Introducing our Sculpture Collection Researcher

The Public Catalogue Foundation recently advertised for a Sculpture Collection Researcher for the Development Phase of the Your Sculpture project. After an intensive recruitment process, we are delighted to announce that the successful candidate is Dr Anthony McIntosh. Anthony’s role, which is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, will be to survey the UK’s public organisations to gain an understanding of the nature and extent of their sculpture collections. He will also research the location of public monuments and sculpture around the UK.

Here, Anthony introduces himself and tells us about his interest in sculpture:

“I have recently been appointed as the Sculpture Collections Researcher for the Your Sculpture project. As a development of the superb Your Paintings website, it is a really exciting initiative and I am equally excited to be part of this early development stage.

Since finishing my PhD at the beginning of 2014, I have been working as a freelance researcher and lecturer. I have done work for a diverse range of clients that include Professor Mark Stocker of the Museum of New Zealand in Wellington, NZ, and a company in Hastings who are engaged in creating several installations in Dover to commemorate the centenary of the Great War. I am currently carrying out research work for Ann Compton, who was Project Director for the wonderful Mapping Sculpture online database. Ann is currently writing a book about the makers and methods of sculpture in Britain between 1851 and 1940. In addition to working as a researcher, I occasionally give lectures at the University of Brighton on the use of oral history as a research tool.

Although I love to look at new public sculpture, ironically I am often drawn more to those pieces that have disappeared, or that are being grossly neglected. I am fascinated by the lost biographies of sculpture that once graced our streets and parks. I have an article in the forthcoming issue of the Sculpture Journal that discusses a statue of Captain William Pechell (below), a hero of the Crimean War. Matthew Noble_1I discovered the statue in 2007 slowly disintegrating in undergrowth in Brighton’s Stanmer Park. This statue by Matthew Noble once dominated the vestibule of the Royal Pavilion, but is now a sad example of what can happen to important pieces of commemorative sculpture once the generation who erected it have gone. Matthew Noble_2I have recently been digitising the Captain’s letters home from the Crimea for the Somerset family in Worthing.

Before I started my PhD, I was the Research Officer for the Sussex Recording Project, a collaborative project between the University of Brighton and the PMSA that aimed to detail all of the public monuments and sculpture in Sussex. You can find the database online at: www.publicsculpturesofsussex.co.uk. I still occasionally add new objects to the database at the request of the sculptor. During that project I discovered many fascinating stories of ‘lost’ objects. Not many people, for instance, would know that the allegorical group of statues surmounted by Queen Anne at the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral is a copy (below, first image), and that the original is eroding away behind The Ridge in Hastings (below, second image). Queen Anne_1

Queen Anne_2The detective work involved in revealing these lost and neglected pieces is often fraught with difficulty, but ultimately really rewarding when their present or past existence can be brought to the public’s attention.

After the Sussex project ended I worked as the Administrator for the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association (PMSA) in London, until I received a full Arts and Humanities Research Council grant to continue with my PhD studies full time. The work that the PMSA continues to do on the National Recording Project is integral to the discovery of many such objects and I would like to pay tribute to the individuals all over the country who have worked tirelessly to record, and where possible photograph, our sculptural heritage. Very often they are receiving no financial or other institutional support but are carrying out this work fuelled only by a passion for sculpture and a determination to document this aspect of the nation’s heritage for posterity – usually resulting in the publication of another superb volume in the Liverpool University Press Public Sculpture of Britain series. Our own Sussex volume was published in November 2014.

My PhD focused on two case studies – both public monuments that have been moved or demolished. One of them, the Prince Albert Memorial Clock Tower in Hastings, is probably talked about as much now by the people of the town as it was before it was demolished in 1973 (see below).HastingsMy PhD explored the way in which public monuments can become so central to community life that they come to represent the identity of particular towns and cities and of the people who live there. They become places embodied with meaning and sites rich with individual and collective memory. My study also revealed the importance of large central monuments to a range of community events such as carnivals, Whit walks and other ad hoc celebrations, such as those at Christmas and New Year. I am also very interested in objects associated with parades and processions such as banners, particular forms of dress (both of these often homemade) and in rituals such as ‘marking the bounds’.

