A memorial for Mitzi Cunliffe will be unveiled at her Didsbury studio, where she created the iconic trophy

The UK’s commemorative landscape has been under scrutiny in recent months. Of the 828 statues recorded by the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association (PMSA) in the UK, 174 of them were listed as female – just one in five. In Manchester alone, sixteen of the seventeen civic monuments are of men – though the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst to be unveiled in December will decrease the imbalance by one. Memorial dedications reflect a similar imbalance: in London, 2016 figures from the English Heritage commission indicate that only 13% of the city’s 900+ blue plaques are dedicated to women.

In recognition of the lack of female presence in commemorative works, this month sees Manchester offer a memorial in female favour – the city will receive its plaque dedicated to female artist Mitzi Cunliffe. The American sculptor is best known for creating the golden BAFTA trophy, which she sculpted in her Manchester studio in Didsbury, as well as several pieces throughout the city. The plaque celebrates the centenary of Cunliffe’s birthday and will be unveiled on June 30 at her former home and studio (a converted garage), where she also designed textiles and ceramics.

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Mitzi Cunliffe created the iconic BAFTA award in her studio in Didsbury

Whilst the BAFTA trophy is no doubt Cunliffe’s most widely-recognised work, Manchester is fortunate to have a number of other important works by Cunliffe, including Threshold at Manchester High School for Girls, Heaton Park Pumping Station relief (which is Grade II listed) and Man and Technics at Manchester Health Academy. 

Cunliffe is also known for important works at Liverpool and Leeds universities, as well as her Sculpture by the Yard innovative large-scale architectural panels - an example of which is Cosmos I at Owens Park, University of Manchester. MMU has also recently uncovered a piece previously only known to the artist's family through photographs, which is now on display at the university's Special Collections. 

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Mitzi Cunliffe at work in her studio, 1955 Estate of the artist

The plaque is the first of its kind to see a female artist make commemorative status in Manchester and hopes to shine light on the artist and her connections with the North. Following the unveiling of the plaque, the Whitworth Gallery will host a talk by Professor Ann Sumner on Cunliffe’s career; from her work for the Festival of Britain in 1951 to her creative maturity in Manchester and, of course, the BAFTA mask (free admission).

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Mitzi Cunliffe at work on Man and Technics Estate of the Artist

Of the event, Sumner said: “I have been researching Mitzi Cunliffe’s career since 2015 and am delighted to have the opportunity to highlight research on her earlier career in America and particularly to emphasise new insights into her life and work in Manchester during the 1950s, which have recently come to light”.

The lecture will be followed by a conversation with Mitzi’s daughter Antonia Cunliffe Davis, who will offer a personal perspective on her mother’s achievements as a sculptor.

Plaques have to be self-funded by the group or organisation that requests them, before applications are submitted to the council. The announcement of Cunliffe’s plaque follows a successful crowdfunding campaign organised by Twentieth Century Society, Northwest in collaboration with the Modernist Society and with the support of Manchester High School for Girls.

View the plaque from 30 June at 18 Cranmer Road, Didsbury, M20 6AW