The event was co-hosted by the New Zealand Studies Network and the Katherine Mansfield Society and held on Saturday 25 June 2011
This event which took place during lunchtime at the October Gallery in Old Gloucester Rd., London, was a collaboration between the newly founded New Zealand Studies Network (UK and Ireland) and the Katherine Mansfield Society. A celebration of Katherine Mansfield’s life and work, it was occasioned by the presence in London of the New Zealand sculptor Virginia King, whose work was exhibited in ‘Current: Contemporary Art from New Zealand and the Pacific’, showing at the October Gallery as part of the City of London Festival (2011). King was recently commissioned to develop a sculpture of Katherine Mansfield by the Wellington Sculpture Society, a project inaugurated by the Katherine Mansfield Society. Professor Janet Wilson, of the New Zealand Studies Network, which hosts cultural events in London at Birkbeck, University of London, and Jo Walsh, the Gallery’s programme coordinator, saw this as an opportunity to orchestrate an interdisciplinary response to Mansfield’s life and art..
The programme opened with an illustrated talk on ‘Katherine Mansfield and Bloomsbury’ by the Society’s Chair, Dr Gerri Kimber. This was followed by a reading of Mansfield’s short story, ‘The Doll’s House’ by the New Zealand born actress Bridget Armstrong. Armstrong is no stranger to performing Mansfield, for in the 1980s she took the lead in the BBC film, KM and LM: the Trials of Friendship, playing Katherine alongside Ida Baker, Mansfield’s life-long devoted friend and companion. Finally, Virginia King entertained the audience with a discussion of her techniques in sculpting, illustrated with images of her site specific work around New Zealand, making connections between these earlier pieces and the techniques and design which lie behind the monumental ‘Woman of Words’ statue.
King was among the many local sculptors and artists who submitted work for the sculpture competition. Her talk showed how the statue would pay homage to Mansfield the writer’s passion for language. “Woman of Words”, is a towering figure, one hand raised as if in supplication, in a gown that swirls into space. But most striking are the hundreds of words and phrases cut into metal, that create the figure’s unique outline and texture. At night the sculpture will be illuminated from within to become a glowing lantern.
Members of the twenty-five strong audience commented afterwards over lunch on the magical atmosphere of this occasion in which three women from different professions and disciplines came together to illustrate the pervasive influence of Mansfield today as a cultural icon.