Leeds University Library

Sculptor behind the Mask: Mitzi Cunliffe's work of the 1950s

Published 23 February 2016

Mitzi Cunliffe, 'Man-Made Fibres', 1954-1956, Portland stone

60th celebration of Mitzi Cunliffe’s 'Man-Made Fibres' – Mitzi and the 1950s - Opens 1pm on 30th March

30 March - 2 July 

An exhibition highlighting the career of American sculptor Mitzi Cunliffe in the 1950s, a period which included the design of the famous BAFTA trophy, participation in the Festival of Britain and the commissioning of Man-Made Fibres for the University of Leeds Campus. 

This year the University of Leeds is celebrating the 60th anniversary of Man-Made Fibres, one of Cunliffe's most important sculptures of the period. The iconic piece of public art, sculpted from Portland stone, was created especially for the opening of a new building, also called Man-Made Fibres, now the Clothworkers' South building. The sculpture features two monumental hands with a striking weave motif cradled between them, reflecting the exciting developments in synthetic fibres that the new building represented. Cunliffe's contribution to public art in the 1950s has been somewhat overlooked, this exhibition re-assesses her work during this period and coincides with her inclusion in the Historic England 'Out There' exhibition at Somerset House.

The 1950s also saw another milestone in Cunliffe's career- her contribution to the Festival of Britain. She was one of six women sculptors participating in the Festival of Britain in 1951, and items from this will be on display including the original maquette (preliminary model) for Root Bodied Forth, on loan from Leeds Museums & Galleries and the original Push and Pull handles from a private collection.

The exhibition, at The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, will display items including Cunliffe's original maquettes for Man-Made Fibres, the first ever BAFTA trophy mask, examples of her ceramics and her textile design for the coronation of Elizabeth II. Many of the objects will be on display for the first time, on loan from private collections and other institutions. 

The exhibition forms part of the University of Leeds Public Art Project and will be accompanied by a series of events and talks. This year the Public Art Project, inspired by Cunliffe's sculpture, will be celebrating the rich textile heritage of the University.

'Sculptor Behind the Mask' will be open Monday 1pm - 5pm & Tuesday - Saturday 10am - 5pm. Admission is FREE, and the exhibition runs until Saturday 2 July 2016.

Image: Mitzi Cunliffe, 'Man-Made Fibres', 1954-1956, Portland stone


Associated events

Mitzi Cunliffe in her studio. Image © The Estate of the Artist
Public Art Short: Commissioning Mitzi Cunliffe's 'Man-Made Fibres' sculpture
Wednesday 20 April 2016 1:00 - 1:30
Meet at The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery
Mitzi Cunliffe in her studio. Image © The Estate of the Artist
Public Art Short: Mitzi Cunliffe and the Festival of Britain
Wednesday 27 April 2016 1:00 - 1:15
Meet at The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery
Mitzi Cunliffe (1918 - 2006): Man-Made Fibres
'Sculptor Behind the Mask': In Conversation Event
Wednesday 4 May 2016 2:30 - 4pm
Meet at The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery
Mitzi Cunliffe in her studio. Image © The Estate of the Artist
Public Art Short: Celebrating Mitzi Cunliffe - Sixty Years On
Wednesday 29 June 2016 12:45 - 1.00
The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery
 TurveyWorld Dance perform a specially commissioned site specific dance to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the installation of Mitzi Cunliffe's sculpture, 'Man-Made Fibres' on Clothworkers South building.
Man-Made Fibres: A Dance Response
Saturday 2 July 2016 12:00 - 12:45
Outside Clothworkers' Building South