Amongst the many things that my previous roles and my PhD studies revealed, one of the most important, I think, is that the monuments and public sculpture that local communities embrace and become emotionally and passionately engaged with are not always those that academics and experts feel are ‘worthy’ of study or conservation. That fact alone has frequently made me think about what the word public really means in the term public sculpture. I recently visited Seaham in County Durham on the way back from the Borders in order to look at a new sculpture titled ‘1101’.Tommy_2The sculpture by local artist Ray Lonsdale, and named ‘Tommy’ by locals had been placed on the seafront temporarily, but had become so loved by the local community that they raised the £85,000 necessary to purchase it and it will now stay onsite permanently. I viewed the work for approximately two hours and during that time there was a constant stream of people of all ages arriving to look at the piece; families, individuals, young people, disabled people. It has clearly become part of the fabric of the community there and is already functioning as a spatial and temporal location for the creation of public memory. I remember thinking that what I was witnessing was the real meaning of the phrase public sculpture.

The Your Sculpture project is in its infancy but will, without doubt, become the most important initiative to date in ensuring that our rich sculptural heritage is documented and the data made easily accessible online to everyone. I am delighted to be a part of that undertaking.”

If you would like to contact Anthony about the project, please email: Anthony.McIntosh@thepcf.org.uk

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Looking up in London: Epstein’s British Medical Association Sculptures

Charlotte Hollands, Public Catalogue Foundation Volunteer, has been casting her eyes up, instead of down at the ground, and has discovered a wealth of fascinating sculptures above her head:

‘Public sculptures found up above us are often hidden in plain sight. Many are proudly placed above underground station entrances or tucked tightly into the façades of public buildings. Being above our eye line, they are often neglected from the appreciation they deserve.

During my walk to the Public Catalogue Foundation offices in Covent Garden in London, I travel along The Strand, often bustling along with the rest of the city, my eyes down and concentrating on crossing the traffic safely. Yet since I started researching for my Art History dissertation a year ago, I feel like I’ve been let into a little secret. As I cross the road, if I look up at Zimbabwe House, 429 The Strand, and just above the arched windows, there features a number of stone-carved sculptures, which appear as if they have blended into the facade of the building.

These are Epstein’s 18 sculptures designed in 1906–1908 for the British Medical Association building. American-born British sculptor Jacob Epstein (1880–1959) was commissioned by the building’s architect, Charles Holden, to create sculptures which embodied the work of the BMA. Thus, these sculptures depict the various ages of man, with titles of Youth, Infancy (The Newborn), Mentality (or The Brain), Chemical Research, Maternity, Primal Energy and Form Emerging from Chaos (or Matter), with Epstein leaving some of the individual sculptures with no official title.

Epstein’s carvings were met with mixed reviews. He was, of course, a modern sculptor, which raised both fear and praise from the public and the art world. The 8ft high sculptures in Portland Stone were met with a distinct criticism of their realistic portrayal of the nude body, opposing the classic, beautiful iconographic nudes already seen in public sculptures. So much so, that in 1908 the Evening Standard and St James’s Gazette strongly campaigned against Epstein’s figures, but after much debate, the sculptures remained in situ, with the support of the BMA.

In 1935, however, the Southern Rhodesian Government (the new owners of the building after the BMA) also threatened to remove the sculptures, with a final breaking point in 1937, when the head of one of the sculptures fell to the ground injuring a pedestrian. It has since been suggested that this type of Portland Stone was particularly susceptible to acid found in the atmosphere which led to the severe erosion of the sculptures. Epstein had also been known to describe the continual furore surrounding his sculptures as the ‘thirty years’ war’. This potential danger from erosion resulted in Epstein’s carvings being ‘cut back’; hence only the ruins of the sculptures remain visible to us today, on what is now Zimbabwe House, home to the Embassy of Zimbabwe.

It is sometimes difficult to comprehend that a collection of sculptures met with such furious debate at its conception, now quietly exist, often unnoticed and partially obscured by trees on a busy main street in Central London. So my advice is to always look up when walking in a busy city, as you never know what you may see and what stories can be discovered.

If this post has interested you, there is a particularly good essay written by Sarah Crellin, titled ‘Let There Be History: Epstein’s BMA House Sculptures’ in Modern British Sculpture edited by Penelope Curtis and Keith Wilson, 2011.’