19 July 2023
The sculptor and artist Peter Walker’s work can be seen in towns, cities and cathedrals throughout England and around the world. His art includes large-scale sculpture, commissioned and bespoke sculptural works, as well as paintings, drawings, film, sound and light installations.
He has had a major impact in recent decades on Lichfield and Lichfield Cathedral, and is singularly responsible for transforming Lichfield into the City of Sculpture.
Each time I go back to Lichfield, I take the opportunity to appreciate another aspect of his sculpture and work.
Earlier this month, I spent time with ‘The Formation of Poetry’ (2010), his sculpture at Greenhill Mews in Lichfield, at the entrance to the Tesco car park. This work was unveiled in 2010. My only excuse for not seeing this work is I don’t drive and I only found myself in the Tesco car park as I was walking from Saint Michael’s Churchyard on Greenhill to Stowe Pool.
‘The Formation of Poetry’ was created by Peter Walker to celebrate the tercentenary of the birth of Dr Samuel Johnson, who was born in Lichfield on 18 September 1709. It is a 3 metre long bronze artwork, designed as a tribute to Samuel Johnson who compiled the first English dictionary.
The sculpture was designed with the help of students of the Friary School, who worked with the artist through a design project in 2008 to develop their own ideas on art on the city’s streets.
This was Lichfield’s first new public sculpture for over 50 years and it was unveiled on 18 September 2010 by the Mayor of Lichfield, Christopher Spruce, and Peter Barrett, chair of the Samuel Johnson Society. The sculpture was made at Chasewater Innovation Centre and was funded by Tesco as part of a major investment in local arts.
The project related to four famous figures in the cultural life of Lichfield – Samuel Johnson, Erasmus Darwin, Anna Seward and David Garrick – and involved 104 workshops in all.
The sculpture was inspired by the way Samuel Johnson used poetry in his dictionary to establish the true nature of the English language. This bronze sculpture, with its clever engineering and unique design, allows the artwork to appear fragile and gentle, as though the pages fold, curve and curl up in the breeze. And yet it stands firm and solid to last the test of time, just as words might in a piece of poetry.
The sculpture imagines pages of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language being blown about in the breeze, each with a poignant word and its poetic definition, depicting creativity both through abstraction and through text.
The words chosen and the writers quoted include: Art (Pope), Beauty (Byron), Cloud (Wordsworth), Dictionary (Johnson), Distant (Tennyson), Forever (Brooke), Fruit (Milton), Heart (Dryden), Modern (Wilde), Moon (Housman), Mortal (Coleridge), Poppies (McCrae), Power (Seward), Rose (Shakespeare), Secret (Brontë), Sleep (Shelley), Time (Erasmus Darwin), Tread (Yeats), and Walk (Blake).
Peter Walker has undertaken, developed and commissioned artistic projects in Lichfield since 2006, the majority in the public sphere, and many were completed in collaboration with Lichfield Cathedral since 2015.
He made Lichfield City an artwork in its own right in 2014, turning the streets into an art gallery and establishing Lichfield as ‘The City of Sculpture’. This involved creating and developing a City Sculpture Trail, 52 weeks of art working with schools and community groups, creating three modern bronze statues, and creating and establishing sustainability for the arts in the area.
The exhibition ‘A City as Sculpture’ was at Lichfield Cathedral from August to October 2015. It featured eight artworks by Peter Walker in the Cathedral Close, and over 50 other artworks inside the cathedral.
‘E Conchis Omnia’, his statue of Erasmus Darwin in the Beacon Park Museum Gardens, Lichfield, was unveiled on 12 December 2012.
Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), who is seen perched on the edge of his seat, was a founding member of the Lunar society, a physician, philosopher, poet and inventor and the grandfather of Charles Darwin. The 7 ft Bronze shows Erasmus holding a shell in his left hand in recognition of his theoretical discovery – E Conchis Omnia, ‘Everything from shells’ – and under his right arm he grasps his Commonplace book, full of inventions, scientific knowledge and ideas. This marked the beginning of the theory of evolution which he was developed by his grandson Charles Darwin.
Darwin’s pose in this sculpture is similar to the pose of Michelangelo’s Moses, who similarly holds under his right arm and the tablets of the Ten Commandments as proof of belief. However, in Lichfield, Darwin holds new evidence of ideas and thoughts and change.
Walker depicts Darwin with his flaws and his large personality. The ripples of his jacket seem like waves upon the ocean, and the vines around his legs acknowledge Darwin’s poetic works and links to nature. ‘It is as though he is part of nature as well as showing humanities independence and desire to move forward,’ Peter Walker explains.
Through Darwin and the members of the Lunar Society, Britain’s Renaissance gave way to industrialisation. The plinth reflects this and is an acknowledgement of industry.
