Fifty two years ago, in June 1968, I went to the Coventry Cathedral Exhibition of British Sculpture in and around the old Cathedral. I was only 18 years old at the time but remember it well. It was a collection from some of the biggest names in British sculpture: Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and Frederick Edward McWilliam, plus many more up and coming artists. So why exhibit modern sculpture in the midst of a Gothic Cathedral ruin? One reason was Coventry was on everyone’s lips with its new Cathedral bristling with modern artwork and some of the artist who were not included in this major building wanted to be part of the action. The other answer was that the old Cathedral was, and still is, an amazing space to exhibit artist’s work. Modern sculpture was concerned with its enveloping space, and enveloping its own space, expressing space, sky, trees, open air and many other things.
Because it was such an important artistic event many artists wanted to get involved and one of them was Yoko Ono. However she was a bit late in getting involved and the exhibition was already nearing completion, but the organisers saw that the publicity would do them good. So John and Yoko were included in their first public event, in which the couple famously created ‘Acorn Piece’ or should it be ‘Acorn Peace’? It was a conceptual sculpture in which two acorns were planted facing east and west for peace, then two halves of a round bench were brought together over the spot, so when the trees were grown they would be within the centre of the circular bench. This was within the grounds of Coventry Cathedral on Saturday 15 June 1968. But within a few days the acorns had been taken and the bench had been moved 50 feet way from its original spot.
You will see in the photographs first John digging the hole and you can see Holy Trinity Church behind him, the next photo shows John and Yoko planting the acorns, then John and Yoko sitting on the bench with the Chapel of Unity behind them. The other photos show two ladies sitting on the bench but this time it’s in the St. Michael grave yard with the Golden Cross in the background. Another photograph shows a different two ladies sitting on the bench with the old Cathedral Book shop behind them.
So the bench did move around a bit. In the end John fell out with the Cathedral and got his driver to pick it up and take it back to their home. I understand it is featured in the film ‘Imagine’ with John and Yoko.
Another image shows a photograph of John and Yoko sitting in one of the sculptures made of bright yellow perspex just in front of the Cathedral’s Altar. On the day I visited I was standing looking at this perspex piece, and I was asked if I would like to sit in it? Then I was told by one of the people who was looking after the exhibition that I had just missed John and Yoko. I thought it was a wind up and did not think any more about it, and carried on looking around the various exhibits.
On 15th June 2008, Yoko Ono came back and planted two more acorns. A replica of the white bench seat was also at the ceremony – and it can now be seen in the Coventry Music Museum, Ball hill, Coventry.
So next time you’re walking around the grounds of Coventry Cathedral, keep a look-out for the two trees that will hopefully grow into mighty oaks – and remember the history and reasoning behind them – Peace.
Paul Maddocks, Deputy Chair of the Coventry Society
In homage to this artwork, the new plans for the Unity Lawn at the Cathedral include a bench around a tree in the lawn.