Curator's Choice: Cathy Sloan on a three-metre high outdoor mural of Edward Elgar

By Ben Miller | 03 September 2014

Curator's Choice: Cathy Sloan, the Director of the Elgar Birthplace Museum in Worcester, on a three-metre, high-speed mural of Edward Elgar

Click on the picture to see the mural being created

“The artists are called We Love Art. It’s two men in their 20s.

They’re not shy but they don’t want the publicity that goes with it. They’ve done lots of Elgars around this area.

The first one they did was in, for want of a better word, a bus shelter – a slightly nicer bus shelter in Great Malvern.

An image of an illustration of a man surrounded by dogs on a street
A postcard from Elgar to his daughter Carice, from his 1905 Mediterranean holiday. He wrote, 'Constantinople. I love those poor wows. Faser.' Note the affectionate 'baby-language' and the use of 'Faser' for father© Courtesy The Elgar Birthplace Museum, elgarmuseum.org
It was meant to be their gift to the town: in the middle of the night they spray-painted an Elgar.

As they were just finishing and walking away they got caught by the police. It rumbled on: were they going to prosecute, what did the town council want to do?

In the end the town got behind them and thought this bit of street art was great for Malvern. It was lovely – they were getting behind this modern art which people could have seen very much as graffiti.

These artists got a bit of a name for themselves. The Malvern piece was auctioned off and I think the Elgar Society based there would’ve liked to have bought it and regretted not buying it.

Then HMV in Worcester High Street commissioned them to do a big Elgar on an interior wall. The vineyard that produces Elgar wine had some paintings done.

We’d seen all this, and as a small charitable museum we’re not really in a position to commission such things. But we thought, you know, we can’t be without an Elgar ourselves, with all this going on.

A couple of funders came forward: the Elgar Society and the Kay Trust. We work very closely with the two of them and know them well. They said ‘do you fancy one?’ and I said yes please.

A photo of a stained ancient wedding bouquet
A page from one of the Elgars' scrapbooks showing Alice Elgar's wedding bouquet. They were married on May 8 1889 at Brompton Oratory - against her familiy's wishes© Courtesy The Elgar Birthplace Museum, elgarmuseum.org
The artists came forward with the idea of Elgar on a bike. Elgar loved cycling: there are bits and pieces in the museum such as his cycling maps in which he’d marked the routes he’d taken in the area.

We know he cycled up to 50 miles a day on his bike, which must have been quite something. Cycling and the countryside were so important to him and his music.

The commission happened to coincide with the visit of the Tour of Britain. We were looking for a way to bring Elgar, cycling and the Tour together, so it made sense.

We’re very pleased with it. What I love is that it sums up Elgar. I think people sometimes think he’s this pompous Victorian guy, very stand-offish.

You see the older image of Elgar with the big moustache and you can almost hear him saying ‘I love England’. He wasn’t like that at all.

His friends were from all over the world, he lived in a time that was very much like that. You are shaped by your times, but he was a very funny man.

Like all of us, if you got him on the wrong day he would have been all of those things I’ve described. But otherwise he was fun-loving and would have thought this was great.

His little cartoons and doodles we’ve got show that. In letters to friends there’ll be little quips, done in a sketch or a cartoon.

He caricatures himself. We’ve a wonderful page from the Telegraph in which he’s drawn pipes and moustaches on the women.

His personal letters, particularly to his daughter, are full of love. The archives here are about the man as well as the composer.

We’ve got his wife’s wedding bouquet pasted, diary entries…everything that builds up the picture of a man.

I’m sure he would have loved what we’ve done with the artwork. A lot of the preparation, I understand, is the making of the stencils.

It builds up in layers as each colour goes on. We went from blank wall to white square as it went up.

We wanted it to look like Elgar was coming at you but also to look like a bit of artwork on the wall, so it has got a black frame.

By placing that front wheel as they have, it’s really clever. You feel the movement.

It took a day to do, directly on the brick. The building is one of the walls of our visitor centre. We’ve kept the stencils so I’m assured that if violent hailstorms or anything should happen, it can be redone by them.

Elgar started cycling in about 1900, when you could first afford and buy a bike. He wanted to have a go.

If he was here and the Tour of Britain was passing through he’d be there watching. He’d probably go down there with his bike and want to have a bet on who’d win, because he loved the horses.

We’ve got betting books in which he’s recorded stuff. There was one famous day – I can’t remember whether it was the death of a King or something – where he’s not noted that; he’s noted which horse won a particular race. You’d have thought the country would have been in mourning and he’s worried about that.”


What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of an ancient letter
A letter from Elgar to his friend August Jaeger (Nimrod, of the Enigma Variations) showing his humorous side© Courtesy The Elgar Birthplace Museum, elgarmuseum.org
© Courtesy The Elgar Birthplace Museum, elgarmuseum.org
© Courtesy The Elgar Birthplace Museum, elgarmuseum.org
© Courtesy The Elgar Birthplace Museum, elgarmuseum.org
© Courtesy The Elgar Birthplace Museum, elgarmuseum.org
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