‘The Pity of War’ is an artwork created to give recognition and invoke contemplation over the many lives lost due to war. It has been seen by thousands at locations such as the Royal Navy Museum in Portsmouth and the cathedrals in Chester, Salisbury, Coventry, Oxford, Lichfield, and St Albans.
The Peace Woodland is a living artwork created by Peter Walker in Lichfield in 2018. To commemorate 100 years since the Armistice in 1918, he created the Peace Woodland, planting 1918 trees as a symbol of hope and peace for future generations. The living artwork is the only Peace Woodland outside Jerusalem. He worked closely with Lichfield District Council Historic Parks Team and Lichfield Cathedral to source 1,918 trees around Lichfield and District that would otherwise have been culled.
Lichfield Cathedral hosted ‘The Great Exhibition 2018: Imagine Peace’ in August 2018. During the large-scale event, Peter Walker created a labyrinth as an installation at the west front of Lichfield Cathedral. It was made up of the 1,918 trees in pots. Over 11 nights, the trees were lit and accompanied by a sound piece composed by David Harper as part of the Luxmuralis artistic collaboration producing the exhibition.
The trees were then planted in Beacon Park with many volunteers and community groups helping to plant the trees in a Labyrinth style shape. The central circle included a single Cedar tree representing the cross of the Crucifixion cross and as a symbol of peace and hope for new life.
On Easter Day 2019, Lichfield Cathedral invited people to walk from Lichfield Cathedral to the Peace Woodland for a blessing by Bishop Michael Ipgrave and Dean Adrian Dorber, and the Peace Woodland was opened officially on 4 June 2019. The Peace Woodland was later recreated in 2020 in Limburg, Lichfield’s twin city in Germany.
The Peace Woodland features in the City Sculpture trail as a permanent living artwork. It will grow and be a symbol of Hope and a place for Peace for future generations.
‘One Small Step’ (2019), representing the moon surface with real NASA imagery, marked the 50th anniversary of the Moon Landing in 1969. Visitors in the cathedral naves in Lichfield and Peterborough were invited walk on the moon and take their own one small step in the footsteps of Armstrong and Aldrin.
He created ‘Light of Hope’ in 2020 as an installation at seven cathedrals and a church, with simultaneous beams of light cast into the sky at Carlisle, Exeter, Salisbury, Ely, Lichfield, Liverpool and Wellington as a sign of Hope for All Saints-tide during the pandemic.
The Hope Garden is a living artwork and a gift to the city of Lichfield, created at the same time as the Saint Chad statue for Lichfield Cathedral. It comprises of 50,000 spring flowers, planted as a gift of hope and delight for all who see it. The flowers bloom every year around Saint Chad’s Day, 2 March.
The Hope Garden was designed to remember all who were victims of the pandemic and how life has been altered by the effects of the virus.
His new statue of Saint Chad was dedicated by Bishop Michael Ipgrave on 26 June 2021. This major new sculpture of Lichfield’s patron saint was commissioned by Lichﬁeld Cathedral. Saint Chad now stands at the south-east corner of the cathedral, facing down Dam Street, with Stowe Pool to his left and Minster Pool to his right, his hand raised in blessing and welcoming all who visit Lichfield.
‘The Laboratory’ (2021) was a free and contemporary installation artwork in Lichfield Cathedral by Peter Walker, with sound compositions by David Harper. It offered an opportunity to explore the fascinating world around us through the eyes of a scientist.
After almost seven years working in collaboration with Lichfield Cathedral, his time as Artist in Residence and Artistic Director at the Cathedral came to a completion at the end of 2021. The last performance of the Luxmuralis ‘The Cathedral Illuminated, 2021, The Manger,’ was the last night of his work at Lichfield Cathedral.
Roll on, ye Stars!
Exult in youthful prime,
Mark with bright curves
The printless steps of time
– Erasmus Darwin
Dictionaries are like watches.
The worst is better than none
And the best cannot be expected to go quite true
– Samuel Johnson
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams
– WB Yeats
Love and the muse can boast superior power
Indelible the letters they shall frame
– Anna Seward
The human heart has hidden treasures,
In secret kept, in silence sealed
– Charlotte Brontë
Earlier this week, the Guardian published a colourful and very insightful obituary of the film critic and author Derek Malcolm, who died earlier this week at the age of 91.
Derek Malcolm was a witty and acerbic writer, who could also claim he had been a friend of Christine Keeler and an acquaintance of the Kray Brothers.
In his memoir Family Secrets 20 years ago, Derek recalled how his own early life was not untouched by violence and controversy, albeit of a distinctly English variety. He was born in London, the only child of elderly parents, Dorothy (Taylor) and Douglas Malcolm, the heir to Yelvertoft Manor in Northamptonshire, which I visited a few months ago.
