Ama Menec - Sculpture

Ama Menec - Sculpture / News / Sat 08 Jan 2022

Anne Lister comes to Totnes!

Anne Lister comes to Totnes!

For fans of ‘Gentleman Jack’, and even more so for those who have read and loved the ‘Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister’*, I’m pleased to announce Anne Lister has come to Totnes! Not by way of actress Suranne Jones, but by way of my life-like, patinated foundry bronze maquette on display at the Bowie Gallery on Totnes High Street. This will be her first public showing since I finished sculpting her at home in Totnes, and her first in full technicolour, or as far as that is possible given Anne Lister habitually only ever wore black!

The curators at the Totnes Museum of Costume were fantastic at helping me understand Regency dress, but also the language of colour of those times. Ms Fox pointed out that wearing black was in no way ‘masculine’ during the Regency period, when men were dandies, but rather an indication to young men that she was not ‘on the market’ when it came to marrying them. I’m indebted to her for her advice in such things, and for the opportunity to explore the internal workings of a splendid Regency gown in their collection.

Whilst some in Totnes may already know there is now a public statue of Anne Lister in Calderdale, mine expresses her archetypal Aries energy, has been maturing and evolving since 2018, and includes her secret code as well as her ascent of Vignemale, (she being the 1st to officially do so in 1832), which will feature in the upcoming 2nd series of ‘Gentleman Jack’. My sculpture is, hopefully, destined for the University of York’s newly built Anne Lister College where her energy and drive will, I hope, encourage young students to strive to become the best of themselves they can be, as Anne Lister did, and to see learning also as a life-long activity not limited by their time at University. Anne Lister of course was not allowed to attend any University in her day, despite being a precocious scholar when at school, and becoming a polymath in her adult life. To Anne Lister, nothing was beneath being worthy of study, and the breadth of all that she learned was included in her diaries.

My sculpture is designed, when larger or life sized, to invite you along on her journey, with a left glance and an open left hand to quite literally connect you to the past. In her right hand is one of her diaries for which she is rightly famous, and upon it a quote from Voltaire “I know my own heart” an indication of her literary inspirations but also her awareness that her lesbianism set her apart within her society.

As well as a Pelisse and Gown, (and shockingly for her times, no petticoats), Anne Lister is also wearing a black Casquette or Travelling Cap. This item of apparel gave me more trouble in researching than the rest of her clothing put together. Sadly, for fans of Gentleman Jack, the only times Anne Lister mentions ‘top hats’ were when borrowing other peoples when out riding. She mentions a beaver hat often, but never a Top Hat of her own and no indication of what of many potential forms her beaver hat took. She also wore bonnets, on occasion, just for a bit of peace, but mainly wore straw hats most of the time, with no indication of what “my little round hat” might look like. As Anne Lister lived to travel, and felt liberated and the most herself when doing so, I decided to go with a Travelling Cap, which she does mention wearing when travelling, particularly when at sea. This decision was made easier by chancing upon a fabulous hat shop on the Welsh borders on my way to speak about Anne Lister at L-Fest in Llandudno. There I bought a gorgeous purple velvet Casquette, and with the aid of a standard lamp and shade, some fabric to make the conical shade round like a head, and a balled up pair of socks for her hair bun, was able to sculpt this part from life.

Around the outside edge of the base is probably the most famous quote from her diaries which begins “I love and only love the fairer sex” the original being written in her coded ‘Crypt Hand’, along with a cursive translation. The full quote is given with the original code, in her own handwriting, in polished golden bronze raised lettering, the punctuation being given by the peaks and landscape surrounding the Glacier d’Ossoue. This gives the viewer a good taste of her coded diary entries which will, I hope, encourage others to have a go at translating her coded entries. Forget crosswords; transcribing Anne Lister code is way more fun and full of surprises!

Around the inside edge of the mountain range is a list of her achievements including the ever elusive ‘L-word’ when it comes to historical women, and finishing with “mountaineer” near the peak of Vignemale. Conquering this peak, as she did, was no mean feat in long early Victorian skirts!

Despite this sculpture taking so long to make, (smaller does not mean quicker I found out, it just means it’s a lot fiddlier), there were last minute dramatic changes, particularly with the coat flaps, which came to mirror the landscape she strides over, most particularly that of the face and side of Vignemale, the highest peak in the French Pyrenees. Anne Lister, as ever, kept me on my toes right until the finish line! You can see her in all her striding splendour in the Bowie Gallery, 54B High street, Totnes. The perfect gift for the dedicated ‘Gentleman Jack’ fan.

*‘The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister’ and ‘No Priest but Love’, direct entries of Anne Lister’s diaries are both edited by Helena Whitbread, and available from the East Gate Bookshop in Totnes.
Ama Menec – Sculpture

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