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Modernist sculpture at risk in Sheffield: Council to explore whether William Mitchell work can be relocated

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William Mitchell's frieze on Burgess St. Photo by Tom Hunt. William Mitchell's frieze on Burgess St. Photo by Tom Hunt.

A celebrated sculpture in Sheffield city centre could be under threat from the Heart of the City II redevelopment project.

The abstract frieze on the side of Barkers Pool House was created in 1972 by William Mitchell, who died last week at the age of 94.

The building on Burgess Street is due to be demolished as part of a multi-million pound redesign of Sheffield city centre.

In their guide to modernist Sheffield, Our Favourite Places describe Mitchell's sculpture as a "superb piece of abstract public art."

I think it would be a tragedy if this piece of art was consigned to the wrecking ball

"What I like about this mural is that it doesn't spell out what it is," said Tom Hunt, who has raised awareness of the threat to the frieze. "It leaves you to interpret the shapes and the geometry in your own way, like all the best art does."

Sheffield City Council have told Now Then that they will investigate how the sculpture can be removed from the building and installed elsewhere.

In September, the Heart of the City team tweeted that they would launch a consultation on the future of the untitled work in "early 2020." Cabinet Member Mazher Iqbal added that keeping the sculpture would be an option in any consultation.

Planners had previously told Hunt in 2015 that it would be possible to move the work to a new location in the development.

William Mitchell is regarded as one of the most significant postwar sculptors in Britain, with work ranging from the cold-cast bronze doors of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral to the luxurious Egyptian room at Harrods.

Days before his death on 30 January, Bracknell Council announced that a 98ft mural by Mitchell commissioned in 1974 would be moved to a new home.

A popular modernist mural in Hull by Alan Boyson, known locally as The Three Ships, was also recently saved from demolition after it was Grade II listed.

But like much of Mitchell's work the Burgess St frieze isn't listed by Historic England, meaning that there is no legal protection against its demolition.

"I think it would be a tragedy if this piece of art was consigned to the wrecking ball," Hunt told Now Then.

"There is precedent of William Mitchell's work being moved into new locations, and that's what I think needs to happen here. I'd like to see it given a prominent spot in the new retail quarter."

Sam Gregory

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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