Past Events

Beyond William Mitchell’s British “Colourful Crusade”; Creating Art for the Urban Landscapes of the United States (1972–77)

Research Lunch – Dawn Pereira

  • 14 October 2022
  • 1:00 – 2:00 pm
  • Paul Mellon Centre

During the 1960s “British Invasion” of the United States, British architectural sculptor William Mitchell had been chosen as a guest speaker to represent the Cement and Concrete Association, and this led to further talks to universities, city authorities and civic bodies. American art historian Dolores Mitchell interviewed the artist in 1969 and noted that his “actor’s personality and cockney humour” got viewers excited about his ideas. Prestigious commissions followed during the 1970s, with artworks created for five stations of the new Bay Area Rapid Transit system in San Francisco and employment through the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts within local schools and culminating in a large civil engineering project in Honolulu city centre. The cross-fertilisation of ideas between contractors, architects and developers, coupled with public reaction, influenced Mitchell’s subsequent approach to urban renewal in Britain and internationally.

In Dawn’s talk, she will be disseminating her recent fellowship research around the commissions, from her visits to the San Francisco Public Library; the Environmental Design Archives at University of California, Berkeley; Hawaii State Archives; and the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts Archive. Plus, insights from the BART Art Program; associated BART architects and local journal and newspaper articles, which help to place the works in the context of the era. As BART marks its fiftieth anniversary, and the Hawaii authorities continue to seek better ways to maintain their public art, Dawn discusses how her research findings could help further celebrate and protect Mitchell’s work in their care.

Listing image caption: Glass fibre and natural materials mural at Richmond Station, Bay Area Rapid Transit, Oakland (1972). Courtesy of Dawn Pereira.

About the speaker

  • Dawn Pereira side on

    Dawn Pereira’s initial interest in the architectural sculptor William Mitchell (1925–2020) stemmed from academic writing about post-war art, design and architecture and she is currently completing a book entitled The Colourful Crusade of William Mitchell; The Integration of Architectural Sculpture into Post-War Urban Landscapes (1957-77). Her research was funded by a Henry Moore Post-Doctoral Fellowship (2017–19) and hosted by the University of East London.

    London-born William Mitchell’s “Colourful Crusade” was first nationally recognised by art critic John Russell in a Sunday Times colour supplement article written in 1962, within which he anticipated that the artist would make “Britain a brighter place to live in”. Trained in Industrial Design at the Royal College of Art, studying wood, metal and plastics, Mitchell was first employed as a design consultant by the London County Council in the late 1950s, collaborating with architects to produce durable and reasonably priced artworks for public housing estates. By the early 1960s, the artist had established his own company, William Mitchell & Associates, and collaborated with the foremost architects, contractors and developers of the era. He predominately worked in concrete, glass fibre and recycled glass, but also introduced water, light and sound.

    Today, William Mitchell is synonymous with the large-scale concrete artworks he created in Britain during the 1960s and 70s, found in diverse environments from urban subways to shopping centres and cathedrals. In 2016, Historic England acknowledged him as a widely influential “prolific and innovative architectural sculptor” resulting in protection given to key works, with the listing of nine sculptures and murals and a further eight included as part of listed buildings. The award of a Terra Foundation/PMC Fellowship (2020–21) has provided Dawn with the opportunity for a more considered international appreciation regarding the further “colourful crusade” of this very “British” artist.