2018 is the centenary of the birth of the architectural sculptor Mitzi Cunliffe. Her most famous creation is the iconic mask trophy for the British Academy of Film and Television Awards, a constant feature of the British media landscape for over sixty years. The Twentieth Century Society (C20) and the Manchester Modernist Society are launching a fundraising campaign to commemorate her achievements by:
The Twentieth Century Society (C20) and the Manchester Modernist Society are launching a fundraising campaign to commemorate her achievements by:
- Installing a civic plaque on her former house and studio in Manchester.
- Hosting a talk/lecture about this neglected artist, designer and teacher.
- Many of her works are still in situ today so we will create an online sculpture trail of her work in the Manchester area.
Mitzi Cunliffe (1918 – 2006)
Mitzi Cunliffe was born Mitzi Solomon in New York, where she trained as a teacher and artist before subsequently studying in Paris. After seeing the medieval sculpture at Chartres Cathedral she later wrote ‘I knew then that was the kind of work in which I wanted to be involved’. In 1949 in New York she met and later married Marcus Cunliffe, an historian of American history and literature, later moving with him back to Manchester.
She established a studio in the garage of the family home which was to be her base until 1964, an extremely productive period. She made two significant contributions to the 1951 Festival of Britain: a pair of intertwined figures symbolically stepping from a tree, prominently located at the entrance and a pair of bronze door handles in the form of expressive hands for the Regatta Restaurant. For the School of Civic Design at Liverpool University she made another set of door handles, a relief and the Dove sculpture, all of which still survive. Other large-scale architectural reliefs can be seen at Manchester and Leeds University, the latter celebrating the university’s strong links with the textile industry.
She was commissioned in 1955 by the Guild of Television Producers & Directors (now BAFTA) to make the famous trophy. We know its serene gaze but the reverse side, featuring symbols carved into the metal, hints at something mysterious about the enduring power of drama and its place in the new technology. Her original intention was make both ‘faces’ equally important by placing it on a rotating support.
Mitzi Cunliffe specialised in the particular challenges of relating sculpture and relief to architecture. One of her most important works is at the Heaton Park pumping station, the only post-1945 building to be listed for its sculpture. Taking account of the viewpoint from below, it graphically depicts the course of the water from Haweswater, with a group of workmen as a central feature of the composition.
Throughout her career she experimented with techniques and materials, as well as designing jewellery, textiles and ceramics. For the Red Rose Restaurant at Lewis's store in Liverpool, she used a cast bronze technique to create a richly figurative pierced screen themed on the Wars of the Roses. Later, she developed ‘sculpture by the yard’, large panels cast in concrete or fibreglass, their subtle variation of bold repetitive patterning catching the light to give a sense of movement.
In 1971 Mitzi Cunliffe embarked on a new stage of her career, teaching at Thames Polytechnic (now South Bank University) and later in New York, Philadelphia and Montreal. It is our hope that these commemorations will set the scene for further research on this significant twentieth century woman artist.
You can pledge your support here.
(images © Estate of the Artist)