© 2021 Castleford Team Parish

Skeaping

Statues

John Skeaping and King’s College
John Skeaping is often associated with the work he did during his marriage to Barbara Hepworth, but this perios of six years (1926-1932) ignores the range and breadth of Skeaping’s visual output and fails to reflect his artistic legacy. In his monograph on the artist published by Lund Humpries in 2011 as part of The Henry Moore Institute’s British Sculptor Series, the art historian Jonathan Blackwood aims to readdress this balance by drawing attention to Skeaping’s relationship with materials over six decades, revealing how his extensive knowledge and command of them across a range of unusual serpentines, marbles, alabasters and exotic woods give him an unmatched profile as one of Britain’s foremost sculptors of the twentieth century. Having spent many years working predominantly in stone, in 1955, Skeaping completed three ecclesiastical figures from Nigerian Opepe wood for King’s College, Cambridge. This was to be the artist’s last large scale commission in an important period in Skeaping’s career, his year long trip to Mexico in 1949 reaffirming his focus on art as a craft and his continual search for truth as opposed to aesthetic judgeent. The college archives reveal that Kings had been seeking to commission pieces to filll the chapel’s reredos with three niches from the time of their installation in 1911 but this did not become a reality until the death of one of the Fellows at that time. Arthur Hill, who in 1941 left money in his will specifically to have the niches filled. After Henry Moore’s withdrawal from lengthy negotiations about a possible commission, Skeaping was appointed on the recommendation of Sir Charles Tennyson and Sir Kenneth Clark. During the late 1920’s and 1930’s Moore, Skeaping and Hepworth had become part of an avant-garde group of artists and Britain’s leading exponents of direct carving. As a pioneer of thsi technique, Skeaping’s sculptures included animal and human figures influenced by non-Western traditions. Skeaping’s explorations in scultpure derived from his travels and his knowledge of stone and wood set him off on various excursions throughout his career. Made out of Opepe wood sourced by the aritst in Nigeria and shipped to his studio at the Royal College of Art, Skeaping’s life sized figures of Christ, St Nicholas and The Virgin Mary have a distinctly English medieval feel, each standing well over 6 feet tall and weighing half a tonne. As Jonathan Blackwood remarks ‘These figures are remarkable not only for Skeaping’s meticulousness in sourcing the material, but also for their treatment, with the sculptor taking full account of English medieval carving traditions i . The commission came the same year that Skeaping completed his most moving and physically demading scupture Memorial or Standing Man 1955-56, a six feet tall primitive figure carved from granite, made as a memorial to the artist’s son Paul, who was killed in RAF service in 1953 Blackwood suggests that Skeaping’s figures were unveiled at King’s in 1955, but the colege archivist, Dr Patricia McGuire, calculates they were not installed until 1958. At an unspecified point in the 1960’s the sculptures were removed from the altar of King’s College Cahpel to make way for Adoration of the Magi (1634) by Peter Paul Rubens, presented to the Chapel by Alfred E Allnatt in 1961. During the next seven years, work was undertaken to remove the panelling and lower the floor level where Skeaping’s carvings had been situated so that Rubens painting could be positioned below the stained glass of the East window ii . Blackwood’s catalogue entry on the Skeaping figures speculates that by 1967 they had been relocated on temporary loan to Lincoln Cathedral, however, correspondence from Lincoln’s the Very Reverend Michael Peck confirms they were installed in the Cathedral in February 1966, Peck commenting that, ‘The figures have arrived safely and I am greatly delighted with them. We now continue with the aesthetic education of my colleagues!’ iii At the time of writing his catalogue of Skeaping’s work in 2011, Blackwood was unable to ascertain the current whereabouts of the carvings, stating that ‘there is no record in the minutes of the [Lincoln] cathedral as to the moving or the subsequent fate of the sculptures. Extraordinarily, the figures at present seem to be lost.’ iv The King’s College archive confirms the figures were returned from Lincoln to Cambridge, certainly by 1981, when records reveal there were large wooden statues being installed in the King’s College Memorial Chapel towards the end of that year. Since then the carvings have foudn their way into storage within a delapidated barn at 27 Barton Road on a site owned by King;s College which is planned for demolition in early 2015. In this environment the unpacked sculptures have suffered significant exposure to the elements and fluctuations in temperature wheree they have attracted considerable surface debris and dust. As a result the carvings need considerable cleaning, treatment to the lateral cracks that have formed, discharge of glue from joionts and small parts of the figures which have become detached over time. In addition, considerable funding is required for their specialist removal from the barn’s mezzanine as well as supportive packing and apotentially lengthy period of acclimatisation and storage. As the only know example of Skeaping’s medieval style in this period and as a supreme instance of the artist’s pioneering attendtion to craftsmanship, these carvings are unique and are deemed to be of significant historical value. Helen Little, Assistant Curator, Modern and Contemporary British Art, Tate Britain. Continued History from Castleford Team Parish In 2017 the then Rector of Castleford Fr James Milnes contacted King’s College and through joiont support from Kings College and the Parish it was arranged for the sculptures to be rescued form the barn and taken to Houghtons of York for restoration. Following painstaking restoration which is detailed on the Houghton’s of York website the sculptures were delivered to the Parish Church of All Saints, Castleford and duly installed. They now remain in Castleford on long-term loan.
John Skeaping, St Nicholas, Christ and the Virgin installed at King’s College, Cambridge in the 1950’s
John Skeaping
The scultures of Christ, The Virgin Mary and St Nicholas inside Castleford, All Saints, Parish Church.
© 2021Castleford Team Parish

