Sculpture honouring Sheffield’s LGBT pioneer Edward Carpenter to be made by Maggi Hambling and installed in city centre

A sculpture by the leading contemporary artist Maggi Hambling is to be put up in the middle of Sheffield as a permanent memorial to the city’s LGBT pioneer Edward Carpenter.

Saturday, 7th September 2019, 1:30 pm
Edward Carpenter.

The Friends of Edward Carpenter – a community group that has been raising the profile of the poet, philosopher, activist and writer for several years – has secured the backing of Sheffield Council, and is now focusing on raising around £175,000 to commission the artwork and have it installed.

This summer marks the 175th anniversary of Carpenter's birth. Known as the ‘gay godfather of the left’, and credited with paving the way for the liberation movement of the 20th century, he was ahead of his time and renowned for many things – he advocated free love, the wearing of sandals, feminism, nudism, vegetarianism, birth control, recycling and railed against air pollution, living openly with his male lover on a farm outside Sheffield.

Through his writing and public speaking, Carpenter encountered great figures of his day including William Morris, Mahatma Gandhi, Keir Hardie, John Ruskin and E M Forster.

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The Friends group is keeping the sculpture's design, and its intended location, under wraps until the fundraising campaign has gathered pace.

Hambling – a distinguished painter and sculptor whose works are held in important public collections including the National Gallery, British Museum, and the Tate – said the piece would reflect Carpenter's beliefs.

“My sculpture will respond to Carpenter’s brave and ceaseless campaign for the emancipation of men and women regardless of background, sex or sexuality,” she said. “I hope it will provide a presence that encourages a conversation and continuing enquiry into the seminal work of the sculpture’s subject.”

Suffolk-born Hambling, 73, is best known for her public sculptures A Conversation with Oscar Wilde, near Charing Cross in London, and Scallop, on Aldeburgh beach. The latter is a large sculpted seashell made from steel and dedicated to the composer Benjamin Britten, while the former depicts Wilde sitting up in his coffin as if speaking to passers-by. Both proved controversial when they were unveiled.

Maggi Hambling with her painting Mirror Bar in 2016 at Fortnum & Mason in London. Picture: Getty Images

Most recently she has been working on a statue commemorating the 'foremother of feminism' Mary Wollstonecraft. The piece will be erected in Newington Green, north London, and features a figure of an 'everywoman' emerging out of organic matter, inspired by Wollstonecraft's claim to be 'the first of a new genus'.

The plan for a Carpenter sculpture was to be announced today at an event called Edward Carpenter's Birthday Party, held at Sheffield’s Millennium Gallery. A display celebrating his life is being shown at the venue.

Steve Slack, chief executive of the LGBT+ youth charity SAYiT, founded the Friends society alongside Kate Flannery and Mark Scott.

He said: “Sheffield never gave Edward Carpenter any civic recognition despite several attempts to do so. We are delighted that Maggi Hambling will enable us to provide the memorial in the city he deserves. It is especially poignant given that year is the 175th anniversary of his birth. How fantastic that we have such a fabulous artist working with us. We are determined to make this happen and when the sculpture is unveiled, it will be a day of celebration and pride for our city.”

Kate Flannery added: “Edward Carpenter saw a future full of hope and a simpler way of life, a world free of sexism, class divisions, war, homophobia, a world where we live in a sustainable way. Not only that but he fought for them and campaigned for change. We feel his values resonate with many people today. That makes it extremely important that we honour his influence with a public memorial.”

And Mark Scott said the group wanted a memorial that ‘provides a concrete and spiritual focus’.

“Above all, we want a work of public art that has integrity and that will ensure a respectful place of memorial in the heart of Sheffield,” he said. “Our work with Maggi Hambling will achieve this. We are absolutely delighted.”

Neale Gibson, Labour councillor for Walkley, said: “Sheffield is proud of its history of social equality and recognises the significant contribution Edward Carpenter made in shaping the compassionate city we know today. His values resonate with us strongly and form many of the foundations of our aspirations for the future. Maggi Hambling’s sculpture will provide a significant and contemporary affirmation to Carpenter’s remarkable legacy and will be a great cultural focus for the city.”