“The Man on the Oss is out of his den – we’ll gather around him again and again” – an awful rewrite of an old Chartist chant from earlier in the nineteenth century.
The “Man on the Oss” in Queen Square, Wolverhampton, – actually a statue of Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert on his horse created by Thomas Thorneycroft (1815-1885) has had the boarding surrounding him and his horse removed after a major clean-up and renovation.
After Albert, died in 1861 people in Wolverhampton led by Alderman Underhill raised the money to erect a statue in his honour. It cost £1,150 and after five years of withdrawing from all public appearances the Queen agreed to come to the unveiling on November 30th 1866.
A public holiday was declared in the town and many turned out to see the Royal party tour the town centre. There were also illuminations and a firework display at the racecourse.
The sculptor had also created a life-size statue of Mr G.B. Thorneycroft, the first mayor of the town (apparently no relation) for the town in 1857.
Not many people know it, but Wolverhampton has long had a reputation for creating first class sculpture and sculptors – one sadly overshadowed by a current one for fighting, overindulgence in vertical drinking barns and being sick in the gutter.
The Sensing Sculpture space at the city’s art gallery, a few moments walk East of the statue is well worth a look after its relaunch.
Despite the cliches above – which could apply to virtually any city, town or etven rural centres of population -a glimpse of Wolverhampton’s other – cultural – side is on show after a big revamp and a reopeningwith new commissions, mainstays of the gallery’s collection, audio, interactive exhibits, video and poetry.
It has been created with assistance from Wolverhampton University students and alumni led by sculptor and MA Fine Art course leader Benedict Carpenter, with help from others including the Friends of Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Museum, a cash-strapped Arts Council of England and others.
Most of the works have audio interpretation panels with recorded discussions about the sculptures between Benedict, Honorary Fellow of the University of Wolverhampton Ron Dutton, also president of the Friends, and two current Fine Art studentsand a flavour of it all can be had by viewing the gallery’s Sensing Sculpture slideshow
In exploring the contrast between traditional and modern approaches to sculpture the exhibition displays pieces made from traditional materials such as wood, stone and bronze from the gallery’s collection which have not been on public display before.
Sculptors in the display with a connection to the University, or its predecessor institutions, also include Robert Jackson Emerson, Glynn Williams and John Paddison.
Benedict said, in a media release and also, in effect,at the relaunch: “It is fascinating to see so many connections between the sculptures in this new permanent display and the staff and students, past and present, of the Fine Art Department at the University of Wolverhampton.”
Carol Thompson, Curator at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, said: “We’ve focused on maximising interactivity and we encourage visitors to touch everything in the gallery.”
At the launch the city’s contribution to sculpture was detailed by Ron, former head of sculpture at Wolverhampton School of Art from 1964 to 1984, now the University’s School of Art & Design, and Benedict.
To one side the work and contribution of two dozen Wolverhampton master sculptors from the late nineteenth century to the present day is illustrated, including that of Robert Jackson Emerson who taught sculpture from Wolverhampton School of Art, in the same building as the gallery from 1910.
His work includes the big bronze doors and sculptures at the Bank of England and many more around London, including the Earth and Water figures outside the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall. He also crafted the statue of Wulfrun/Lady Wulfruna outside St Peter’s Collegiate Church, next door to the gallery.
Work such as the more recent bronze statue of England and Wolves footballer Billy Wright outside Molineux is illustrated in a light and easy setting with even more modern interactive work which the young people who attended the launch seemed to get to grips with in double-quick time.
Wolverhampton art gallery, with 12,000 artefacts, really does give the lie to the one-dimensional negative view of the city constantly on offer and has something of a coup with another exhibition starting on June 1.
A mainstay of the gallery is its Pop Art collection and Pauline Boty: Pop Artist and Woman (1938-1966) will be the first major exhibition in a public art gallery devoted to Boty’s work – 47 years after she died and became largely neglected.
It also comes half a century after a sex scandal rocked the political establishment. Andrew Lloyd Webber is creating the music for a new musical – Stephen Ward about one of the key figures who killed himself during the legal aftermath of the 1963 Profumo affair which saw the resignation and disgrace of the Tory Minister for War.
Another key figure – Christine Keeler – was the subject of a work by Pauline, Scandal 63. What happened to the painting is still a mystery.
Boty, who died in 1966 aged 28, was part of what was known as ‘Swinging London’. The painting draws on a famous photograph of Christine Keeler, apparently nakcd astride a chair. At the top of the painting the men in the affair appear. It was last seen in the year it was painted.
She also acted – and was very good looking – something which some critics seemed to use as a stick to beat her with. She played one of Michael Caine’s girlfriends in the film Alfie, worked in TV drama, on stage at the Royal Court and presented a BBC radio arts review.
Boty danced on TV pop show Ready, Steady, Go, and helped show then uknown US singer/songwriter Bob Dylan around London in the bitterly cold winter of 1962-63 when he left the US for the first time to appear in a BBC TV drama.
Her death from cancer came after refusing chemotherapy over worries for the baby she was carrying.
She died four months after daughter, Katy, was born.Her paintings were stored in a barn owned by one of her brothers.
The exhibition has been developed with the artist’s family, Whitford Fine Art and the Mayor Gallery, London and will continue until the 16 November, 2013.
A glimpse of what she gave to the 1960s can be seen at http://www.guardian.co.uk/inpictures. But more of that after the launch, alongside another exhibition – Tipping Point – tackling global climate change – on Friday 31 May at the gallery.
At a pre-event on the 31st Zoe Lippett, Exhibitions and Artists’ Projects Curator at The New Art Gallery, Walsall, will be in conversation with Dr Sue Tate, Co-curator of the Pauline Boty exhibition.