Skeaping

Statues

John Skeaping and King’s College
John Skeaping is often associated with the work he sis during his marraige to Barbara Hepworth, but this period of six years (1926-1932) ignores the range and breadth of Skeaping’s visual output and fails to reflect his artistic legacy, In his mongraph on the artist published by Lund Humphries in 2011 as part of The Henry Moore Institute’s British Sculptor Series, the art historian Jonathan Blackwood aims to redress this balance by drawing attention to Skeaping’s relationship with materials over six decades, revealing how his extensive knowledge and command of them across a range of unusual serpentines, marbles, alabasters and exotic woods give him an unmatched profile as one of Britain’s foremost scultors of the twentieth century. Having spent many years working predominantly in stone, in 1955, Skeaping completed three eccelesiastical figures from Nigerian Opepe wood for King’s College, Cambridge. This was to be the artist’s last large scale commission in an important period in Skeaping’s career, his year long trip to Mexico in 1949 reaffirming his focus on art as a craft and his continual search for truth as opposed to aesthetic judgement. The college archives reveal that King’s had been seeking to commission pieces to fill the chapel’s reredos with three niches from the time of their installation in 1911 but this did not become a reality until the death of one of the Fellows at that time. Arthur Hill, who in 1941 left money in his will specifically to hae the niches filled. After Henry Moore’s withdrawal from lengthy negotiations about a possible commission, Skeaping was appointed on the recommendation of Sir Charles Tennyson and SIr Kenneth Clark. During the late 1920’s and 1930’s Moore, Skeaping and Hepworth had become part of an avant-garde group of artists and Britain’s leading exponents of direct carving. As a pioneer of this technique, Skeaping’s sculptures included animal and human figures influenced by non-Western traditions. Skeaping’s explorations in sculpture derived from his travels and his knowledge of stone and wood set him off on various excursions throughout his career. Made our of Opepe wood, sourced by the artish in Nigeria and shipped to his studio at the Royal College of Art, Skeaping’s life sized figures of Christ, ST Nicholas and the Birgin Mary have a distinctly English medieval feel, each standing well over 6 feet tall and weighing half a tonne. As Jonathan Blackwood remarks, ‘These figures are remarkable not only for Skeaping’s meticulousness in sourcing the material, but also for their treatment, with the sculptor taking full account of English medieval carving traditions’. i The commission came the same year that Skeaping completed his most moving and physically demanding sculpture 1955-56, a six feet tall primitive figure carved from granite, made a a memorial to the artist’s son Paul, who was killed in RAF service in 1953. Blackwood suggests that Skeaping’s were unveiled at King’s in 1955, but college archivist, Dr Patricia McGuire, calculates they were not installed until 1958. At an unspecified point in the 1960’’s the scultpures were removed from the altar of King’s College Chapel to make way for Adoration of the Magi by Peter Paul Rubens, presented to the Chapel by Alfred E Allnat in 1961. During the next seven years, work was undertaken to remove the panelling and lower the floor level where Skeaping’s carvings had been situated so that Rubens painting could be positioned below the stained glass of the East window ii . Blackwood’s catalogue entry on te Skeaping figures speculates that by 1967 they had been relocated on temporry loan to Lincoln Cathedral, however, correspondence from Lincoln’s the Very Reverend Michael Peck confirms that were installed in the Cathedral in February 1966, Peck commenting that, ‘The figures have arrived safely and am greatly delighted with them. We now continue with the aesthetic educaion of my colleagues!’ iii At the time of writing his catalogue of Ckeaping’s work in 2011, Blackwood was unable to ascertain the current whereabouts of the carvings, stating that ‘there is no record in the minutes of the [Lincoln] Cathedral as to the moving or the subsequent fate of the sculptures. Extraordinarily, the figures at present seem to be lost.’ iv The King’s College Archive confirms the figures were returned from Lincoln to Cambridge, certainly by 1981, when records reveal there were large wooden statues being installed in King’s College Memorial Chapel towards the end of that year. Since then the carvings have found their way into storage within a delapidated barn at 27 Barton Road on a sire owned by King’s College which is planned for demolition in early 2015. In this environment the unpacked scultures have suffered significant exposure to the elements and fluctuations in tempertire where they have attracted considerable surface debris and dust. As a result the carvings need considerable cleaning, treatment to the lateral cracks that have formed, discharge of glue from joints and small parts of the figures which have become detached over time. In addition, considerable funding is required for the specialst removal from the barn’s mezzanine as well as supportive packing and a potentially lengthy period of acclimatisation and storage. As the only known example of Skeaping’s medieval syple in this period and as a supremem instance of the artist’s pioneering attention the craftsmanship, there carvings are unique and are deemed to be of significant historical value. Helen Little, Assitant Curator, Modern and Contemporary British Art, Tate Britain. Continued History from Castleford Team Parish. In 2017 the ten Rector of Castleford Fr James Milnes contacted KIng’s College and through joint support from King’s College and the Parish it was arranged for the sculptures to be rescued from the barn and taken to Houghtons of York for restoration. Following painstaking restoration which is detailed on the Houghton’s of York website, the sculptures were delivered to the Parish Church of All Saints, castleford and duly installed. They now remain in Castleford on long-term loan. Pictures: Fig 1 - John Skeaping’s, St Nicholas, Christ and the Virgin Mary installed ay King’s College, Cambridge in the 1950’s Fig 2 - John Skeaping Fig 3 - The Sculptures of Christ, The Virgin Mary and St Nicholas inside Castleford, All Saints, Parish Church
Fig 1
Fig 2
Fig 3