15 November 2022
A walking tour of a sculpture
collection in the grounds
of the Open University
I was on the campus of the Open University in Milton Keynes for the first time last week, to receive my fourth Covid-19 vaccination in the Michael Young Building.
Wandering around the campus after my vaccination, there was an opportunity to appreciate the modern architecture and sculptures on the campus, to see Walton Hall, which provides the original core of the university buildings, and to visit Saint Michael’s Church, which I described in my blog posting last evening (14 November 2022).
The Open University outdoor art collection consists of 16 permanent pieces set around the grounds. The one that probably stands out for most visitors is ‘Contemplation’ by Tom Harvey is on the Cedar Lawn.
The sculptor created this piece in 2010 from a dying 250-year-old cedar tree, enabling it to live on to be enjoyed by students and staff at the Open University. The tree died due to an infestation by the Small Cedar Aphid.
The university decided to make good use of what remained of the tree, and in 2010 Tom Harvey designed and carved his sculpture, depicting learning in its simplest form by observing the world around us.
Tom Harvey specialises in working on large-scale sculptures in wood, a natural, warm, organic and readily available material. Using a chainsaw as his main tool, he produces large, ambitious sculptures in a relatively short space of time.
Tom Harvey works within the tradition of direct carving, without using a scale model, making each piece a journey towards resolution that can take a few twists and turns along the way. The speed of the tool often allows ideas to flow freely and helps to create a sense of dynamism within the work. He uses other power and hand tools to create smooth surfaces and areas of greater definition.
‘Bounding Bull’ by the Zimbabwean sculptor Dominic Benhura is outside the Betty Boothroyd Library. This is a delightful springstone bull inset with crushed dolomite.
Dominic Benhura was born in Murewa, outside Harare, in 1968. He began his career in sculpture at the early age of 10, and sold his first piece professionally to architects at the age of 12. He studied under his cousin, Tapfuma Gusta, a master sculptor.
‘Modern Misses’ by Dominic Benhura is also outside the library. It is made of springstone serpentine, inset with acrylic.
Dominic Benhura’s work is bold and daring and he captures balance and movement both physically and emotionally. His prime motivation is to explore new ideas, techniques and methods to express and communicate powerfully simple ideas.
Nature, family and the relationships with his children are the main inspiration for his sculptures.
‘Learning Together’ by Ray Castell is at Perry A & B entrance. This sculpture was commissioned by the Open University to celebrate 40 years of providing open and equal educational opportunities to thousands of people.
This work shows two androgynous people holding a globe inquisitively, their heads inclined towards each other.
They could be anybody, any colour, any ability. They are inquiring and interested about our links worldwide and our wonder of it.
‘A Kind of Infinity’ by Ray Castell is also at Perry A & B entrance. Most of Ray Castell’s sculptures are based on natural shapes that are flowing and calming. He likes to try to strip away detail yet encapsulate the essence of the forms that evoke in him, and hopefully in others, a mostly pleasing emotion or reaction.
The two parts of this sculpture mirror each other exactly. The plinth is green oak and the main sculpture is of Blue Purbeck Marble.
I almost missed ‘C4 in S4’ by John Jaworski, which is outside the Alan Turing Building. This work was designed in 1989 for BBC TV’s production of ‘Cosets and Lagrange’s Theorem’ for the Open University course M203, ‘Introduction to Pure Mathematics’, by the show’s producer.
This work represents the 24 elements of the mathematical group S4, each represented by one of the 24 corners. The central set of four elements or corners represents a normal subgroup C4 of S4 with four elements, and each of the other sets of four elements or corners is a coset of C4.
Perhaps my favourite work last week was ‘For and Against’ by Jane Muir, on Central Walkway by K block. This is a mosaic relief mural for which Jane Muir sourced the mosaic pieces in Venice and Paris. She completed this piece in situ in 1978.
Jane Muir studied history at Saint Anne’s College, Oxford. An exhibition of mosaics from Ravenna in London inspired her to win a travel bursary to Italy in 1950, awakening an interest in this art form which later became a speciality of hers. She later studied painting and sculpture in Middlesborough, and then murals and mosaics at Teesside College of Art.
Over 20 years, she has concentrated on easel mosaics with a high artistic content using the highest quality smalti, golds, own hand-made glass fusions, along with found objects.
The collection is open to the public. However, the Open University campus is a private estate. Groups of more than six visitors wishing to view the collection should call the Events Office. Groups of six visitors or less wishing to view the collection should report to the Security Lodge on arrival.