30 January 2023

Sampling the largest public
art collection in Milton Keynes
during a visit to hospital

‘Family’ by Jon Buck at the entrance to Milton Keynes University Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

I was in Milton Keynes University Hospital again at the weekend for a check-up over 10 months after I was admitted to hospital with a stroke – 10 months and 10 days since 18 March 2022 to be precise.

This time, I was in the hospital for a follow-up to a procedure some months ago for some lesions on the skin of the head, probably caused by too much exposure to direct sunlight. I suppose I can blame myself for not wearing a hat over almost four decades during those many, lengthy summer holidays in Greece.

Once again, I have been impressed by the quality and standard of attention and care that I receive in every hospital I have attended over the past year. A neighbour was telling me yesterday that when she arrived at A&E one day recently, she was told there was a nine-hour waiting list. But this is not the fault of the NHS or the staff – this is due to the combined failure of the government to invest properly in the NHS and to the consequences of Brexit that has prevented the NHS from recruiting the best available to fill vacancies.

Being a patient and arriving early at the hospital, I had a little time to appreciate one of the many sculptures on the hospital campus. Arts for Health Milton Keynes is a project using arts and creativity to improve health and wellbeing.

The project organises exhibitions and workshops at the hospital, has developed an art trail app, and has inspired creative courtyards. This explains why Milton Keynes University Hospital has the largest public art collection in Milton Keynes, with over 450 artworks from local, national and international artists.

The collection ranges from sculptures, paintings and drawings to site-specific installations and commissions, and includes sculptures from nationally and internationally renowned artists such as Peter Randall-Page, Jon Buck and Glynn Williams.

Jon Buck has been working as a sculptor since graduating in the 1970s and has completed many public commissions. His two sculptures in Milton Keynes University Hospital are ‘Equilibrium’, a 165cm high bronze work, and ‘Family’, a 170 cm high bronze.

‘Family’ is one of two sculptures by Jon Buck in Milton Keynes University Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Jon Buck has exhibited regularly from 1980 on, mostly in Europe and America, and he has contributed to some of the recent significant sculpture exhibitions in Britain. He was born in 1951 and grew up just south of Bristol at the mouth of the river Avon. His was the first generation to break with the family tradition of becoming Bristol Channel Pilots. From an early age, he was determined to go his own way and his deep fascination with the natural world led to his first employment at Bristol Zoo.

Studying animals and birds at close quarters gave him the opportunity to indulge in his passion for drawing. Gradually, though, he became disillusioned with the unethical nature of the work and after initially enrolling on a science degree he transferred to a Fine Art course at Cardiff in 1975.

After his first degree at Nottingham, Jon Buck took a Master’s degree at Manchester and then received a Fellowship at Cheltenham School of Art. At this point, he began showing with the Nicholas Treadwell gallery based in London. In the early 1980s, he became part of a disparate group of artists for whose work Treadwell coined the term ‘Superhumanism’.

He received a grant from Southern Arts in 1984 to become Artist in Residence for the Borough of Thamesdown in a regeneration area of Swindon. This placement gave him the opportunity to make his first large-scale work and to take on the challenge of making art for a public place.

Until then, all his sculptures were cast in resin and glass fibre. The Swindon experience showed him how inadequate these materials were for art in an external environment. This led to Jon Buck adopting bronze as his preferred media and into developing a close collaboration with his casting foundry, Pangolin Editions. This relationship has been central to his attempt to use traditional processes to make contemporary images.

Jon Buck has continued to work in both the public and private realms and for over 20 years he was Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at Southampton Solent University and a visiting lecturer at other art colleges and institutions.

Central to his work has always been his interest in humanity’s connection to the natural world. In art, he has always believed in some sort of visual ‘lingua franca’ and has been fascinated with art outside the western tradition, particularly African sculpture. In addition, the art of prehistory, outsider art and the drawings of children have all affected his way of thinking about making art.

He has worked on a number of occasions as artist consultant with Camlin Lonsdale Landscape Architects, in conjunction with planners and other artists, most notably on the Caerphilly Town Centre Enhancement Scheme in 1995.

He was the artist chosen to be part of a team for the enhancement and refurbishment of Deal Pier in 1998. This involved a major public consultation scheme and collaboration with planners and landscape architects from Kent County Council. The resulting work won the 1999 Rouse Kent Award for Public Art.

