Designer of Coventry post-war icons is featured in exhibition – discovered by chance in Leeds

So, my first ever visit to Leeds, for a job, but of course I had to get there early so I could visit the city art gallery.

And just as predictably for me when trying to explore new places, the upper galleries were closed for work, but a wander into the attached Henry Moore Institute produced a surprising and enjoyable find. An exhibition about the work of Dorothy Annan and Trevor Tennant whose work I had seen repeatedly over the last twenty-plus years without ever knowing it.

Everyone who’s ever stopped to look at the Godiva Clock in Broadgate will have seen Tennant’s work in the Godiva figure which rides out every hour, and the Peeping Tom which watches her. There is a lovely photo of a long-lost Broadgate with the Godiva statue facing the clock and people sitting on grass to watch it being unveiled.

If you turn the corner to Broadgate House, those are also his carved figures displayed on it. Entitled People of Coventry they are supposed to represent people in a timeless feeling of continuity, an important aspect to the post-war rebuilding of the city. Broadgate House was a key part of Donald Gibson’s plan for the rebuilding of the city centre, and included in the exhibition is some correspondence between architect and sculptor. There’s also a great picture of Tennant working on the relief figures on a blitzed site in London’s Regent Park.

He also created the Levelling Stone of the Phoenix which now resides in Coventry, and a brick carving of a falcon which is described as being on the side of a Coventry junior school – though it didn’t say which one.

A fascinating series of photos also show Tennant giving a sculpture demonstration at Coventry Training College in 1947, creating a model of a woman sitter’s head in front of a live audience, seemingly all male, who are also shown peering closely at the finished work.

Trevor Tennant and Dorothy Annan were members of Artists International Association (AIA), a left-wing group established in 1932 whose aim was “Unity of Artists for Peace, Democracy and Cultural Development’. They were based in Leamington during the Second World War where they were also members of the Artists and Designers Group and worked on public commissions, influenced by their membership of AIA.

Dorothy Annan’s post-war work included a mosaic entitled The Good Earth for the Rugby Road Junior School in Leamington, an oil on brick mural design produced by the Artists and Designers Group, and showing a combination of industrial and pastoral scenes.

There are also images of her designs for the Neptune Tea Bar and another room at the Finham Park Hostel in Coventry in 1942.

This exhibition also covers the pair’s commissions in London and other parts of the country. Their Dorothy Annan and Trevor Tennant archive joined the Henry Moore Institute Archive of Sculptors’ Papers in 2012, donated by their family. This exhibition brings together photographs, sketchbooks and exhibition catalogues to give a chronological account of their practices and show the role of art in British society post-war. It’s on until March 1 in the Upper Sculpture Study Gallery, and I was glad to have found it.

* I also visited Yorkshire Sculpture Park, though with a bit of a mist about it possibly wasn’t the best day for it. And luckily I had the wellies in the car as it was pretty muddy and slippy and I was mindful of a friend who fell and ended up with a broken arm after a visit! The whole site was too big for me to do it justice in the time I had, but I’d like to return another time. Enjoyed seeing several large Henry Moore sculptures in the landscape, plus Anthony Caro’s large Promenade row of sculptures, Ai Weiwei’s Iron Tree, which was outside the Chapel and Julian Opie’s Galloping Horse lightbox work racing through the gloom.

Inside the chapel was also Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson’s Song for Coal, an “immersive audio visual work” created to mark the 30 year anniversary of the miners’ strike. It’s pretty impressive as music and visuals combine to form a stained glass window appearance of miners and their lives on the chapel wall.

An island on the lake also caught my eye – loads of herons perched on nests and flying around, closer than I’ve ever seen them, and near enough to hear their flapping wings. It seems a great place to combine the man-made and the natural in a day out.

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