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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Alfred James Oakley (1878–1959)

Sculptor, born in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, the son of an artist-craftsman in furniture. He attended the South London Technical School of Art (1903–08), and went on to exhibit at the Royal Academy and the Royal Society of Arts. He served during the First World War in the 5th London Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps, and after the war carved a memorial tablet to his unit in St Alfege’s Church, Greenwich. He taught in a number of London art schools in the interwar years. His pearwood head of a woman, entitled Mamua, inspired by Rupert Brooke’s South Sea poem Tiare Tahiti, was purchased through the Chantrey Bequest from the Royal Academy of 1926, for the Tate Gallery. In 1929–30, he worked as a carver on Elcock and Sutcliffe’s Daily Telegraph Building, Fleet Street. He became a fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors (RBS) in 1938 and was awarded the RBS silver medal in 1939 for his sculpture, The Gazelle. He lived for a number of years at the Mall Studios in Hampstead until it was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. In 1941, on a visit to see one of his former students, by then a Benedictine monk at Prinknash Abbey, he became attracted to the monastic life, decided to live thenceforth with the order, and was subsequently received into the Catholic Church; although he continued to sculpt and submit work to the Royal Academy he retired from the RBS in 1952. Most of his later work was done for Benedictine houses and Catholic churches. Wycombe Museum holds a small collection of his works.

Bibliography: D. Buckman, Artists in Britain since 1945 (2 vols: A–L, M–Z), Bristol, 2006; Mapping Sculpture; Tate Gallery, Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London, 1964; Who’s Who in Art, 3rd edn, London, 1934; P. Ward-Jackson, Public Sculpture of the City of London, Liverpool, 2003, pp. xxvi, 138–39.

Philip Ward-Jackson, 2003; revised Terry Cavanagh, May 2024