Earlsdon Methodist Church, Albany Road, Earlsdon, Coventry, CV5 6NF
Church opening times
Fridays and Saturdays 11am-4pm
Events at Earlsdon
Children’s Craft Sessions inspired by the paintings
Saturday 11th 10.30am-12noon
Sunday 19th 2-4pm
Saturday 25th 10.30am- 12noon
Sunday 3rd 2-4 pm
Stories of Change: Hope, Faith and Love
The Methodist Modern Art Collection is one of the Methodist Church’s greatest treasures. This outstanding collection of Christian art has particular strengths in British 20th-century Modern artists including works by Edward Burra, Elisabeth Frink, Patrick Heron, Ceri Richards, Graham Sutherland and William Roberts. The Collection has continued to grow, since its foundation in the 1960s, with innovative acquisitions from the 1990s onwards.
Just as John Wesley, who inspired the Methodist Movement, travelled around the country preaching, so the Methodist Modern Art Collection is not rooted in one place. From the beginning it was conceived as a travelling collection with strong educational links, and has been touring for many years to chapels, churches, cathedrals, museums, galleries and educational establishments, where it has inspired worship, enthused Mission, amazed visitors, and encouraged many supporters and enthusiasts. This unique Collection has recently undergone a programme of conservation and re-framing, to ensure it is preserved for future generations. This is the first time it has been seen by the public in over two years.
Re-launching the Collection during the City of Culture year in Coventry, and opening the Art Trail Stories of Change: Hope, Faith and Love with works on display in the Cathedral itself, set among outstanding masterpieces of 20th-century religious art, is particularly appropriate, as the Collection was begun in 1962, the year that the Cathedral was consecrated. Four works are hung at the Cathedral, all creating new dynamic dialogues between these paintings and the outstanding interior of the Cathedral with its related artworks. This is followed by a trail across the city, and beyond, enabling the exploration of the Collection in depth within the context of the communities who are hosting the trail, along with their responses to the works, at a time of recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.
An innovative Art Trail for Coventry – Stories of Change: Hope, Faith and Love
The Church of England’s post-war response to church artistic commissioning is well known; epitomised by the brilliant architecture and art commissioned by the architect Sir Basil Spence at Coventry Cathedral. The Methodist Church’s engagement with post-war British religious art is less well known and, historically, art commissioning has not been at the forefront of non-conformist church activities. The unique story of the formation of the Methodist Modern Art Collection, from its foundation in 1962, is told in this trail, demonstrating how it has grown to include more artists from other parts of the world, to reflect multicultural Britain. Today it also plays a role in post-Covid recovery, offering moments of contemplation and healing.
For nearly 60 years these works have surprised, delighted and enthused many hundreds of thousands of people who have seen and appreciated them in churches, cathedrals and art galleries across the UK. We hope, here in Coventry, visitors will take the opportunity to engage with these works anew and follow the trail from the Cathedral, to Methodist Central Hall and onwards to Earlsdon Methodist Church, Balsall Common Methodist Church and Saint Mary and All Saints Church at Fillongley (a longstanding and successful example of a Local Ecumenical Partnership between the local Anglican and the Methodist churches). In all of these venues we hope they discover more about these significant paintings and their message of hope, faith and love.
This Art Trail provides information about the works that can be found at each location and how the local community responded to these, as well as explaining how to navigate the trail from the city centre out into the delightful villages nearby. A printed leaflet will be available at each of the venues.
The artists represented in the Collection may have been war artists like Graham Sutherland, or refugees like Ralph Beyer, or brought up during World War 2 on the Home Front like Elisabeth Frink. For those artists who experienced war directly, whether serving or on the Home Front, many found solace in representing Christian themes in the post-war recovery years.
During our time of recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, we can draw parallels with the post-war years of recovery and re-building, for which Coventry is so well known. The impacts of the pandemic are felt in many different ways and the Collection has real potential to provide space for moments of healing and contemplation this autumn.
