It’s coming home… the Yeats/Bedford-Project is almost there

Image above: Enwrought Light by Conrad Shawcross RA, inspired by WB Yeats, will honour the poet, just yards from his childhood home and beside the path on which he walked daily to school, here at the entrance to Chiswick’s unique Bedford Park garden-suburb/artist’s colony.

Guest Blog by Cahal Dallat

We’re into extra time, of course, and still all to play for until the final whistle next Tuesday, 20 July… but we’re confident of bringing the trophy “home”.

Not your regular silver or gold prize-winner’s cup, but a dazzling Yeats-inspired gold and silver helical spiral “enwrought with” (or “created out of”) the “golden and silver light” of one of Yeats’s best-loved Bedford-Park-era poems, “He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven”.

With one week to go and 5.5% of the £134K target still to find, our project committee are confident that pledges on our crowdfund page from Bedford Park and Chiswick residents over the next seven days will more than cover the remaining £7,500 needed to honour WB Yeats, one of the twentieth century’s outstanding literary figures, on his “home ground”, literally, of Bedford Park, where he lived with his family in the 1880s and 1890s.

The “trophy” doesn’t simply celebrate Yeats’s status and his much-loved and remembered poems, but pays tribute to Bedford Park’s role in fostering his genius, with its progressive and artistic community becoming the catalyst that transmuted his love of Irish landscape, legends and lore into Nobel-Prize gold.

Many artists, writers, and theatre people came to live in 19th-century Bedford Park, helping to create that vital aesthetic/Bohemian/Utopian ambience, but Yeats (and his brother Jack, Ireland’s most famous 20th-century painter) were the most significant artists to have grown up here.

Images above: The Woodstock Road house where the Yeats family moved when Yeats was enrolled at Godolphin in Hammersmith – which was a boys’ school in the 1870s/1880s, The young WB Yeats by John Singer Sargent

Supporters

So those supporting the artwork project have been a real mix of some who’d simply want to see Yeats’s greatness celebrated in London, and many who envisage the artwork as recognising the Bedford Park connection, the role of fellow artists in nurturing creativity, and the success of Jonathan Carr’s Arts-&-Crafts first-garden-suburb and its communal atmosphere in inspiring the aesthetics and intellectual ideas that actually became the template for the second half of the twentieth century.

In the past week alone it’s been fascinating to watch names such as Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, poet Scarlett Sabet local actors Kevin McNally and Phyllis Logan, and Washington-based Yeats scholar, Joseph Hassett, pitch in to join a wide array of supporters and donors that includes Marie Heaney (wife of the late Seamus Heaney, Yeats’s successor as Ireland’s national poet and another Nobel-Prize winner), broadcaster and Chiswick-enthusiast Jeremy Vine, rock musician and campaigner Bob Geldof, poet and former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, National Theatre actor Ciarán Hinds – whose reading at the project’s Irish Embassy launch was a key inspiration for the artwork – local authors Polly Devlin, Fergal Keane and Anne-Marie Fyfe, critic and broadcaster Tom Paulin, theatre director Shevaun Wilder, Sligo poet Joan McBreen, Yeats’s official biographer Professor Roy Foster, and former president of Ireland’s Yeats Society, Martin Enright.

That’s in addition to major donors such as London’s Royal Academy, the Irish Embassy in Grosvenor Place, Hounslow Council’s “Thriving Communities” scheme and The Josephine Hart Poetry Foundation created by Lord Saatchi to honour his Irish poet-and-novelist wife who died in 2011.

In number terms those are only a very small percentage of the 330 supporters who’ve pledged £127K so far, the majority being poets, actors, artists, architects and the “ordinary” – perhaps arts-loving – “home supporters”, the Bedford Park and Chiswick and West London residents, who’ve joined in over the past five months as awareness of the project grew through the planning process, through publicity in The Chiswick Calendar, Chiswick Magazine and local members’ newsletters such as those from St Michael and All Angels (the Yeatses’ family church from 1879, although the church arrived after they did!), Chiswick Pier Trust, Our Lady of Grace and St Edward, and, recently, from the Bedford Park Society who have offered help and advice since the project was first announced at a Fergal Keane “Yeats reading” as part of the Bedford Park Festival some years ago.

Image above: Leading London artist, Conrad Shawcross, whose design Enwrought Light, for the WB Yeats Bedford Park Artwork, has been awarded £25,000 from the Royal Academy’s Sir George Frampton Fund towards the cost of creating and installing the artwork in Bedford Park.

