15 November 2022
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.
Before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.
Throughout this week, I am reflecting in these ways:
1, One of the readings for the morning;
2, A reflection on the stained glass windows in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’
Luke 19: 1-10 (NRSVA):
1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ 9 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’
Stained-glass windows in Stony Stratford, 3:
Throughout this week, I am reflecting each morning on the stained glass windows in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles, Stony Stratford, Buckinghamshire.
The 12 windows in Saint Mary and Saint Giles include a two-light window at the west end by Charles Eamer Kempe, depicting three archangels; a set of three windows in the south gallery, among them important work by John Groome Howe of the Hardman studios; two separate windows in the south gallery that appear to include fragments from an earlier window; and six windows – three below the gallery on the south wall and three below the gallery on the north wall – by NHJ Westlake of Lavers & Westlake.
The second window in the South Wall in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church beneath the gallery is dated 1888. It was commissioned by the Stony Stratford architect Edward Swinfen Harris (1841-1924), whose works, mainly in the Arts and Crafts style, can be seen throughout the town.
Edward Swinfen Harris commissioned this window in memory of his father, also Edward Swinfen Harris, who was the clerk to the town bench of magistrates, the Board of Guardians and other bodies in the town.
This second window is of three eyelets and depicts:
1, Joseph before Pharoah’s throne, interpreting his dreams (Genesis 41: 1-36);
2, Jesus as an apprentice in Joseph the carpenter’s shop, with Joseph and the Virgin Mary (see Luke 2: 39-40);
3, Joseph’s brothers before him with the silver cup found in Benjamin’s sack (Genesis 44: 1-34).
Each panel in this window depicts a Biblical character Joseph: the son sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers, and Joseph with the Christ Child.
In the first panel, Joseph stands before Pharoah’s throne, interpreting his dreams (Genesis 41: 1-36). However, the vision he points to in the distance is not the years of plenty, or the years of famine, but Christ Crucified on Calvary.
The stories of Christ as an apprentice in the workshop of Joseph the carpenter are popular and pious, but are not found in any Gospel narrative (see Luke 2: 39-40). Nevertheless, this image in the second panel, showing Christ as an apprentice in Joseph the carpenter’s shop, reflects a subject that was popular among the Pre-Raphaelite artists at the time Westlake made this window.
William Holman Hunt worked on his painting, ‘The Shadow of Death’, in 1870-1873, during his second trip to the Holy Land. It depicts Christ as a young man prior to his ministry, working as a carpenter. He is shown stretching his arms after sawing wood. The shadow of his outstretched arms falls on a wooden spar on which carpentry tools hang, creating a ‘shadow of death’ prefiguring the crucifixion.
Two decades earlier, Holman Hunt’s Pre-Raphaelite colleague John Everett Millais had portrayed Christ as an apprentice carpenter, helping Joseph as a young boy, in his painting, ‘Christ in the House of his Parents’ (1849-1850).
In the third panel, Joseph’s brothers plead before him with the silver cup found in Benjamin’s sack (Genesis 44: 1-34). In the background, their ageing father with Jacob is being comforted.
In each of these panels, Westlake is suggesting to the viewer that Edward Swinfen Harris was a loyal and faithful son to his father, the late Edward Swinfen Harris, and that he had learned from him.
whose blessed Son was revealed
to destroy the works of the devil
and to make us the children of God and heirs of eternal life:
grant that we, having this hope,
may purify ourselves even as he is pure;
that when he shall appear in power and great glory
we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom;
where he is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
The Post Communion Prayer:
in this holy sacrament
you give substance to our hope:
bring us at the last
to that fullness of life for which we long;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
you long for the world’s salvation:
stir us from apathy,
restrain us from excess
and revive in us new hope
that all creation will one day be healed
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Living Together in Peace.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday, describing the work of PROCMURA, the Programme for Christian-Muslim Relations in Africa. USPG has provided an annual grant to PROCMURA since it started in 1959.
The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:
We pray for interfaith initiatives around the world. May we seek out friendships with people of other faiths and learn more about other religions.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org