Anthony Stones was born in England in 1934. After completing a course at Manchester Regional College of Art, Stones came to New Zealand with his parents as an 18-year-old.
Stones began in television in 1963 at Auckland's AKTV-2, back in the days when state television was run on a regional basis (though with some shared content). As the Auckland station's head of design, there was no lack of musical and entertainment shows for him to get his teeth into. Among other programmes, Stones designed the sets for early music show In the Groove, whose variety style required a wide array of sets and backgrounds.
Stones' time in New Zealand television would span two decades, and see him rising from set design to managing an expanding team of creatives. Aside from further musical ventures — including the pop art dancing podiums of pioneering show C’mon and the country and western backdrops for this Sing Special, he also designed sets for a wide range of drama and current affairs: from stylish 60s thriller The Alpha Plan (where Pakatoa Island hosts an international Cold War conspiracy) to the minimalist interview set-up for Gordon Dryden’s self-titled current affairs show.
Tom McWilliams, who worked with Stones as a graphic artist at AKTV-2, remembers his boss as an inventive, stylish and "brilliantly practical" designer. “He had a sculptor's feeling for space and scale. He brought to the small screen a contemporary freshness.”
In 1978 Stones recreated London's theatre scene, as designer of telemovie Opening Night. London taxis and a double decker bus helped sell the illusion, although the majority of the telemovie was shot indoors, at the Whanganui Opera House. The quartet of mysteries were part of a series of successful Ngaio Marsh Theatre dramas, which debuted on the recently created second TV channel.
From 1978 to 1983, Stones was TV2's head of design. The role was more managerial than hands-on. Memorable pieces of design created under his watch were Goodnight Kiwi (which closed the broadcasting day and became a Kiwiana icon), and the alien lair beneath Rangitoto for classic kids sci-fi drama Under the Mountain.
Under the Mountain designer Rob Gillies counts himself lucky to have had a boss who was empathetic to the creatives working for him. “He organised after-work life drawing sessions and encouraged the gathering of broad cultural influences. As a young designer you always knew that if you got into hot water Tony had your back, in what was a bureaucratic system.”
Off screen Stones was variously a painter, editor, author and teacher — but primarily a sculptor (he studied under artist John Kavanagh in the 60s). Well-known public sculptures include the statue of Prime Minister Peter Fraser, leaning into the wind outside Old Government Buildings in Wellington; the monument to Jean Batten at Auckland Airport; and Auckland’s High Street tribute to Lord Freyberg. Alongside public figures his subjects have included a roll call of Kiwi cultural icons (Curnow, Frame, Glover, McCahon, Mansfield, Shadbolt, Stead and more).
Stones received little contemporary recognition for his sculpture in New Zealand. Keith Ovenden, writing for Pundit website in 2008, compared Stones to Austrian architect Ernst Plischke: both were émigrés who gained greater attention offshore than in their adopted NZ home.
In 1983, aged 49, Stones returned to the UK. Ovenden argued that “Stones needed a bigger stage and a more receptive public than we could offer him, and when he returned to England in 1983 he chose to settle in Oxford, where the university might offer a portrait sculptor a reasonable stab at earning a living, as well as build a reputation for craftsmanship and insight.”
Stones crafted a notable career as a portrait sculptor (and sometime children’s book author and illustrator) in the UK. Subjects included actor Ben Kingsley (a bust for the Theatre Museum at Stratford-upon-Avon), young Shakespeare, Seamus Heaney, plus commissions for the National Gallery of Ireland and many Oxford colleges.
Ovenden argued that Stones “has become renowned as a master of large works in which proportion and scale are successfully married to the myriad details of physiognomy, anatomy, costume and personality.” From 1999 to 2004, he was president of the British Society of Portrait Sculptors.
Stones maintained links with New Zealand, where his ongoing sculpture commissions included a portrait of Captain Cook in Gisborne, pioneer winemakers in Henderson, and Abel Tasman and early settlers in Nelson.
From the early 2000s Stones and his wife Lily Feng spent increasing time in China, where he was a visiting professor at Nanjing and Qinghua Universities. For the Beijing Olympics he completed a series of sculptures (The Running Man) prominently located en route to the Bird's Nest Stadium. He was exploring new forms of art-making into the second decade of the 21st Century. In 2011 a sculpture garden was named in his honour at Shenyang University, where he was Dean of the Anthony Stones International Sculpture Academy.
Anthony Stones died in China in September 2016. He was 82.
Photograph of Anthony Stones (detail) by Dave Roberts: 'Anthony Stones with his marquette of General Lord Freyburg' taken 31 December 2001
Keith Ovenden, ‘Restless, energetic, and still learning’, Pundit website. Loaded 28 November 2008. Accessed 3 October 2016
Writer Unknown, ‘Anthony Stones, creator of iconic New Zealand statues, dies’, Stuff website. Loaded 30 September 2016. Accessed 3 October 2016