Making the Fawcett statue

Mayor of London

A behind-the-scenes look at the making of Gillian Wearing's historic statue. #BehindEveryGreatCity

Parliament Square
In March 2016, on International Women's Day, feminist campaigner and writer Caroline Criado Perez went for a run around Westminster. As she ran through Parliament Square, she realised that of the 11 statues surrounding the square, not a single one of them was of a woman. The historic political figures memorialised opposite the Houses of Parliament included Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi - but, Caroline wondered, what about the women who have contributed so much to the UK's political life?
The campaign
Caroline started a petition on Change.org, addressed to the Mayor of London and Westminster Council, calling for a suffragette to be commemorated with a statue in Parliament Square. "In two years' time it will be 100 years since those women won their fight and women were first granted the right to vote," she wrote. "They deserve to be remembered. They deserve to be commemorated at the heart of our democracy. Give them a statue in Parliament Square." This petition gained more than 80,000 signatures.

Following Caroline Criado Perez’s campaign, the Mayor of London commissioned Turner Prize-winning artist Gillian Wearing OBE to create the statue.

It is the first ever monument of a woman, and the first created by a woman, to stand within Parliament Square.

The artist
Gillian Wearing OBE is a conceptual artist, winner of the 1997 Turner Prize, and has been a lifetime member of the Royal Academy of Arts since 2007. On making the statue, Gillian said: "Millicent Fawcett was an incredible woman and, by honouring her in Parliament Square, I believe she will continue to inspire generations to come. I for one am truly grateful for her contribution towards securing the vote for women, and I am really thrilled to be working on a monument for her."

Millicent Fawcett was chosen as the main figure represented on the statue because of her life-long work for the suffrage cause, and her leadership of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS).

The decision also recognised that the Pankhursts and other high profile Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) leaders are already memorialised both locally and nationally.

A memorial to Emmeline Pankhurst stands to the south west of the Palace of Westminster, at Victoria Tower Gardens. It was unveiled on 6 May 1930.

The unveiling of Gillian's statue forms part of the Mayor of London's year-long #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign.

This campaign was launched to celebrate the role London played in the women’s suffrage campaign, to mark the progress that’s been made on women’s equality over the past 100 years, and to drive gender equality across the capital.

Although the statue formally marks the centenary of women's suffrage in the UK, it also represents the broader movement for women's rights, and seeks to inspire future generations.

With that broader movement in mind, the Mayor and Gillian Wearing worked with feminist campaigners and historians on compiling a list of significant figures to memorialise alongside Millicent Fawcett.

The 59 women and men chosen are named and pictured around all four sides of the statue's plinth.

These figures were chosen with the aim of representing women and men from across the 1897-1918 suffrage movement.

They represent the diversity of the suffrage movement along geographical, generational, gender, class, ethnic, LGBTQi and religious lines, as well as considering physical disabilities.

The selection includes many of the most prominent and well-known figures in the suffrage story, while also bringing to light the contribution made by those who have largely been overlooked by the history books.

They were chosen following discussions with Caroline Criado Perez, and historians from the University of Sheffield, University of Lincoln, the LSE Women's Library, 1418 Now, and the East End Women's Museum.

Etching of the tiles that feature around the statue's plinth.

On February 6 2018, Sadiq Khan launched the Make A Stand exhibition in Trafalgar Square, featuring each of these 59 women and men.

“[Today] marks an important moment in the history of our city - 100 years since the 1918 Representation of the People Act was passed, which gave the first women the right to vote," he said.

"As part of our #BehindEveryGreatCity campaign, I’m really proud to unveil the women and men whose names and portraits will be etched on the plinth of the Millicent Fawcett statue – which will be the first statue of a woman in Parliament Square."

Creating the statue
The statue itself was designed and created by Gillian Wearing between April 2017 and April 2018, with work taking place at Pinewood Studios, MDM Props, and AB Foundry. "It's a very fast turnaround to make a statue, so time has definitely been the biggest pressure," Gillian explains. "It's meant working on it quite intensely, but of course you still want everything to be perfect and the quality to be there."

As well as breaking new ground by being both the first female artist and the first memorial to a woman in Parliament Square, the statue is also notable for the innovative techniques used in its creation.

"Because it's quite a traditional spot, I knew that it had to be bronze, but what I'm also doing with the statue is using different processes that haven't been used before in Parliament Square," Gillian explains.

After finding a model with a similar figure to Millicent, Gillian worked with a costume designer to create a walking suit and boots similar to one Millicent Fawcett would have worn.

The model was then scanned wearing the replica of Millicent's outfit, using a process called photogrammetry.

"Millicent's double, Helen, actually works at MDM and has been part of the process of making the sculpture," Gillian explains.

While photogrammetry typically involves 10-12 scans, Gillian's precise attention to detail meant Helen was photographed for the statue 1,400 times.

Part of the complex process for creating the statue's skirt.

"I also wanted to incorporate an actual object of Millicent's. I managed to loan a brooch of hers from the Fawcett Society, which we put on Helen and scanned her wearing it," Gillian says. "I felt it was important to bring something of Millicent's in, to give an authenticity to the sculpture."

Once the scanning is complete, "all the photographs are put together and composited in a computer, in a programme where you can look around it as a 3-dimensional object," she explains.

"I then worked with an operator who was able to bring out details, like the texture of the skirt's material, which adds to the overall look and design of the piece."

The 3D scan is then printed out in resin, in sections, and these are joined together to make the statue, with Gillian making adjustments at each stage of the process to get all the details just right.

Millicent's head is sculpted in clay, and the banner was made in material, with sewn on words, which was cast rather than scanned.

Once Gillian was happy with every aspect of the design, the statue was taken into sections again, to be cast in wax, and then be turned into bronze.

The final stage in the statue's creation was welding those 14 bronze sections together - a process which was delayed for a week by February's freezing temperatures.

Gillian Wearing's historic statue was unveiled on April 24 2018 in a ceremony attended by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, the Prime Minister Theresa May, and campaigner Caroline Criado Perez.

The great suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett now stands near Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela – two other heroic leaders who campaigned for change and equality.

Visitors can find her at the west end of Parliament Square, between Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston (on her right) and Mahatma Gandhi (on her left).

Credits: Story

#BehindEveryGreatCity: celebrating the centenary of the first women winning the right to vote and tackling gender inequality in London www.london.gov.uk/behindeverygreatcity

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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