Emmeline Pankhurst

Model Sarah Jenkins, Photo: Our Emmeline

‘Rise up, women’, St Peter’s Square, Manchester

The commission

The public chose Emmeline Pankhurst (15 July 1858 – 14 June 1928), political activist and inspiring leader of the Suffragettes, to become the first statue of a woman in Manchester for over 100 years. Six designs were short-listed, cast in bronze and unveiled at the Houses of Parliament, before being shared more widely with the public. My design ‘Rise up, women’ won the public vote and was the unanimous choice of the selection panel. This was the perfect commission, given my background in promoting women’s rights internationally over many years. This documentary, by Huckleberry Films, shows the process up to and including the unveiling (23m 14s).

The story

Emmeline is captured as the courageous, determined and dignified activist, at a pivotal point in the struggle for women’s suffrage – 1908/09. Incensed by repeated political betrayal, enough was enough, time for deeds not words. The Suffragettes are on the streets, ringing bells, summoning people from their homes and offices. Someone grabs a kitchen chair and the five-foot Emmeline climbs atop. We catch her mid-rousing speech, urging women to rise up and demand their right to vote.

The Meeting Circle

Unveiled on Emmeline’s 160th birthday, the Portland stone ‘Meeting Circle’, surrounds Emmeline, just as the crowds used to encircle her. This provides the stage-set and a sense of place, among the tall buildings around. Here people come to meet, to speak, to demonstrate, to celebrate, to reflect. (Huckleberry Films – 3m 33s.)

Community engagement

Communities, schools and activists were engaged right from the start, and joined the unveiling in their thousands. And in early summer, I welcomed to my studio women councillors from Manchester City Council, women from the Wythenshawe Safespots charity and Andrew Simcock (lead, WoManchester Statue Campaign), to see the clay Our Emmeline in progress (film by Huckleberry Films, 2 mins).

Technique

I followed traditional techniques to ensure the highest quality: working with a life model (Sarah Jenkins), building strong armatures to size, hand-building the clay figure, first unclothed, then sculpting-on the clothes, then sculpting the chair in clay. The moulds were made in my studio, then shipped up to the foundry.

The unveiling

The statue – affectionately known by Mancunians as ‘Our Emmeline’ – was unveiled on the 14 December, exactly one hundred years since the first women in the UK voted in a general election. Colourful and noisy marches started from two symbolic locations – the People’s History Museum and the Pankhurst Centre – ending up at St Peter’s Square. 6,000 people packed the Square including 1,000 schoolchildren. It was a momentous and joyous occasion. The atmosphere is beautifully captured by Huckleberry Films (1m 29s).

The response

The response to ‘Rise up, women’ has been overwhelming. I’m absolutely delighted Our Emmeline’s being dressed and adorned by activists to help raise awareness of many critical issues: domestic violence, health inequalities, asylum seekers’ rights, climate change, racial inequality, women pensioners’ rights. And touching to see the selfies taken with Our Emmeline and the flowers people bring her.

The maquette

A limited bronze edition of the maquette ‘Rise up, women’ (scale model) was sold to raise funds for the statue. This edition has now sold out. There is however a new 40cm miniature of the final Emmeline Pankhurst statue, with ten percent of the sales price supporting the Pankhurst Centre and Wythenshawe Safespots.

Project

Commissioner: WoManchester Statue Campaign, Andrew Simcock (lead)

Location: St Peter’s Square, Manchester, M2 3AE

Unveilings: statue14 December 2018; Meeting Circle 15 July 2018

Dimensions: 2.5m tall

Material: Clay, bronze, Portland stone

Funders: the Government’s Centenary Fund (Centenary Cities), corporate sponsors Property Alliance Group and Manchester Airport Group, and individual Gold Sponsors

Model: Sarah Jenkins

Costume design: Rosie Talbot

Foundry: Bronze Age Sculpture Casting Foundry; Installation: Artful Logistics

Stonemasons: Tilleys Stonemasons; lettering design Sandra Reeves

Critical eye: Marji Talbot (Sussex Sculpture Studios)

Studio technical assistance: Mark Longworth, Sandra Reeves, John Reeves

Professional photographers: Nigel Kingston

Hazel’s partner charities: Pankhurst Trust, Wythenshawe Safespots, Breakthrough UK, Women Asylum Seekers Together (WAST)

Additional heartfelt thanks to Helen Pankhurst, Sarah Judge, Edwina Wolstencroft, Jenny White, Gail Heath, Helen Tither, Caroline Roberts-Cherry