All the venues will have a naturally 'hushed' atmosphere to allow visitors space to reflect quietly on the works displayed. Some venues may also offer further support and activities, such as the Prayer Stations at Earlsdon Methodist Church. There will also be opportunities to engage with therapeutic arts-based activities responding to the works and informative lectures and talks, shedding new light on, and interpretations of, key paintings.
For further information on these activities please visit: www.methodist.org.uk/cityofculture
Each time the Collection is loaned, the different communities who host it develop new dialogues with the artworks. Prior to borrowing paintings for this Art Trail, local churches around Coventry and Nuneaton encouraged congregations and their leaders to contemplate these works in imaginative ways, often during lockdowns. They had detailed discussions, using them to inspire prayer. This Art Trail now includes their many of their dynamic responses, creating new dialogues for the City of Culture.
Artists in residence at Methodist Central Hall: poet Emilie Lauren Jones, community artist Nikki Bovis-Coulter and digital artist Emily Tyler have all responded to the Collection and their work is also on view at Central Hall. Emilie’s poems are included in this Art Trail information.
The Revd Stephen Willey, Minister at Central Hall commented: “It is exciting to see our mission to nurture and celebrate faith, hope and love coming to life in Coventry this year through these artists.”
History of the Collection
This unique Collection began in the early 1960s as the inspired initiative of Dr John Morel Gibbs (1912–96). Gibbs was a Methodist layman who came from a wealthy Penarth shipping family in south Wales. His father, Major John Angel Gibbs, died in action in World War 1. John Morel Gibbs was very much raised in the shadow of war and, after taking a law degree at Cambridge, followed by a PhD in child psychology, became a conscientious objector in World War 2. He went on to become Vice President of the Methodist Church in 1959. By the 1960s Gibbs had concluded that the Methodist Church had failed to engage with contemporary high-quality religious art, which could make a genuine contribution to the life of the Church. He determined to rectify the situation.
Working with the local Methodist minister in Penarth, the Revd Douglas Wollen (1909-1998), who wrote as an art critic for publications including The Times and The Methodist Recorder, Gibbs acquired some outstanding examples of British 20th-century art. These were all chosen to illustrate aspects of the Gospel narrative, from the Nativity to Pentecost.
Some acquisitions were by established artists, such as William Roberts or Graham Sutherland, others were by relatively unknown artists just at the beginning of their careers. Wollen and Gibbs visited Bond Street galleries when they were in London for Methodist meetings to view potential acquisitions, and sometimes bought directly from artists after studio visits, occasionally commissioning works, or buying at auction. The 1960s were a time of energy and optimism, as well as recovery from World War 2, and the initial purchases echo the social and creative developments of the decade. There is a strong Welsh flavour to a number of early acquisitions, reflecting the fact that the original founders were based in south Wales, with works by Ceri Richards, Euryl Stevens and Michael Edmonds (based in Penarth at the time). From the outset there was a genuine desire to reflect innovative approaches to subjects and to look beyond European traditions. One of the first paintings to be acquired was by Francis Newton Souza, an Indian artist of international fame, living in London at the time.
The first works were purchased in 1962, ahead of a hugely ambitious touring exhibition which ran from July 1963-September 1965 and was entitled The Church and the Artist, with new works joining as they were acquired. It was shown across the country including at major galleries such as Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the Walker in Liverpool, Manchester City Art Gallery, the Laing in Newcastle, the Graves in Sheffield, and Turner House in Penarth, part of the National Museum of Wales at the time. The tour included one school, Kingswood in Bath, one college, Southlands in London and just one cathedral, in Portsmouth. Overall 107,000 people saw the Collection at 30 venues. The exhibition was received enthusiastically by the public, and local and religious press, but barely picked up by the art press. There were just seven mentions in national newspapers, and while there was brief coverage by the BBC with a programme Seeing and Believing, aired in January 1964, overall the reception was muted in contrast to the more controversial response to the opening of Coventry Cathedral.
