Josefina de Vasconcellos: ‘from remembrance to reconciliation’ by Dr Melanie Veasey and Shawn Williamson
The reputation of most artists seemingly lasts little more than the life span of their generation. The name and work of Josefina de Vasconcellos (1904-2005) — who was Britain’s longest working sculptor — should be as familiar as that of Barbara Hepworth or Elisabeth Frink yet tracing her works can be serendipitous.
Trained in London, Italy and Paris, with sculptures held in Brazil, France and Britain, de Vasconcellos offered a promising international debut. Quite why she became overlooked by collectors and art historians and how, despite personal and professional turmoil, de Vasconcellos embedded her sculptures into twentieth-century ecclesiastical and humanitarian heritage prompts a reappraisal of her vast legacy.
De Vasconcellos’ canon invites us to consider the sources of her inspiration and how relevant her later ambition for peace and post war reconciliation remains persuasive in thought provoking sculptural form.
The extent to which de Vasconcellos’ creativity is preserved through the inspiration of her prodigy, the Cumbrian sculptor Shawn Williamson, further illustrates her legacy. Williamson freely acknowledges, ‘the juxtaposition of young braggadocio male learning from experienced feminine master’.
Melanie Veasey is an art historian specialising in figurative sculpture and visual concepts of freedom. Prior to completing her PhD (Loughborough, 2018), her two Master’s degrees (Distinction, Leicester, 2014) focused on the outdoor placement of landscape sculpture and European management and Employment Law (Leicester, 1995), the latter the basis for an international business career. Her archival work has contributed to the Royal Academy of Arts, the Henry Moore Institute, the Henry Moore Foundation and the Paul Mellon Centre. Melanie is currently completing a monograph on the émigré sculptor, Siegfried Charoux, in association with the Langenzersdorf Museum, Austria, and is co-editor of the Sculpture Journal’s forthcoming special edition featuring ‘Pioneering Women Sculptors’.
Shawn Williamson. After the Merchant Navy, Shawn re-educated himself in Canada through art. He had already learnt how to sculpt soapstone with Inuits. In 1981 he returned to the UK to study sculpture. After graduating, his first public commission was for Lancaster. In 1985 Shawn went to work for sculptor Josefina de Vasconcellos as assistant sculptor. He also began teaching at Lancaster University and this led to several commissions for sculptures for Lancaster University and for the Church of England. By this time, Shawn had created 20 major public commissions including a 9/11 project commended by the White House. In 2005 his largest work to date, Herdwick Ram at Cockermouth, was unveiled by King Charles III, then the Prince of Wales.
In 2009 he went to visit the last of Josefina’s relatives in Brazil. In 2011 he received a Fellowship from the Royal Society of Arts and Industry. After world travel, he returned to the Gorton Monastery, Manchester, as their sculptor. After visiting Chile, Shawn was commissioned to sculpt the portrait in stone of Piloto Luis Pardo who rescued Shackleton’s crew. It was unveiled in London by the Chilean Ambassador on 23 November 2021.