To celebrate the release of Public Sculpture of Lancashire and Cumbria, we sat down with David Cross to discuss the historical influence on the creative process and why the art showcased in the book may have been overlooked for so long.
What was it that caused you to draw your focus on art in Lancashire and Cumbria?
I was born in Barrow and spent my childhood walking and sailing in the South Lakeland area. Following an encounter with the sculpture of Barbara Hepworth in my teens, I have sought out galleries all over the UK and Europe. Eventually, I decided to leave conventional employment and have been researching the artists and sculptors of Cumbria for thirty years. I have published several related books and articles and given many lectures on these creative individuals. Cumbria is not just a county of poets! When this PMSA volume was mooted by Edward Morris c.2004, it seemed a logical step to accept the project.
Why do you think the work of local sculptures has been somewhat neglected over the years?
Local sculptors are often very talented but do not gain the opportunities or contracts which tend to fall into the laps of those who are London based. Many of the major sculptures in the area are the work of artists from the south who were perceived to be capable of higher quality work. Of course, there are those who make the leap to London, like Musgrave Lewthwaite Watson but they have tended to be exploited and underpaid by the more business-like sculptors and architects who have the contacts and the chutzpah. Britain’s regions have suffered for centuries from this London centric culture and even today Lottery money is often spent on ‘off-comers’ rather than upon giving greater opportunities to the creative communities of the regions, especially in the north west. This situation is slowly improving. A related phenomenon is that committees very often prefer to choose sculptors whose work they know, rather than those who may be gifted but have not the same track record. Thus the cake is never shared equitably and numerous works by the same sculptor are often found in the same or adjacent towns.
Did any of the pieces particularly attract your attention? Which pieces do you think will be of most interest to readers?
I have particularly enjoyed engaging with the work of the late 20th-21st century sculptors: Judith Bluck, Thomas Dagnall, Chris Kelly and Mary Bourne. In the 19th– early 20th century I would refer to Musgrave Lewthwaite Watson [though much of his work is in London], Louis Frederick Roslyn, Harvey Thomas Miles, Herbert Hampton, Walter Marsden and Herbert Tyson Smith. It is difficult to say which works will appeal to readers as taste is a very personal thing.
You make sure to detail the historical and political context of the pieces in the book? Do you often find these are heavily influential factors in the creative process?
Historical and political contexts are referred to, but kept brief as there was insufficient space. A fair tranche of this material was cut. Two key works are the Monument to the Victims of the Riots in Preston and the Monument to the Child Miners in Whitehaven.
To analyse the influences upon the creative processes of the many sculptors is really work beyond the scope of this book. But I am convinced that we would have more work of higher quality if artists were not miserably constrained by budgets and the demands of committees which are often stacked with people who know little about sculpture. Perhaps those largely working in stone might have produced finer work in bronze and vice versa? They were not always given the opportunity.
What are you going to be working on next?
In tandem with the current volume, I have been building my archive of material relating to artists of Cumbria, in all genres. I plan to produce one or more volumes on this in due course.
David A. Cross was born in Barrow-in-Furness and graduated from Durham University, taking his M.A. (by research) at Lancaster University, followed some years later by his Ph.D. After 1987 he contributed to extra-mural art history classes for Liverpool, Lancaster and Newcastle Universities and now lives in Carlisle. He is an honorary research fellow of University College, Durham.
Brothers Peter and Richard Needham have been exploring the medium of black and white photography for many years. They both studied under the English Teacher and Architectural Photographer Peter Burton at Scarborough College in the 1970s.
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