After the first exhibition tour, the Collection was housed at Kingswood School in Bath, where it was administered by the then Methodist Education Committee. From the early 1970s, it was distributed between a number of Methodist schools, before being reunited again at Southlands Teacher Training College in the late 1970s. Eventually, after a conservation programme, the Collection was relaunched in the 1990s as a touring exhibition once more. Appropriately, the first exhibition was at the Turner House Gallery in Penarth. Exhibitions then continued from 1992, when it was shown at St Giles in Oxford, and in 1993 at The Maltings in Farnham, Surrey and Winchester Cathedral. The Collection began to grow once more with the commission of the Adams watercolour Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, in 1991, currently on display at Earlsdon Methodist Church.
There was a general revival of interest in British 20th-century art in the 1990s, when a national poll elected Coventry Cathedral as the nation’s favourite 20th-century building, embraced by the public as a symbol of reconciliation and peace. Works such as Patrick Heron’s Crucifix and Candles: Night 1950 were acquired and, in 1997, a new working group was set up by the Methodist Church to manage the Collection, chaired by John Newton Gibbs, son of the original founder. He recognised the potential power of the Collection to support Mission and provided inspired leadership for the next 20 years. This group oversaw further expansion of the Collection in the 2000s, particularly with works by women artists such as Susie Hamilton, Ghislaine Howard and Maggi Hambling, as well as more works by international artists.
The resulting Collection of over 50 works continues to grow and still, on occasion, reflects its Welsh roots. In 2011 a work was commissioned by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, who was born in Newport in 1951. Work is also still donated, for example, Crucifixion, a watercolour by Michael Edmonds, was acquired in 2015. During the period 2016-2018, the Collection was seen by nearly 80 thousand visitors.
The Management Committee is committed to curating exhibitions which are relevant and contemporary for our audiences. Exhibitions which address issues such as peace and reconciliation; the current refugee crisis and the affirmation of Dalit people, embracing equality, diversity and inclusion whenever possible. In this trail the artworks also reflect the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and ensure a role in the healing process.
Taking the Art Trail:
We suggest that you park at Memorial Park in Coventry, then walk to the city centre or use the Park and Ride bus to the Cathedral. Coventry train station is close to the city centre.
Start by visiting Coventry Cathedral itself, it is then a short walk to Central Hall. Earlsdon Methodist Church is also within walking distance.
To continue the trail you will need to drive or take the train to Balsall Common (alight at Berkswell Station, and walk west for 500 yards to the church).
Fillongley can be reached either by car, or by bus from Pool Meadow Bus Station in Coventry City Centre – the 735 operated by Coventry Minibuses runs daily.
Sarah Middleton The Methodist Modern Art Collection in Wales
Roger Wollen Catalogue of the Methodist Church Collection of Modern Christian Art, 1988
Roger Wollen Seeing the Spiritual – A Guide to the Methodist Modern Art Collection
with introductory contributions by Richard Cork, Graham Kent and Ann Sumner, 2018
Earlsdon Methodist Church
Methodism has been active in Earlsdon since the 1870s, when the village was outside the City of Coventry boundary. Initially Methodists worshiped in an old and derelict ribbon factory in Cromwell Street (now demolished), before the members built what is today the Criterion Theatre, finally constructing the present building in its prominent location, which opened as a Wesleyan chapel in 1923.
Today the Church has an active membership who have embraced the loan of key works from the Methodist Modern Art Collection, as part of the Art Trail to celebrate Coventry’s City of Culture status. Here works on display have been carefully selected to compare and contrast early works which entered the Collection in the 1960s, just after Coventry’s famous modernist Cathedral opened, and those paintings which have been added as the Collection has continued to grow and mature over the past 60 years. These include such popular works as Ceri Richards’s superb The Supper at Emmaus acquired in 1962 and Eularia Clarke’s The Five Thousand acquired in 1965, Norman Adam’s Christ’s entry into Jerusalem acquired in the 1990s and Jyoti Sahi’s Dalit Madonna acquired in 2002, which has become a much admired key work.
