Monday, 9 January 2017

Norwich Cathedral Hostry – David Holgate Retrospective – Exuberance is Beauty

Norfolk Contemporary Art Society, Norfolk Contemporary Craft Society and Norwich Twenty Group are combining to stage an exhibition at The Hostry, Norwich Cathedral, from January 21 to February 26, celebrating the life of David Holgate. David, who died in 2014, was an active member of all three arts organisations. The Hostry is open Monday to Saturday 9.30am to 4.30pm and Sunday 12noon to 3pm.

The title of the show, Exuberance is Beauty, is taken from one of David’s exquisite pieces of letter carving. David was a man for whom the term polymath could have been invented. An accomplished musician, sculptor, calligrapher, and an innovative teacher, his life and work seemed to be united in a brave and inexhaustible search for meaning and beauty in everything he did. 

David Holgate - photograph Keith Roberts
He is probably best known for the statues of Mother Julian and St Benedict on the west front of Norwich Cathedral, but this remarkable man’s work is spread throughout the Cathedral, the rest of the county and beyond. Numerous churches, cemeteries and buildings feature his letter carving. He was also a skilled artist and several pieces of his work will be displayed in the exhibition, along with his letter carving, sculpture and working drawings. David’s double bass will also be on show, as well as a collection of photographs and other memorabilia from his musical life.

St Benedict - sculpture David Holgate - photograph Julia Cameron
The exhibition pamphlet features a trail round Norwich Cathedral to help visitors discover the 25 examples of David’s work in the Cathedral, along with a memorial inscription to David, created by his apprentice and assistant, Philippa Fawcett.

Norwich Cathedral - works by David Holgate
In conjunction with Exuberance is Beauty, the David Holgate retrospective exhibition at The Hostry, Norwich Cathedral, two apprentices from the Guild of St Stephen & St George will be demonstrating work in their portable lodge, based in the Cloisters, from Monday, February 6 to Saturday, February 11. The apprentices will be carving bosses from 9.30am to 4pm daily. For more information about The Guild of St Stephen & St George see .

From 1955, David was apprenticed for five years to David Kindersley, followed by two years as his assistant. David loved jazz and left stone carving to pursue a career as a professional musician, playing his double bass with numerous bands, including a support band for the Beach Boys. David eventually set up a workshop in Norfolk in the 1970s. 

Katy Gandon, David Holgate’s daughter commented: “Norwich - a fine city, and for thousands of years has been made finer by those who have lived and worked here, giving their time and energy to the upkeep and preservation of its historical beauty.  David Holgate was one of these. A man who, although not actually born in the city, adopted it as his home and devoted his life to the historical buildings and churches of the city and the surrounding villages. “

“It is for this reason that it is important that David's work has been documented and presented in this retrospective, showcasing what a significant contributor he was to the preservation and future of this beautiful county.”

“As well as working on commissions, David taught for many years in local art colleges, worked with several, (now very accomplished) apprentices, as well as keeping up a successful musical career as a bass player. There isn't a pub or live music venue in the county that hasn't experienced the David Holgate 'bass wiggle' at some point over the years!”

“This retrospective is a celebration of an extremely talented man, who always had time to share his enthusiasm for the all arts with people from all walks of life, and has literally and metaphorically left his mark on this city and county. His exuberance was, and is beautiful.”

Philippa Fawcett, David Holgate’s last apprentice added: “I am very lucky to have worked with David on and off for ten years, first as apprentice and then as his assistant. He was a very gifted and inspirational teacher, a brilliant communicator and very good company. He was a great talker and there were a lot of very extended coffee breaks. Life in the workshop is now extremely quiet and I still miss him greatly, though sometimes I still hear his voice in my ear commenting on the job in hand.”

David Holgate at work
Gary Breeze, who worked with David from 1988-92 said: “David Holgate gave my life both purpose and direction at that time when I really needed it. In fact, as I’ve got older and my time with him drifts into the distant past, I think that teaching was really his greatest talent. It’s easy to think, when you look at his very idiosyncratic lettering, that he must have had strong opinions about the shape of letterforms. But the fact is that his shapes are deeply informed by the process of using a brush built upon a rigorous understanding of proportion, principles which are both flexible and infinitely adaptable.”

Derek Rae, a Norwich Twenty Group colleague added: “David was the Group’s Chairman from 2008 – 2009. Ever inventive, he initiated our licentiate scheme whereby four graduates from, what is now, the Norwich University of the Arts are invited to become members of the Group and to show their work at meetings and exhibitions at no cost to them. This scheme has given graduates an opportunity to access the outside art world sooner than they might otherwise been able to. It has also given existing members the opportunity to understand younger artists approach to their work.”

“Another inspiration of his was an exhibition entitled Voicing Visions in which 46 Norwich Twenty Group artists were paired with poets. As David himself put it, ‘It was a surprise to some members to find that the first two meetings of 2009 were invaded by poets who were invited to visit member’s studios, view their work and be inspired to write a poem or two’. The artwork and resultant poems were exhibited together and the queue to get into the private view at St Margaret’s church spread out into St Benedict’s.”     

John Barnard, a Norfolk Contemporary Crafts Society colleague, remembers David Holgate: “David introduced me to many things: early computers, which fascinated him with what they could do, jazz bass playing, lettering and artwork, which started with pencil from his Kindersley days, then pen, until he became convinced that this medium was constricting his creativity and found brushwork lettering from the Romans. He reminisced about the four lives he had crammed into one. He ruthlessly pursued his current ideas of perfection. His carving  on Norwich Cathedral and St Giles church, whimsical animals on headstones, florid, wreathing flowers from his florid, wreathing imagination!  We are filling the Hostry with memories of our very own Renaissance man – a lifetime of magnificent work.”

Norwich Cathedral, t. 01603 218300. 

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