Stunned bathers double as ‘big black cat’ cools off in shallows

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Stunned swimmers in Devon did a double take when they spotted a rather unusual sight in the water. While there have been regular sightings of “big cats” across the county, it’s rare for them to be so publicly visible.

But closer examination revealed that the animal in the shallows of Exmouth Beach was actually a driftwood sculpture. The realistic creation is the work of Brendan Rawlings who has made a name for himself in the region with his clever artwork.

The life-size panther, named Resilience, is the latest sculpture by Brendan, of Zen Wood Design, to appear on the beach. Others have included a 12-foot Neptune/Poseidon wooden sculpture, a towering 6-foot crouching male angel with wings, and a child angel called Faith inspired by her daughter, Kitty.

He told Devon Live how he used local driftwood for the piece. He said: “It took an age to burn off the black, but I’m thrilled with the look.

“There have been several sightings in the UK since the Dangerous Wild Animals Act was introduced in 1976. My dad spotted a big black cat on the township of Woodbury in the 80s while I was running or walked somewhere remote, it’s always on my mind.

“If they roam the UK then ‘resilience’ is a perfect word to describe them, having adapted to a foreign climate and still surviving. Perhaps we could pull a leaf from their book in the years ahead with our deteriorating economic climate?”

In 2019, Brendan made his brother-in-law a driftwood shark – and soon found himself with 20 orders for other designs. In just three weeks he had enough interest to keep him busy full time. Since then he has run Zen Wood Design from his studio in Topsham.

He previously ran a successful fitness business in Dubai, then moved back to Devon in the summer of 2017 with his family. Brendan now spends much of his time working on commissions while planning what his next special project will be to surprise the locals.

He said: “Besides a busy schedule of commissions, I am planning a number of other sculptures this year. My next project is a large sculpture of a galloping horse which excites me.”

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