Peter Rogers The Mocking of Christ, oil on canvas, 1961
This work shows the Crowning with Thorns rather than a depiction of the Mocking of Christ and may be part of an early cycle of the ‘Life of Jesus’ series of paintings. The Mocking of Christ actually takes place after Christ appears before Caiaphas and is by Jews rather than Roman soldiers (Luke 23:11) while the Crowning with Thorns, as described in the gospel according to Matthew (Matthew 27:27-30) is when they place a twisted crown of thorns on his head. “They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head.” One soldier looks as if he is about to strike the stoical Christ figure who still holds the reed.
It is unusual for the two stories to be combined and is most likely that the original title has been wrongly attributed. Rogers left for a new life in America shortly after it was acquired, so it may never have been picked up and officially re-titled.
The palette of the work is dark and ominous – appropriately so, given the subject, and the figures are outlined with thick black contours contrasting the muscular arms and calves of the soldiers and the thin body of Christ. One soldier is so exhausted by the mocking that he lies relaxed at Christ’s feet.
Today Rogers is generally viewed as an American artist. He died in 2018 and did not return to religious art in a meaningful way in his long career. His painting of The Ascension is also on view in Methodist Central Hall as part of this Art Trail.
Eularia Clarke The Five Thousand, oil on canvas, 1962
The story of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is set by the artist in modern times. Clarke was influenced by Stanley Spencer, whom she much admired and who also set his religious work in contemporary settings. Her interpretation is inspired by Matthew 14:13-21, in which women and children are present too, but instead of fish and bread the assembled crowd are enjoying fish and chips, with tea brewing at the bottom right corner, babies sleeping and bicycles strewn about. There is almost the feeling of an old-fashioned church outing, with a picnic portrayed in the assembled crowd. According to the artist, the scene was actually inspired by a visit to Canvey Island in Essex, when the fish and chip van had just visited. Christ is indicated only in the top right corner – as if preaching from a parish pulpit, just his hands and part of his torso visible.
Clarke was born in London and studied Theology at Oxford before turning to art and taking a course at Ruskin School of Art. Her early career was as a school art teacher. In her 40s, after her children had left home and she was separated from her husband, she learned to drive and acquired a van in which she toured the country looking for artistic inspiration. In this case at Canvey Island, when she visited.
Clarke was a convert to Catholicism in 1959 and after a trip to Lourdes on pilgrimage in 1960, she turned her attention to religious painting. She rarely sold her art, and thus her reputation has been limited. Between 1960 and 1970 she painted over 88 canvasses of Gospel illustrations and patterns of Catholic worship.
In a letter of 1965 she wrote: “now people are trying to buy the Gospel paintings to have in their homes – quite often agnostic people who just like them as paintings. I have worried and prayed a lot about this, and finally decided to keep them as a collection for lending”. In this same year the Revd Douglas Wollen seems to have persuaded her to part with two works, including this one – now one of the most popular in the Collection. Clarke would no doubt have been delighted by how much joy the work has brought visitors when it has toured. An online gallery of her work has been set up by the Clarke Trust: http://eulariaclarke.co.uk/
“The painting reminds me that we are a community regardless of colour, creed or disability.” Penny, Earlsdon Methodist Church
Ceri Richards The Supper at Emmaus, pen and ink, watercolour and gouache on paper, 1958
The passage illustrated comes from Luke 24:13-31 and illustrates the scene after two disciples walking to Emmaus, a village close to Jerusalem, were joined by a stranger who engaged them in conversation about Christ’s recent crucifixion. Quoting the scriptures, the stranger explained to them why Christ had to die. When he joined them for supper at nightfall he broke bread, their eyes were opened and they recognised him as Christ himself. At this moment he disappeared from sight.
Richards depicts the very moment of revelation – Christ emerges from a vivid yellow cross as his identity is revealed to his disciples. The composition is undoubtedly influenced by Caravaggio’s famous rendering of the subject in the National Gallery in London, with one disciple sitting with his back to us, pushing back his chair in astonishment. Richards divides the work into segments by a yellow cross, comprising a vertical shaft of light and acting as the horizontal supper table. Christ is positioned against the cross, and he seems to loom out from its light. The vivid palette feels remarkably fresh in this beautifully preserved watercolour.