Jon Buck was invited to deliver a sculpture workshop at Makerere University, Kampala, in 2004 on behalf of the Ruwenzori Sculpture Foundation. He returned to Uganda in 2007 and 2009 to undertake further design research into tribal and clan totems for the Foundation and to oversee the translation of his designs into a series of bronze casts.

Milton Keynes University Hospital actively promotes the arts (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Praying through poetry and
with USPG: 30 January 2023

‘The radiant Orb unveils, / In all his pride of light’ (Anna Seward) … early morning on Stowe Pool to the east of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Christmas is not a season of 12 days, despite the popular Christmas song. Christmas is a 40-day season that lasts from Christmas Day (25 December) to Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation on Thursday next (2 February).

Throughout the 40 days of this Christmas Season, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflecting on a seasonal or appropriate poem;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

The calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today commemorates Charles king and martyr (1649). As a young prince, Charles I was a guest of the Comberford family at the Moat House on Lichfield Street, Tamworth, in 1619, while his father stayed at Tamworth Castle.

Anna Seward (1742-1809) by Tilly Kettle … she was part of a literary and intellectual circle in Lichfield

I was back in Tamworth last week, visiting the Moat House and some places associated with the Comberford family, and in recent mornings my reflections have drawn on poems about Tamworth by Mal Dewhirst, ‘Our Town’ and ‘We are Tamworth.’

I thought it only fair, therefore, to reflect on a poem from Lichfield this morning, and my choice of poem is ‘Sonnet 52’, by Anna Seward (1742-1809), a Romantic poet, often called the ‘Swan of Lichfield’.

Anna Seward was the elder of two surviving daughters of Canon Thomas Seward (1708-1790), a prebendary of Lichfield Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral, and his wife Elizabeth (Hunter). Elizabeth later had three further children, who all died in infancy, and two stillbirths. Anna Seward mourned their loss in her poem Eyam (1788).

Anna Seward was born on 12 December 1742 in Eyam in the Peak District of Derbyshire, where her father was Rector. Anna and her younger sister Sarah spent almost all their lives in the Peak District and in Lichfield.

When Thomas Seward was appointed a Canon Residentiary of Lichfield Cathedral in 1749, he moved to Lichfield with his family. They moved into the Bishop’s Palace in the Cathedral Close in 1754. Sarah (Sally) died suddenly of typhus at the age of 19 in 1764.

Anna Seward was part of a literary and cultural circle in Lichfield that included Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Erasmus Darwin, Thomas Day, Maria Edgeworth, the poet Sir Brooke Boothby whose family once owned the Moat House, and the Levett family. She was also involved in the Lunar Society in Birmingham, which included Josiah Wedgwood and Richard Lovell Edgeworth.

Anna Seward cared for her father in the last 10 years of his life, after he suffered a stroke. When he died in 1790, he left her financially independent with an income of £400 per annum. She continued to live at the Bishop's Palace until she died on 25 March 1809.

My choice of poem this morning, ‘Sonnet 52’ by Anna Seward, is appropriate reading early on a Monday morning and at the beginning of the week.

The former Bishop’s Palace in Lichfield … home of the poet Anna Seward, the ‘Swan of Lichfield’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sonnet 52, by Anna Seward:

Yes, thou shalt smile again! – Time always heals,
In Youth, the wounds of sorrow. – O! survey
Yon now subsided Deep, thro’ night a prey
To warring winds, and to their furious peals
Surging tumultuous. – Yet, as in dismay,
The settling billows tremble – Morning steals
Grey on the rocks; and soon, to pour the day
From the streak’d east, the radiant Orb unveils,
In all his pride of light. – Thus shall the glow
Of beauty, health, and hope, by soft degrees
Spread o’er thy breast; – disperse these storms of woe:
Wake with soft Pleasure’s sense, the wish to please,
Till from those eyes the wonted lustres flow,
Bright as the Sun, on calm, and crystal Seas.

‘Yes, thou shalt smile again! – Time always heals’ (Anna Seward) … the Friary Clock Tower in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is the ‘Opening Our Hearts.’ This theme was introduced yesterday by James Roberts, Christian Programme Manager at the Council of Christians and Jews, who reflected on Holocaust Memorial Day last Friday and World Interfaith Harmony Week.

The USPG Prayer Diary today invites us to pray in these words:

Let us pray for our Jewish brothers and sisters at this time of remembrance. May their pain and loss never be forgotten, and the Holocaust be a perpetual reminder of where prejudice and discrimination ends.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

The statue of King Charles I outside Lichfield Cathedral … he is commemorated with a Lesser Festival in the Church of England on 30 January (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)