Four shortlisted designs for a statue of eco pioneer and founder of the RSPB Emily Williamson (1855-1936) have gone on display at Manchester Art Gallery, where they will be exhibited until Sunday 14 November giving visitors the opportunity to view these exquisite works of art and vote for their favourite.

The maquettes (miniature statues) illustrate the creative ideas of four leading female sculptors who have each explored Emily’s legacy and story within their pieces.

The designs are the work of Clare Abbatt (who lives in Northamptonshire), Billie Bond (who lives in Essex), Laury Dizengremel (who lives in France) and Eve Shepherd (who lives in Brighton). Emily Williamson began a major catalyst for change in the conservation movement, but until now her role hasn’t be recognised in the history books. The Emily Williamson Statue Campaign in partnership with the RSPB is righting this wrong and using Emily’s legacy to inspire a new generation of nature activists.

Andrew Simcock, Chair of the Emily Williamson Statue Campaign, says, “One of our first steps has been to share Emily’s story and so the maquettes arrive back to Emily’s home city having toured the UK visiting ten different RSPB nature reserves; including Loch Leven in Scotland, Belfast’s Window on Wildlife, South Stacks in Wales and the RSPB’s headquarters in Bedfordshire. Over eleven and a half thousand people have already voted in this competition and this final stage is an opportunity for the Manchester public to come and see the designs for themselves and vote for their favourite design.”

Voting for the winning design of a statue for Emily is open until midnight on Friday 12 November. Anyone can vote by collecting details at Manchester Art Gallery or online here.

The announcement of the winning design will be made at a public event at 4pm at Manchester Art Gallery on Saturday 13 November. This is a free event, tickets for which need to be pre-booked. All the details are here.

The four miniature statues will stand alongside three portraits that are on public display for the first time. In 1889 Emily founded from her home in Didsbury’s Fletcher Moss Park what would become the RSPB and in 1891 she teamed up with two other pioneering campaigners for conservation Etta Lemon and Eliza Phillips of Croydon. None of these women has been remembered by history; so much so that where male portraits fill the walls of the RSPB’s headquarters no reference to these trailblazing women is made.

Portraits of each have therefore been commissioned by author and historian Tessa Boase, one of the founders of the Emily Williamson Statue Campaign. The large drawings of Emily, Etta and Eliza by nature-lover and artist Clare Abbatt will form a backdrop to the exhibition of maquettes.

Emily’s story reflects the radical spirit of Manchester. Appalled by the fashion for features, she was so determined to halt the cruel plumage trade that was killing millions of birds and forcing species into extinction that she took action. It started with a simple invitation to her friends to tea at her home, The Croft, Didsbury, in 1889 where she asked them to sign a pledge to ‘Wear No Feathers’ and resulted in the creation of the Society for the Protection of Birds, which would become the RSPB.


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