Case Study: Coventry workshop

Who took part?

Members of the congregations of Coventry Cathedral, St Chad’s, St Oswald’s and St John the Divine.

What buildings did we look at?

  • Coventry Cathedral
  • St Chad’s church
  • St Oswald’s church
  • St John the Divine church

Final product

A free standing Perspex sculpture inspired by Spence’s use of light in Coventry Cathedral.

Construction of glass sculpture at Coventry Cathedral workshop Final glass sculpture created at Coventry Cathedral workshop

The sculpture at Coventry Cathedral

Introduction

We looked at Spence’s symbolic use of light, his work on the four churches he designed in the Coventry area and how he contributed to the regeneration of Coventry following the bombing it suffered in World War II. This workshop drew together the congregations of these churches and became a celebration of Spence’s significant achievements in the city.

“I’ve never really been an artistic person, but this is different…I have really gotten into it and its great fun!”

(Member of St Chad’s congregation)

Participants worked together to create a light reflecting Perspex sculpture. The Perspex panels were entirely designed and decorated by the workshop participants and are suggestive of the stained glass which is such a strong feature of Coventry Cathedral.

The designs were inspired by the participants’ experience of the archive material from the Spence collection as well as the old photographs and memorabilia brought in by the participants themselves. The resulting work was a colourful and very personal reflection of participants’ thoughts on their places of worship.

“I’ve learnt a lot of things that I didn’t know about Basil Spence and our church”

(Member of St Oswald’s congregation)

Learning aims

  • To introduce Basil Spence and his work to those who use his buildings through the study of archive material
  • To further knowledge of Basil Spence and his work in Coventry.
  • To strengthen the relationship between the four churches involved in the project
  • To explore the distinct identities of each church through examination of related archive material

Learning outcomes

  • Practical experience of creating a sculptural art piece for public display
  • Greater awareness and appreciation of their places of worship.
  • Strengthening of the links to other communities in the local area

Methodology

1. Exploring archive material relating to Spence’s buildings in Coventry

As a group, participants explored the archive material with the help of an RCAHMS staff member. Questions the group considered when examining the archive material:

  • What was Spence’s approach to the design process of Coventry Cathedral and the three Coventry churches?
  • What are the similarities in design between the three churches? What are the differences?
  • What are the different ways in which Spence made use of light with in his buildings? How was light created?
  • What parts of the buildings have changed or been altered since Spence first designed them?

Many participants brought in their own old photographs and memorabilia relating to their experiences of their place of worship. Looking through personal archive material, the group were able to:

  • Share memories and experiences of being part of their church community
  • Learn more about the local history of the churches’ local areas

Looking at both personal archive materials well as the material from RCAHMS’ collection allowed participants to build up a very full understanding of both the design history as well as the social history of the churches Spence designed.

Old plans, drawings and photos of a building are a great resource for discovering more about an old building or a building of importance. Used in conjunction with personal material, a comprehensive picture of a whole community and its history can begin to emerge.

This type of activity has great potential to be a social studies project and fully accords with the core aims and purposes of the Curriculum for Excellence. Such an activity is also appropriate for the issues studied in Citizenship. And could be integrated with other National Curriculum areas, for example, History, Design and Technology and Religious Education.


2. Creating a public art work inspired by the work of Spence

Participants creating one of the sculpture panels

Participants creating one of the sculpture panels

Participants worked alongside a practising artist to design and construct a sculpture piece, inspired by their explorations of the archive material.

Participants designed two panels of the sculpture per day. One panel was devoted to archive material which was copied onto clear acetate using a laptop and scanner. These acetate sheets were then stuck onto the panel. The other panel was devoted to exploring Coventry’s industries. Recycled and found materials were used to create these panels.

Participants considered a number of points when designing and making the sculpture:

  • What form should each panel take?
  • What items should be included on each panel and how they should be positioned?
  • How can the panels work as a whole?
  • How can the story of Spence and his achievements in Coventry be incorporated into the sculpture?
  • How can Spence’s symbolic use of light be highlighted through the sculpture?

It was important for participants to feel a sense of achievement and celebration after completing the sculpture piece. We did this by organising an unveiling ceremony at Coventry Cathedral which was a positive conclusion to the workshop process.

The creation of this sculpture was a great team effort. A similar art project would help assist in the development of skills such as critical investigation and creative and analytical awareness which are central to the Curriculum for Excellence and for use in later life.

Materials & Equipment

  • Copies of archive material relating to Coventry Cathedral an the three churches in the Coventry area
  • Perspex panels of varying heights
  • Used and recycled items reflecting Coventry’s main industries of watch – making, automobile manufacture, bicycle manufacture and ribbon making.
  • Safe adhesives for use on Perspex
  • Laptop computer and scanner
  • Laminate sheets
  • Coloured papers

Further development

Light has been seen to have a spiritual significance in many religions and its use has been a design feature of many places of religious and spiritual purpose.

Look at the ways Spence has used light in Coventry Cathedral and consider the following questions:

  • How has he employed the use of light to create a feeling of “holiness” in the Cathedral?
  • How is a similar feeling of “holiness” or spirituality created in other places of worship, such as a mosque or a synagogue?
  • How is the use of light a feature in your own place of worship?

You may want to refer to the building featured in the Worship section of this website for ideas or listen to the Coventry Cathedral podcast for more ideas.