The Twentieth Century Society has submitted an urgent spot listing application for Bill Mitchell’s remarkable sculptural panels in Bracknell Town Centre, under threat from large scale town centre redevelopment in early 2015.
Made entirely of bronze faced glass reinforced plastic (GRP), the piece is 30m long and made up of 14 individual panels – at some points up to 10cm in depth. It is thought to be one of the earliest examples of GRP to be used in public art. Completed in 1974, the frieze re-tells local history and is tightly packed with figures and scenes ranging chronologically from pre-Roman earth-works, the bracken pool from which the town derives its name, and Queen Victoria.
Henrietta Billings, Senior Conservation Adviser, Twentieth Century Society said, “This remarkable piece of pioneering public art adds a rich layer to Bracknell’s twentieth century streetscape. It should be saved and celebrated, not bulldozed. Through listing we are confident this piece could be saved and successfully re-located”.
Mitchell chose GRP due primarily to cost considerations and the physical limitations of fixing heavy bronze panels to certain sites. Prior to the 1960s GRP had not been used in public art, and Mitchell told us it was designed as a “visual history lesson” and that it was his intention to “create a sense of place and a feeling of permanence”.
William Mitchell (b. 1925) is a designer, sculptor and artist and was a leading figure in public art throughout the post-war years. Having studied at the Royal College of Art where he was the winner of the prestigious Abbey Award, Mitchell worked for twelve years for the LCC and went on to establish his own company.
Several of his pieces have been nationally designated following a resurgence of interest in his work in the last ten years. These include the free-standing Totem Sculptures at the University of Salford (1966, designated Grade II in 2012) and murals at the Three Tuns Pub in Coventry (1966, designated Grade II in 2009), Lee Valley Water Offices (1965, designated Grade II in 2012) and the City of London Academy (1964, designated Grade II in 2008).
Our ongoing murals campaign seeks to highlight the vulnerability of post war public murals and has featured many of Mitchell’s works. As part of our current lecture series on public sculpture, Bill Mitchell is giving a talk on his life and work on Thursday 4 December in London at The Gallery, 70 Cowcross Streeet. For more details about the lecture series, click here.