Richards is renowned as one of Wales’ finest artists of the 20th century. A contemporary of, and frequent co-exhibitor with, John Piper and Graham Sutherland, he represented Britain in many international touring exhibitions. He was born near Swansea in 1903 and trained at Swansea School of Art just after the World War 1, from 1921-1924, and then the Royal College of Art from 1924-1927. He spent most of his working life in London but returned to Wales, as Head of Painting at Cardiff College of Art from 1940-1944, a year during which over 2,000 bombs dropped on Cardiff and 355 people lost their lives. In 1944 he painted Falling Forms, an abstracted depiction of a British fighter plane pursuing a German V-1 flying bomb (Imperial War Museum).
Wollen had been drawn to Richards’ work after viewing The Deposition in St Mary’s Swansea of c.1958. He would have been particularly aware of Richards at the time because in 1962 he was a prize winner at the Venice Biennale. Although purchased through Richard’s gallery, Marlborough Fine Art, Wollen exchanged letters about the watercolour and discussed the acquisition with the artist. Today it is regarded as one of the great treasures of the Methodist Modern Art Collection.
Norman Adams Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, watercolour over pencil on paper, 1991
This vibrant large watercolour places Christ at the centre of activity, riding on a donkey accompanied by a foal, entering Jerusalem, or perhaps another city. The flags being flown include the Union Jack, the flag of St George, the German national flag and possibly the Swedish one, rather than the traditional palm branches and garments that were cast before him, as described in John’s Gospel (John 12:12-15).
The slightly indistinct figure at a window to the right is possibly Zacchaeus, a wealthy individual who, being small in stature, could not see Christ above the crowd, so ran ahead and climbed a tree. In this modern urban setting the artist might have felt it was more likely that he would find a vantage point in a window overlooking the route. Although the Zacchaeus story actually happened at Jericho, it is not uncommon for it to be included in Entry into Jerusalem compositions.
This watercolour was commissioned by the Gibbs Charitable Trust in 1991, following the Penarth Turner House exhibition, and the revival of interest in the Collection this engendered in 1990. Adams appears to have been influenced by James Ensor’s Christ’s entry into Brussels of 1889 (John Paul Getty Museum) in his approach to the subject he was asked to paint. The watercolour was exhibited at the Royal Academy exhibition in 1992 before entering the Collection. This marked the beginning of a period of renewed acquisition and growth as the 1990s progressed, supported generously by the Gibbs Charitable Trust.
Jyoti Sahi Dalit Madonna, oil on canvas laid down on board, 2002
This striking image of the Madonna cradling her baby son, with its warm tones, has been one of the most popular work in the Collection since its acquisition in 2004. It is the second work by an Indian artist to be acquired, the first being by Francis Newton Souza in 1962.
The symbolism of the Dalit Madonna reflects the Indian folk tradition of the grinding stone, found in every home. This has two parts. The larger ‘Mother Stone’ is fixed and stable, whilst the smaller ‘Baby Stone’ moves to grind foodstuffs on the Mother Stone. Relating Mary and Jesus to this symbol links the bond between them to the preparation of daily bread on the grinding stone so we can think of it when saying “Give us this day our daily bread”. Those formerly known as ‘untouchables’ in the Hindu caste system, have given themselves the name Dalit, a Sanskrit word meaning crushed or broken. Breaking items on the grinding stone is necessary to create wholesome food for the family. The suffering in the relationship of Jesus and Mary is necessary to create life and hope.
Jyoti Sahi is a prolific artist, one of the leading Christian contemporary artists today in India, and has been called “the theologian with the brush”. He uses his art to create a dialogue between Hinduism and Christianity and was one of the founding members of the Asian Christian Art Association, blending diverse cultural symbols in his powerful images. His father was a Punjabi Hindu, his mother Christian and he was raised as a Catholic, deciding at an early age he wanted to be an artist.
From 1959-1963 he studied in London at Camberwell School of Art. On returning to India he met his English wife Jane, who came from a Quaker tradition. They were married and settled near Bangalore where Jyoti taught at the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology.
