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Mary Seacole statue shortlisted for prestigious public sculpture award

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The statue of Victorian nursing pioneer Mary Seacole, the first to a named black woman in the UK, has been shortlisted for a prestigious award.

The Marsh Awards 2017, which are organised by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association (PMSA) and recognise “originality, aesthetic quality and sensitivity to its site” in public sculpture.

‘It’s thrilling to have been shortlisted for the PMSA Marsh Awards”

Martin Jennings

Sculptor Martin Jennings, who has two pieces of work shortlisted for the award, designed and made the bronze statue that sits in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital in London.

Mr Jennings said: ‘It’s thrilling to have been shortlisted for the PMSA Marsh Awards. These are the only national awards for public sculpture. Nominations cover any works over the past two years and the expert panel visits each one on site before narrowing them down.”

His sculpture Women of Steel also features in the short list for the award, along with seven other pieces of work on display. The winner will be announced at a ceremony in London on 8 November.

The statue commemorating the nursing pioneer, who cared for soldiers serving in the Crimean War, was commissioned by the Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal, now the Mary Seacole Trust.

It was finally unveiled on 30 June 2016, after a 12-year fundraising appeal that brought together health professionals, the military, politicians, corporations and thousands of individuals.

More than £500,000 was raised through donations and in November 2015 the government announced that £240,000 of LIBOR banking fines would be donated to complete the necessary funding.

The sculpture represents Mary Seacole marching forward defiantly, while behind her figure is a vertical bronze disc. The disc was cast from the surface of the ground a few paces from the site where she established her British Hotel in the Crimea more than 150 years ago.

Mr Jennings and a team from the Pangolin Editions foundry travelled to the Crimea to locate the site of the hotel and to ensure that the disc would show Mary Seacole in an authentic setting.

In fact, while there, they believe they discovered shards of glass almost certainly from her hotel bottle store.

“The trust is incredibly proud to be associated with Martin Jennings, undoubtedly one of the UK’s finest sculptors”

Trevor Sterling

Trevor Sterling, chair of the Mary Seacole Trust, said: “It is a tremendous honour to be shortlisted for this award and the trust is incredibly proud to be associated with Martin Jennings, undoubtedly one of the UK’s finest sculptors.

“Martin’s work truly captures Mary’s heart and soul, her drive, her determination and her compassion,” said Mr Sterling.

“The work, set in a beautiful garden within the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital, provides a tranquil spot that is already being enjoyed by huge numbers of patients, staff and visitors to Westminster from all over the UK and the rest of the world,” he said.

He added: “As the first statue of a named black woman in the UK, its recognition by the PMSA could not be timelier.”

Background: Mary Seacole

Mary Seacole was born of Jamaican/Scottish parents in Kingston, Jamaica in 1805 and followed in her mother’s footsteps as a doctress, nurse and entrepreneur. In 1850, she nursed victims of the Jamaican cholera outbreak.

Mary loved to travel and in 1851 single-handedly cared for patients during a cholera epidemic in Panama. Back in Jamaica, Mary looked after victims of a yellow fever epidemic in 1853 and the British army asked her to supervise nursing services at their headquarters in Up-Park Camp, Kingston.

Mary Seacole’s role in the Crimean War is well documented. She was mentioned in dispatches where her contributions were praised and she was warmly described as ‘Mother Seacole’. Mary died in London in 1881 and is buried in St Mary’s Cemetery, Kensal Green.

The Mary Seacole Memorial Statue Appeal (MSMSA) was set up in 2003 by Lord Soley. In October 2016, the charity was reconstituted as the Mary Seacole Trust, just a few months after the statue was unveiled in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital.

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