Hubert Dalwood(1924-1976)

HUBERT DALWOOD (1924-1976)In 1950 the University of Leeds set up an exciting and imaginative scheme for fellowships in the creative arts, the Gregory Fellowships, named after their patron Eric Craven Gregory, a Bradford businessman committed to the arts and to fostering young talent. The three-year fellowships were offered in poetry, painting, sculpture and music, and were to be awarded to young practising artists, selected by an eminent panel of advisors. The fellowships brought to Leeds some of the most interesting and innovative young artists of the day, many of whom went on to win national acclaim. One who came and chose to stay on afterwards was the sculptor, Hubert Dalwood, who was awarded a Fellowship in 1955, when he was 31. His selection interview at the University must have been pretty daunting, as the two interviewers were T.S. Eliot and Henry Moore.

Hubert Dalwood, usually known as ‘Nibs’, was born in Bristol. He left school at 16 to be apprenticed at the Bristol Aeroplane Company, but used his free time to study at the Bristol School of Art. After two years national service in the Royal Navy he entered the pioneering Bath Academy of Arts to study sculpture, and then won a travelling scholarship to Italy. Here he met his first wife, Mary, a university lecturer. Back in Britain, his first job was at the Newport School of Art. His work met with some success, and he had his first one-man exhibition in London in 1954, just before he was offered the Gregory Fellowship and came to Leeds. Here he became part of a vibrant group of innovative artists and teachers centred on the Leeds College of Art, and when his Fellowship ended he stayed on to teach there. These years were among his most creative and successful. In 1958 he won first prize in the John Moore’s exhibition in Liverpool, and in 1962 he represented the UK at the Venice Biennale, where he also won a major prize. 

His work, abstract and cryptic, was admired and he received several commissions for public works, one of them in 1961 from the University of Leeds for its newly-built hall of residence, Bodington Hall at Lawnswood. His huge aluminium bas-relief is a striking feature of the main refectory block, familiar over the years to many thousands of Leeds students. Around the same time he finally left Leeds for London, and, after a few years in part-time teaching and overseas travel, he was appointed head of sculpture at Hornsey College of Art, and six years later head of sculpture at the Central School of Art and Design. He continued to develop his interests in the relationship between sculpture and landscape and in architectural structures, and his work featured in several exhibitions, but his life and his creative potential were tragically cut short in 1976, when he died aged only 52.

His first wife, Mary Dalwood, stayed on in Leeds after he left for London. A lecturer in French at the University of York and a literary translator, she was also well-known as an active and committed Leeds Labour Councillor. She died in 1991. Their two daughters are both artists.

There has been a revival of interest in Hubert Dalwood and his work in recent years. A book about his sculpture was published in 1999, and last year a major exhibition of his work called Hubert Dalwood: Landscape into Sculpture was held at Leeds Art Gallery, which has several of his sculptures in its collection. His work can be found in many galleries and collections in this country and overseas, and the new Hepworth gallery at Wakefield features two of his works. When he died, he was described as ‘one of the best artists of his generation, a man who could have civilised and enlivened our cities and fired our imagination.’

Eveleigh Bradford
August 2011

Update, 2016: when Bodington Hall was demolished in 2013, Dalwood’s great mural was carefully taken down and in May 2016 was re-erected on the building ‘stage@leeds’ at the University of Leeds, so is visible again.