Reception

What’s been particularly exciting since the image of the artwork was first publicised in Chiswick Calendar hasn’t just been the buzz that Chiswick’s getting its own Conrad Shawcross artwork, following Paradigm at the Crick Institute, The Dappled Light of the Sun in the Royal Academy Courtyard, Optic Cloak on the Greenwich Peninsula and Schism at Château-La-Coste near Marseille… but the extent to which people have taken Conrad’s creation, Enwrought Light, and its multiple meanings, to their hearts, as we’ve seen from the many supporting emails we received during the planning-application phase and since.

There’s the obvious idea of visually celebrating Yeats’s genius spiralling upwards in gold and silver, reaching for the sun as an aspiring artist such as the young Yeats clearly did.

But that interpretation is matched with the sense that the artwork also captures Bedford Park’s forward- looking, progressive spirit spiralling out centrifugally into the wider world where its first-garden-suburb ideal was copied internationally and its underlying ethos (as a rare intellectual oasis in Victorian London egalitarian, anti-imperial, feminist/suffragist, multicultural and spiritually diverse) “conquered the world” in the words of author G.K. Chesterton – who was a fan of Bedford Park and married a girl from Bath Road!

And the poem that inspired Conrad, in Ciarán Hinds’s reading at the Irish Embassy launch, wasn’t simply important because it suggested to him the idea of working with the play of light, reflecting changing time of day and passing seasons in its “golden and silver”, and “blue and dim and dark… light and half light” but because it expressed Yeats’s desire to create beauty (even though the poor poet says in the poem he has “only [his] dreams”) as well as capturing what Conrad could recognise, on his visits to Bedford Park, as the embodiment of the Arts-&-Crafts ideal of embedding the aesthetic in the everyday.

Yeats’s quest for beauty, and Bedford Park’s desire to integrate art in life, could be seen in contemporary terms, not so much as “work/life balance” (though that was part of the aim, all those Bedford Park houses built with studios and music rooms) but as an even more essential “work/life/art” balance.

Some of the more exciting responses have, unsurprisingly, come not just from artists and art critics but from art teachers who can see students, and schoolchildren at every level, inspired by the artwork’s geometrical shape and form (Conrad defines his work in terms of Psychogeometries), its play on light and its potential for interpretation…as flocks of birds (“I would that we were my beloved / White birds on the foam of the sea”), as a swirl of autumn leaves (Yeats writes of “the trees in their autumn beauty”) or as flights of angels floating upwards beside the high windows St. Michael and All Angels Church, the angels that appear, for example, throughout Yeats’s work and on his 1890s book covers!

Image above: artist’s impression of the sculpture

What Happens Now?

It ain’t over until it’s over, of course, which is 20th July or when we hit £134,164 if sooner, though unlike with a football win, the celebration isn’t instant and won’t be “over” for quite some time. And although we’ve been playing in extra time, since the crowdfunding deadline was extended due to delays at the planning stage, the two month extension has given us much more time for the project committee, Fr. Kevin Morris, Torin Douglas, Polly Devlin, Matthew Fay and Gerald McGregor, to have conversations, like those mentioned with artists and art teachers, for example, surrounding the project’s “Phase Three” which begins almost immediately.

“Phase One”, funded by local donations and gifts-in-kind involved setting up and launching the registered charity, all the conversations and explorations that led to commissioning Conrad’s dazzling design and a complicated and detailed planning application process.

“Two” was “Celebrate Yeats in Bedford Park”, the crowdfund phase that, once successfully completed, gives us an artwork to unveil on Yeats’s birthday next year.

And “Three”, backed by poets, academics and educationalists attracted to the project, won’t just be the poetry and arts events surrounding the June 2022 unveiling, but a complete education/arts/heritage experience wrapped around the artwork as focal point attracting visitors, local and international, adults and children, to “Discover WB Yeats in Bedford Park”…with a smartphone/app version of the long-running Land of Heart’s Desire literary walk (with Google directions, images, info, talks and Yeats readings by celebrity actors), educational Yeats-poem workbooks (virtual or print-out) for schoolkids, families and school-parties, the unveiling events themselves plus ongoing/future poetry readings and talks, and a promotional video telling the world the Yeats/BedfordPark story through Conrad Shawcross’s artwork and Bedford Park’s history and legacy!

All hanging on that wave of enthusiasm generated since mid-February seeing us through the next week, though, up to the final whistle!

Pledges via: spacehive.com/yeats-bedfordpark-artwork
Info on: wbyeatsbedfordpark.com
Contact: cahal.dallat@wbyeatsbedfordpark.com

Cahal Dallat is the organiser of the WB Yeats Bedford Park Artwork Project

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Chiswick Cheese Market, Sunday 18 July 2021

See also: Chiswick Book Festival 9 – 15 September 2021

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