Musings for October 2020

                     A Serendipitous Art Trail

Walking along Saxon Road in Heeley I was intrigued to see an aluminium relief sculpture on the red-brick wall of a fine old factory building. On it, a workman has just broken out of a constricting tunnel, his hard hat low over his eyes. One hand grips the mouth of the tunnel, and his near shoulder bursts out into space. His forward hand holding a torch, he peers out onto Saxon Road. It’s an arresting image. The company premises are Wolf Safety Lamp Co. Ltd and their website tells me it’s a centenary plaque celebrating the firm’s longevity. The plaque appears to reference a miner coming up for air - indeed the company made miners’ safety lamps - though now they make highly specialist lighting equipment.

 

Image: Loveday Herridge

Wolf Safety Lamp’s centenary plaque, to celebrate 100 years in Sheffield,

made by Jason Turpin-Thomson

I’m reminded that I know something about Wolf. The company Friemann and Wolf originated in Zwickau, Saxony, and was established in Leeds, then brought to Sheffield in 1912 by William Maurice, an innovative mining engineer. But it was his daughter Monica who was first brought to my attention by Eileen Hylton of the Friends of the Chapel of our Lady on Rotherham Bridge, at a Heritage Fair earlier this year. It seems that Monica chose the Chapel for her wedding in 1938. The Chapel was built in 1483, and is one of only four surviving medieval bridge chapels in the UK. J.M.W. Turner drew it in 1797, and his drawing survives in his ‘Tweed and Lakes Sketchbook’ now in the Tate Britain collection. When he saw it, it was serving as a gaol.

Artist:  J.M.W. Turner    Photo: c.Tate    CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported) 

J.M.W. Turner’s sketch of the Chapel of our Lady on Rotherham Bridge, 1797,

Tate Britain collection. 

Monica Maurice studied languages and design at the Sorbonne, and worked as her father’s secretary at Wolf in Sheffield. She developed formidable technical expertise in the mining trade, and became the first female member of the Association of Mining Electrical Engineers. She qualified as a pilot, learned advanced aerobatics, and drove fast, powerful and elegant cars. In 1947, as a lieutenant-colonel, she participated in a British intelligence mission to Germany to determine the potential for post-war reconstruction in specialised industries. She became Managing Director of the company at her father’s death in 1951,
while raising three children.

 


For Monica Maurice’s wedding at the Chapel she herself designed her beautiful fine silk gauze dress - in ruby red - with a blue petersham belt and buttons. She wore a floral wreath with a shoulder-length veil which has sadly not survived, but it was apparently red or blue to match the dress. Red was a brave choice for an English bride, but she was not a conventional woman. She was bold, clever and strong, and her unique and exquisitely constructed wedding dress, alongside other items of her wardrobe, is now in the collection of the V&A, testament to the style and imagination of its owner.

                                                 Image: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Dress worn by Monica Maurice at her wedding in 1938, at the Chapel of our Lady on
Rotherham Bridge (from the collection of the V&A, London)

But Monica Maurice also has her place in the collection of Museums Sheffield. Her ‘Portrait of Monica Maurice, OBE’, 1985, was painted by Janet Patterson, and shows her sitting in her office, at Wolf Safety Lamps, on Saxon Road.

Copyright Janet Patterson

‘Portrait of Monica Maurice, OBE’, 1985, by Janet Patterson

One day last week I took my two-year-old grandson to Endcliffe Park. He was excited to show me the wooden sculpture of a toad he had discovered in the park with his parents, slightly dilapidated now but still evocative. Of course, his parents, along with thousands of others, had enjoyed that anonymous toad themselves (or perhaps an earlier version of it).

 

It is, I think, a much loved element of a visit to Endcliffe Park. Later that day I received a reply from Alex Jackson, Managing Director at Wolf, to my email asking who had been the maker of the sculpture on his factory frontage. He kindly sent me information about the sculptor Jason Turpin-Thomson, and a short web search later I could see that Thomson sculpted both the plaque and the toad.

                                    Image:  Loveday Herridge

Jason Thomson's 'Toad' in Endcliffe Park

I think the Endcliffe Park toad was commissioned by Off the Shelf, Sheffield’s literary festival. The Wolf centenary plaque was a private commission. But what a huge pleasure and source of discovery art in the public realm - lovely things you see as you just pass by - can be.


Loveday Herridge

October 2020

 

With thanks to Alex Jackson of Wolf Safety Lamps

 

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