everyone’s expectations is more of a challenge. Sometimes there can be a big delay with a project and you can’t replace that with another big project. You can’t control the uncontrollable.

“We’ve been with Hampden & Co from the very beginning and it’s wonderful,” adds Farquhar. “It’s so important to be able to talk to a human being. The mobile banking options are all useful but having that personal relationship with somebody you know, and have known for many years, is a real plus.”

Farquhar’s business is one that I needed to go and see to understand how it works – and you wouldn’t find a retail bank getting to know a business like that now. I know what the premises look like, how they work, what they do for the local community and how well connected they are. They’re doing something unique and are a very good fit with Hampden & Co.

Farquhar’s father, Gerald, passed away in 2011 but played a key role in working with Black Isle Bronze through further commissions, including the iconic Core Values line-out by the Twickenham’s South Stand.

The family now live in the Castle that Gerald rebuilt from ruins after purchasing the site for £5,000 from a local farmer. Gerald had a difficult relationship with his own father and ensured the same wouldn’t be true of his own family. As Farquhar once said of Gerald in an interview for The Daily Telegraph: “He painted and sculpted, rebuilt motorcycles and cars and castles, and wrote books. But his biggest talent of all was that he was a fantastic father.” It’s a legacy that Farquhar and his family are continuing.  

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