Douglas Malcolm belonged to a wealthy Scottish family and had been an officer with the Royal Artillery. Fifteen years before Derek Malcolm was born, Douglas Malcolm shot Dorothy’s lover, and in 1917 became the first man in British legal history to be acquitted on grounds of justifiable homicide.
The Malcolm trial at the height of World War I exposed class prejudices, racism and antisemitism that were rife in English society a century ago.
Is the same true today?
I am disgusted by the illegal migration bill that has now passed through parliament. As I struggle to find ways to articulate my abhorrence of this inhumane legislation, and further enshrinement of prejudice and racism in law, I find it interesting to reflect on the remarks addressed to the jury by Mr Justice McCardie during the Malcolm trial:
‘It matters not in what realm a man has been born. It matters not what colour foreign sun has burned on his cheek, the moment he sets foot on British soil, he falls within the King’s peace, and the shackles of foreign nationality do not prevent him from asking that he shall be protected by the ordinary rules of British justice.’
Today, the wording and phrases in the judge’s obiter dicta may be slightly difficult to digest. But it was the language of the day, and they have moral weight. However, they are wise words that the jury chose to ignore, and principles that the present government not only ignores but despises.
Racism, prejudice and intolerance continue to blight this land.
We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (16 July 2023).
Today (19 July 2023), the Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship celebrates the lives of Gregory, Bishop of Nyssa (ca 394), and his sister Macrina (ca 379), Deaconess, Teachers of the Faith.
Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.
Over these weeks after Trinity Sunday, I have been reflecting each morning in these ways:
1, Looking at relevant images or stained glass windows in a church, chapel or cathedral I know;
2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;
3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.
Holy Trinity Church, Bratislava:
Holy Trinity Church, Bratislava, is an 18th century baroque church near the Old Town in the capital of Slovakia. The official name of the church is the Church of Saint John of Matha and Saint Felix of Valois. However, because of its association with the Trinitarian Order, the church is commonly known as the Holy Trinity Church.
The church was built on the site of the older church of Saint Michael. But the older church and the settlement of Saint Michael were demolished in 1529 during the Ottoman wars as a defensive measure.
The Trinitarian Order started building the present church in 1717, and it was consecrated in 1727. At the same time, a Trinitarian monastery was built on the site.
The Trinitarian Order was dissolved in the Austro-Hungarian Empire by Emperor Joseph II in 1782 in his ‘storm against the monasteries’ (Klostersturm) and the city council took possession of the building. However, it did not suit the needs of the city and the monastery portion was almost completely demolished.
The design of the church reflects the new thinking in the 18th century on the function and form of baroque churches, emphasising space and light. The design may have been influenced by Saint Peter’s Church in Vienna, with the architect of Saint Peter’s possibly having a hand in the blueprint.
Outside, the main portal is richly decorated in rococo style, celebrating the Holy Trinity. Inside, the arch of the church is dominated by a cupola with trompe-l’œil frescoes by the Italian baroque painter Antonio Galli da Bibiena (1744). In the inner cupola is a blue and red cross, the symbol of the Trinitarian Order.
The church has a massive main altar and several side altars. The main work of art is the large altar painting depicting Saint John of Matha and Saint Felix of Valois – the two founders of the Trinitarian Order – ransoming Christian prisoners. This masterpiece was painted by Franz Xaver Palkó in 1745, and the artist painted himself into the picture as the boy on the far right.
On either side of the main altar are large statues of Saint Agnes (left) and Saint Catherine of Alexandria (right) by the Bavarian sculptor Johann Baptist Straub.
An elaborate side altar on the far right of the main altar was commissioned by Count Zichy in 1736. Above it is a copy of the miraculous Regensburg icon of the Virgin Mary.
The other six side altars are dedicated to Saint Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary; the Holy Angels, with an image of the Pietà; Saint John Nepomuk, a Czech national saint; Saint Michael the Archangel, victorious over the Devil; Saint Mary Magdalene; and Saint John the Evangelist.
Today Holy Trinity Church is a parish church in the Catholic Archdiocese of Bratislava.
Matthew 11: 25-27 (NRSVA):
25 At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’
The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Abundant life – A human right.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.
The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (19 July 2023) invites us to pray in these words:
We pray for the people of the Philippines as they face uncertainty and unrest in their country. Lord bring peace and stability.
Lord of eternity, creator of all things,
in your Son Jesus Christ you open for us the way to resurrection
that we may enjoy your bountiful goodness:
may we who celebrate your servants Gregory and Macrina
press onwards in faith to your boundless love
and ever wonder at the miracle of your presence among us;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
God of truth,
whose Wisdom set her table
and invited us to eat the bread and drink the wine
of the kingdom:
help us to lay aside all foolishness
and to live and walk in the way of insight,
that we may come with Gregory and Macrina to the eternal feast of heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
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