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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 September 2007, 20:20 GMT 21:20 UK
Exhibition honours Polish roots
Figures from the Odyssey project
The carved men and women represent the artist's ancestors
A forest of giant wooden figures carved from trees is being shown in Manchester as part of a new exhibition which has its roots firmly in the past.

The 30 8ft (2.4m)-tall sculptures, by Manchester artist Robert Koening, are carved from Lime trees from the village where his Polish mother was born.

They have retraced her journey from Poland, to Nazi Labour camps during the war and eventually to Stockport.

They are now being displayed at the Stockport Art Gallery.

The sculptor Robert Koenig
The figures draw people to them, there is such a serene type of humanity about them
Robert Koenig, Sculptor

The idea for the exhibition came from the artist's first visit to his mother's village.

"I discovered having been born in Manchester with no nearby relatives, that I was related to half the village in Poland - I suddenly had cousins, uncles and aunties," he said.

"It was a wonderful discovery and I thought well how can I celebrate this event - you know I thought I'm an artist, I should think of something."

The trees literally have their roots in the village and Koenig has carved them into men and women who represent his ancestors.

It was a 10-year project and when they were finished the figures were taken on a journey through eastern Europe, though the concentration camp at Krakow and even to the house in Stockport where his mother eventually settled.

Figures at the artist's mother's graveside
The figures were taken to his mother's grave to complete their journey

The artist said they had an amazing reaction.

"I didn't just exhibit them in galleries and museums, I used to take them out onto street corners for a day, town squares and place them there, photograph them and film them and people could come and see them.

"The figures draw people to them, there is such a serene type of humanity about them.

"They call to people on an emotional level, they want to hold their hand and look into their faces."

The artist's mother Maria died two years ago and Robert took the figures to her graveside.

"The cemetery is really the end of the Odyssey project," he said.

"I've brought her trees from her farm to her grave and they are paying their respects to her.

"It is the first and the last place that are so important in the telling of her story."

Robert Koenig's statues on display

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