Methodist Women in Britain (MWiB) is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its formation this year. When the movement launched in 2011 it began a five-year programme of solidarity with the Dalit people. This involved raising awareness of the vast scale of caste discrimination and oppression from which millions of women, men and children continue to suffer, not just in India, but in Britain too. MWiB sought to stimulate interest, prayer and action, raising funds for the education of young girls. They produced a resource pack in 2013 featuring this image and included a meditation on the painting by Rev Nicola Vidamour in which she writes, “for many Indians Dalit Madonna would be a contradiction in terms”. The work was selected by the Coventry City of Culture committee drawn together to plan this trail as the lead image for all marketing purposes, as they felt it reflected the themes of the trail, Hope, Faith and Love.
The community at Earlsdon Methodist Church were fascinated by this work and have given thought to how it communicates to them at this time of suffering.
“I think most of us can only express one thing about this painting and that is unconditional love, the love a parent has (or most parents have) for a child and the same love that God gives to us.” Penny, Earlsdon Methodist Church
John Muafangejo Israel, Jews, Christians, Heathen, Our God for all People, linocut on paper, 1981
In this work there are two images of Christ, both half black and half white. In the upper section he stretches out his robed arms, while below, the same arms are naked on the cross. The diversity of the faces in between shows that all are received without distinction (Galatians 3:27-29). The universality of God’s love was a theme to which the artist returned regularly. Muafangejo was renowned for his powerful linocuts showing people and events, expressed in black and white imagery, initially in his homeland of Ovamboland, which stretches across Angola and in Namibia. His reputation grew from the 1970s, and he had gained international renown by the time of his death in 1987.
After the death of his father Muafangejo trekked to Namibia to live with his mother’s family and was educated at St Mary’s Anglican Mission, where his artistic talent was recognised. He was sent to study at the renowned Rorke’s Drift Art and Craft Centre in Natal, which had been founded by the Swedish couple Ulla and Peder Gowenius. Muafangejo flourished as a printmaker and he often included texts which reflected the struggles of his people under apartheid.
He taught art at St Mary´s Anglican Mission School in Odibo from 1975-1977 in Windhoek, where a few years after his death, the John Muafangejo Art Centre was established, under the auspices of the National Art Gallery of Namibia. His work is held by major institutions internationally, from the British Museum to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. After his death his distinctive works were used as key images as part of the Wembley concerts celebrating the 70th birthday of Nelson Mandela in 1988. His work was also used a few years later during the Namibian Independence celebrations, which he did not live to see.
This linocut was acquired in 2008 from the Revd John Wheeler, who had championed Muafangejo’s art, writing about it for an exhibition of prints called African Harmony shown at the Africa Centre in London in 2000.
Clive Hicks-Jenkins Christ writes in the Dust: the Woman caught in Adultery, acrylic on panel, 2011
This individual Welsh artist, renowned for his powerful figurative work, was commissioned to produce this subject in 2009 and finished the work in 2011. He shows the moment when the Pharisees brought a woman to Christ who had been caught in the act of adultery. The Pharisees, in a bid to bring him to trial, attempted to trick him. They asked whether he agreed that she should be stoned, as the Law of Moses said.
Christ famously questioned the worthiness of anyone in the crowd to stone the woman “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”. Bending down to write in the sand at his feet, he put the self-righteous firmly in their place. The assembled throng gradually dispersed, Jesus straightened up and asked the woman where they were: “Has no one condemned you?” To which she replied “No one sir”. Christ then uttered the famous response: “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and from now on do not sin again”. (John 8:1-11).
The story is one of the best known and memorable in the Bible, summarising the teaching of Christ with regard to forgiveness. Christ is usually shown with the woman and the crowd, but only occasionally is he depicted writing in the dust. Hicks-Jenkins shows this moment when Christ distracts the crowd’s attention from the woman to himself but, unusually, he also shows the woman bending over, looking down at what is being written.
