Sculptures in Exeter University Grounds

Thursday, 10 September 2020 proved the perfect day for a walk around the University grounds - not too cold and not too hot and almost no wind.  There was tremendous variety in the statues visited - some esoteric and some banal.  The University authorities are to be congratulated on maintaining so many and such a variety of artworks. 

 

We traced a gentle path from the bus stop in The Queens Drive around nearby statues and then wandered over to Devonshire House and the Forum.  From there we visited sculptures in XStocker Road and Streatham Court.   It was a delightful morning and we recommend highly following our route - the numbers on the item below refer to the University's map which we hope to include at the bottom of this piece.

 26. Figure for Landscape - Dame Barbara Hepworth.  Bronze 1960

 

This abstract evocation of the mother and child icon is a much cherished feature of the Queen's Building lawn. Although the form of this sculpture in bronze is reminiscent of a mother and child, its title is quite deliberate. Dame Barbara related the sculpture to its location in the environment as well as evoking a sense of being part of the landscape.

 

This figure is recognisable as the work of Dame Barbara and blends naturally with the growing forms of trees and shrubs around it. Its presence on the University campus is entirely due to Canon W Moelwyn Merchant, Professor of English at the University, 1961-1974, whose friendship with the sculptress facilitated the siting of her sculpture on the campus.

2. TIANANMEN SQUARE

 

Overnight this sculpture was erected by a group of students to memorialise the events in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, on 4 June 1989. It was mainly students who were revolting there – 100,000 of them! – and 300,000 troops were sent to Beijing to quell the demonstration. Estimates are that they killed between several hundred and 10,000 people – there is no official figure.

Students in Exeter, horrified and desperate to do something to show solidarity with the revolutionaries, decided a sculpture would express that solidarity. Speed-learning from sculpture and metal-work students and inspired by Delacroix’s ‘Liberty Leading the People’, they sourced metal from builders and scaffolders and worked day and night to build their creation. Amazingly, they managed to finish it in a weekend.

It was a truly amazing feat to have this produced in secret and assembled here on that night in 1989.  That same day candles started to appear at the foot of the statue along with notes, cards, pictures, and a couple of days after that a silent vigil was held by the sculpture attended by students from across the campus. No hunt for its creators ever happened.

A vigil has been held here every June ever since.

SKYSAILS by Paul Mount (obtained through a benefaction from Dr A John Nunn)

 

This artwork was inspired by the artist's childhood passion for sailing ships, stirred up by his Devonian sailor grandfather.  Its location on the outer wall of this building, reveals a powerful armada of stainless-steel components dancing up the vertical brick exterior of the building. Many believe that the lyrical energy of many of Mount's sculptures displays a preoccupation with the theme of movement and dance.

 

Mount taught art in Lagos, Nigeria, for six years and employed a wood-carver from Benin to teach his skills to the students.  Before long, thanks to the carver, Mount found his own path as a sculptor experimenting with smooth, standing forms reminiscent of Barbara Hepworth’s work while also being influenced by the tribal sculptures of the region, which had made a huge impact on him. 

 

A quiet, modest man, Mount exhibited locally, in London and abroad, but his main success lay in the commissions gained through connections with architects. He also exhibited from home with a sign on the road entering St Just enticing motorists to visit a display of his work!

 

He was an artist member of the Penwith Society of Arts in St Ives and of the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol. He died, aged 87, in 2009.

4. WALL OF WATER

Exeter University commissioned Water Feature Specialist Tills Innovations to create this simple water wall. Keeping it simple focuses on the key element... the rolling wave of water.  Many lecturers suggest that it represents perpetual learning as the water flow is continuous.

 

 

5. Stargazer by Janis Ridle

 

This bronze figure is solid and centred, but just at the limits of comfortable balance. There is an interplay between the conditions of this world – flesh, metal, gravity and the aspirations and longings that make us look beyond them. In this case literally to the stars.  Her work integrates her experience of drawing the figure with a deep interest in dance and certain myths.

Janis Ridley was born in Co Durham and studied sculpture at Newcastle upon Tyne School of Art and painting at Exeter college of Art, and graduated in 1976 with a BA Hons Fine Art.

6. Tension 1984.

 

Painted mild steel with stainless steel wires

 

The artist, Moel Merchant, was encouraged to sculpt by his personal friend, Barbara Hepworth. This piece reveals her influence of incorporating wires into the space created by the form. It is constructed from painted mild steel with stainless steel wires, which give both a tension and helps to relate opposite parts of the form. The work resembles a mysterious musical instrument perhaps.

The artist was Professor of English at the University between 1961 and 1974

7. Baroness Floella Benjamin

 

This sculpture commemorates Baroness Floella Benjamin's time here at the University. It includes her hands which givethe work a very tactile quality and captures the way she stood as she greeted each student at graduation.   She was known for giving every student a hug at graduation, and always listening to any student who had problems or just needed that 'hug'.  

 

To assist in the sculpting of her hands and to reduce her time sitting, a plaster cast was taken.  The clay, which weighed 60 kg, was transported very carefully to London from the sculptor’s Ashburton studio for each sitting.  The final bronze sculpture was poured at the Arch Bronze Foundry in Putney.

 

Floella's hair was the most challenging part for the sculptor as it was important  to give the clay life and lightness and not appear heavy and flat.   The the sculptor said that Floella was wonderful and immediately made him feel at ease and therefore  bringing the clay to life was easy as Floella has such a buoyant personality.

 

Floella herself was surprised to see different aspects of herself when seen from different angles.  She could also see a resemblance of her father in the clay almost from the second sitting, as well as one of her brothers.

 

Luke Shepherd, originally from Cardiff and now based in Ashburton, Devon, is one of the few sculptors in the SW creating bronze portrait sculpture.  He finishes and patinates all his own bronzes having studied sculpture at Cardiff Art College and the Royal College of Art.  He said of his working methods, "A portrait bronze must capture an essence and be instantly recognisable.  I try to start with a totally open mind and let the sitter’s personality impress itself upon me.”

All talks are now on the second Thursday of alternate months (February, April, June, August, October & December).                                          All meetings start at 7 pm and are held at JURYS INN, Western Way, Exeter EX1 2DB.                                                                  Free parking is available from 6pm in the Triangle Car Park at the rear of Jurys.                                                                                Walks/visits are usually on the second Wednesday of alternate months (January, March, May, July, September November). 

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