Mary Branson’s New Dawn Sculpture at Westminster Hall.
Over the past two years Adam Aaronson and his team have been working together with the installation artist Mary Branson, on an exciting, secret project entitled “New Dawn”. Mary is Parliament’s ‘artist-in-residence’ for women’s suffrage. Many visitors to Adam’s studio have noticed the buzz of activity but usually all questions about the project were met with deafening silence. Except that Adam did tell a few people that he was developing canapé dishes for a restaurant chain and this seemed to keep them happy!
Now the secret is out and if you missed it on the national news, New Dawn was unveiled on June 7th in Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster. This link takes you to the BBC News Report on the day. (Adam appears at 00.42 and 01.36)
This legacy artwork is the brainchild of Mary Branson. Mary was commissioned, as part of her residency, by the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art. Her task was to develop a proposal for a site-specific work. The brief was for an artwork to be placed in a permanent location in the Palace of Westminster as part of the Parliamentary Art Collection. Finding a suitable location in such a huge building was challenging. However, Mary kept being drawn back to the entrance to St Stephen’s Hall, where suffragettes petitioning Parliament all those years ago, were barred from entering any further. As part of her research, Mary discovered that Parliament is full of traditional art and sculpture. However, this mainly features male politicians. Women are hardly represented. So she wanted to redress the balance with a large scale contemporary work honouring the thousands of campaigners who paved the way for universal suffrage. The majority of these were, of course, women. Mary discovered that Charles Barry, in his nineteenth century rebuild of the Palace of Westminster, had originally intended the two alcoves, high above the doorways in Westminster Hall, to house an epic pair of artworks. These were intended to depict “War” and “Peace”, but his budget ran out. So the radiant calm of Mary Branson’s New Dawn turns out to be an ideal alternative for this location as it is sited exactly where Barrie had intended “Peace” to be celebrated.
New Dawn is a dynamic glass, metal, and light sculpture and marks 150 years since the philosopher John Stuart Mill presented to Parliament a petition calling for votes for women. This became a turning point for the women’s suffrage movement.
Adam Aaronson’s involvement.
Mary Branson first approached Adam Aaronson in June 2014 when the concept was in its nascent stages and they have been working closely together on the project for almost two years. Mary’s inspiration came from the ends of the scrolls in the Original Act Room in the Victoria Tower in the Palace of Westminster. This is where all the legislation and petitions to parliament in our history are housed. Written on these vellum scrolls is the legislation that brought women the vote as well as the petitions of all the campaigners.
When Mary showed Adam her photographs of the scrolls, he too was similarly inspired and instantly on the same wavelength. So it fell to him to devise a way to reflect the imagery of the scrolls in glass. He achieved this by working with Mary to adapt the carefully honed techniques he is known for, to create the 168 glass scrolls used in New Dawn.
Making the Glasswork
Over a period of eighteen months, Adam and his team, painstakingly created the glass scrolls for New Dawn. The parameters they had to work to were exacting. More than 350 scrolls were produced to achieve the final result. Many of these had to be destroyed but a limited number of the glass scrolls that didn’t quite make the grade are now available to purchase from the Houses of Parliament Shop.
The hand-blown glass scrolls are of varying sizes and each of these 168 unique glass discs was hand-blown and carefully ‘spun’ to open them out flat. To produce the scroll effect, Adam applied powdered glass colours and silver leaf to the molten glass at specific points in the process. The colours of the glass scrolls were carefully chosen to reflect the coloured banners of the many organisations who spoke up in favour of women’s suffrage. These include the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, the Women’s Social and Political Union, the Women’s Freedom League and the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage.
To enable Mary Branson to make her vision of New Dawn into a reality, she also enlisted the help of a number of other leading craftsmen. Ian and Colin Musson, a father and son team, produced the supporting metal work. Mary designed this in the shape of a portcullis. Chris Wilson of WLX Productions produced the lighting programme, which runs on a twelve hour cycle. New Dawn is unusual in that it is a dynamic artwork. Mary spent weeks devising the programme that changes the sculpture over a twelve-hour cycle that is governed by the ebb and flow of the tides of the River Thames. The historical significance of this is that the suffragette movement regarded itself as being on the rising tide of change, and the clock would not be turned back. The journey was still to be a long and tortuous one, but there was no going back and eventually women gained the vote.
You can find out more about New Dawn and the rich historical references that imbue it with an extra dimension, by downloading the brochure here
Mary and Adam have also designed a series of limited edition commemorative, New Dawn Scroll Bowls which can be purchased from the Houses of Parliament shop.
Measuring 6 metres by 4 metres, New Dawn is the largest publicly commissioned glass sculpture of its kind in the UK, to the best of our knowledge.
This link takes you to Mary Branson’s website. If you scroll down to the picture of Mary and the image opposite shows the dynamic nature of the work, which is linked to the tides of the River Thames.
Thanks to Emma Brown for the images of New Dawn shown here.