Hicks-Jenkins has set the scene in Montclar, Catalonia which he visited in 2010 – a beautiful picturesque Spanish village which has had a dark past in the Spanish Civil War and where truth-telling and reconciliation are still ongoing. This gave him the inspiration for the context of this subject, in a place where forgiveness is central. The city of Coventry is renowned for its approach to reconciliation and so displaying this painting here during the year of City of Culture felt particularly relevant for the members at Earlsdon.
Hicks-Jenkins came from Newport in south Wales and had a successful career as a choreographer, director and stage designer in the theatre before turning full time to art and exhibiting regularly in Wales and beyond. His work is held by the National Museum of Wales, the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Llandaff Cathedral and Pallant House Gallery. He was the winner of the 2020 V&A Illustrated Book Award for Poet Laureate Simon Armitage's narrative poem Hansel & Gretel: a Nightmare in Eight Scenes and was awarded the Owain Glyndwr Award for Contributions to the Arts in Wales in 2019.
Like other more recent acquisitions Christ writes in the Dust: the Woman caught in Adultery was a direct commission from the artist and was supported by two private benefactors who wanted to enable the Collection to continue to grow. Its inclusion highlights the continuing attraction of Welsh art, reflecting the origins of the Collection in Penarth. It was unveiled at a ceremony at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham, in 2011 at which the benefactors were present.
Michael Edmonds Crucifixion, watercolour on paper, 1988
This small watercolour dates from Edmonds’ later career, and contrasts with his earlier mixed media work The Cross over the City from 1962 (also on display as part of this Art Trail). Originally from Wareham, in Dorset, where he grew up on a fruit farm, he was educated at King's School, Bruton, in Somerset. He began his architectural training at the Royal West of England School of Architecture in Bristol in 1943.
Although he tried for the Air Force, he eventually served as a ‘Bevin Boy’ in the South Wales coalfields during World War 2. There he developed an enduring interest in geology, the local industries and the well-being of miners. He was also taking art classes at Cardiff College of Art during the mid-1940s where he adopted abstraction.
In 1956, with Eric Malthouse and David Tinker, he founded the 56 Group, to promote avant-garde art in Wales. His early constructions were experimental and made use of wood, polyester and fiberglass. In 1959 he created the large-scale ceramic mural for the research unit studying mining-related ‘dust-disease’ at Llandough Hospital near Cardiff, followed by The Cross over the City in the early 1960s.
In 1951 he married Thelma Seager, who came from a Cardiff shipping family and they initially settled at Penarth, where Michael worked with the National Coal Board on medical centres and pit-head baths. From 1957 he was in private practice in Kent, then worked with the inspiring modernist Edward D Mills in London, designing schools, community centres and Methodist chapels. Finally, he moved to the Greater London Council until retiring in 1979.
Coventry has a resonant local heritage of coal mining. Coal extraction in Warwickshire began in 1862; shafts for the Coventry Colliery in the village of Keresley, close to Bedworth, were begun in 1911. The colliery eventually closed in 1991, and the subsequent smokeless fuel plant in 2000. Today, the site is a distribution park.
While Edmonds’ main career was as an architect, in his later years he returned to Wales and worked in a very different style, in watercolour and ink, reflecting his passion for historical industry, nature, geology and his liberal Christian faith.
The translucent jewel-like colours of Crucifixion are striking. The huge orange luminous sun and black sky evoke the three hours of midday darkness before Christ’s death, when “the sun’s light failed” (Luke 23:44). In St Matthew’s Gospel this event is also described as literally earth-shattering (Matthew 27:51). The lower shapes and stripes in Edmonds’ small fluent rapid watercolour are reminiscent of rock strata, with the black marks suggesting pieces of coal.
This is one of the more recent works to enter the Collection and was given by the family of the artist after his death in 2015. It demonstrates how the Collection continues to grow.
Edmonds’ earlier powerful sculptural relief The Cross over the City is also on display in Methodist Central Hall as part of this Art Trail.
Images above from the Methodist Modern Art Collection © TMCP, used with permission. www.methodist.org.uk/artcollection
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