Twenty Things you Ought to Know About Coventry and Art and Architecture
by Peter Walters, CovSoc Committee Member
1. A stained-glass image of a blonde-haired woman, discovered during recent archaeological excavations in the ruins of Coventry’s first cathedral, is thought to be a 12th century representation of Godiva.
2. An elephant and a castle first appear as features on a Coventry seal around 1250.
3. Coventry-born John Thornton, designer of the Great East Window in York Minster, learned his craft as part of a school of glass painters in the city in the 14th century.
4. The Coventry Doom, painted by unknown artists on the chancel arch in Holy Trinity Church around 1435, is regarded as one of the great treasures of medieval wall painting.
5. A tapestry featuring King Henry VI and his Queen Margaret of Anjou in St Mary’s Hall still hangs on the wall for which it was made around 1510.
6. Joseph Paxton, designer of the Crystal Palace, laid out Coventry’s new municipal cemetery in 1845 and was later Liberal MP for the city for more than a decade.
7. Coventry art metal worker Francis Skidmore designed and made much of the decorative metal work for the Albert Memorial, Queen Victoria’s 1872 tribute to her dead husband.
8. The architect Frederick Gibberd, designer of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, Harlow New Town and London’s Central Mosque, was born in Coventry in 1908.
9. In 1938, Coventry became one of the first cities in the country to employ a city architect. Donald Gibson went on to design Europe’s first traffic-free city centre.
10. Coventry’s striking Godiva statue, designed by William Reid-Dick and unveiled in 1949, is one of the few equestrian statues outside London to be listed.
11. Sir Basil Spence, the architect chosen to design Coventry’s post-war cathedral, had dreamed of designing a cathedral since childhood.
12. Jacob Epstein’s bronze sculpture St Michael and the Devil, commissioned for the new cathedral, was the artist’s final major work.
13. Another celebrated commission, Graham Sutherland’s monumental tapestry Christ in Glory, was the largest in the world when it was completed.
14. The first Art Director of Coventry’s new Herbert Art Gallery and museum in 1957 was the Ulster poet John Hewitt, who stayed until his retirement in 1972.
15. The Art and Language group, important in the development of conceptual art in the UK, emerged from Coventry School of Art in the late 1960s.
16. In 1968 John Lennon and Yoko Ono submitted an art work to an exhibition of sculpture at Coventry Cathedral. It was their first peace activity together.
17. The landscapes of the Tile Hill estate on which he grew up dominate the work of the painter George Shaw, born in Coventry in 1966 and recently a Turner prize nominee.
18. The art work for Coventry’s Millennium project, The Phoenix Initiative, includes pieces by international artists Jochen Gerz, Francoise Schein and Susannah Heron.
19. A statue of Coventry-born jet pioneer Frank Whittle, by sculptor Faith Winter, was unveiled in the city on June 1, 2007, the centenary of his birth.
20. Coventry canal art trail, which incorporates around 30 works of art in more than five miles of towpath, is the longest trail of its kind in the country.
This article first appeared in Elementary What’s On, a website which Peter and his fellow enthusiasts update regularly with news about Coventry’s theatre and arts scene.