Blue plaques honour Chelmsford’s remarkable women artists
Two new blue plaques have been unveiled in Chelmsford, honouring two remarkable artists: Joanna Constantinidis and Gwynneth Holt.
The plaques were proposed by the Essex Women’s Commemoration Project (EWCP) to commemorate individual Essex women whose historic achievements deserve to be more widely recognised.
As part of International Women’s Day, City Life is highlighting the achievements of these distinguished women.
Location: The Law Building, Burgess Springs, Chelmsford
Joanna Constantinidis (1927–2000) was born in York and attended college in Sheffield where she studied painting. She was introduced to ceramics and pottery making during this time.
In 1951, Joanna became a ceramics lecturer at the Mid Essex Technical College (now known as Anglia Ruskin University) where she taught ceramics for over 30 years. Joanna also had her own studio in Great Baddow where her methods of producing ceramic art were admired.
In 1978, Joanna was awarded a medal of honour at the Premio Faenza International Ceramics Exhibition. By this point in her career her ceramic works had taken a more sculptural form with tall cylindrical pieces.
Joanna retired from teaching in 1989 to focus on creating more works. Her pieces have been exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto and Chelmsford Museum.
Joanna died in August 2000 in Chelmsford at the age of 72.
Gwynneth Holt and Thomas Bayliss Huxley-Jones
Location: 321 Main Road, Broomfield
Gwynneth Holt was born in 1909 and educated in Birmingham. She trained in sculpture at the Wolverhampton College of Art where she met her husband, Thomas Bayliss Huxley-Jones. Both were offered places at the Royal College of Art, however Gwynneth turned it down to reduce her family’s financial burdens. At this time, she continued to exhibit her works at the Royal Birmingham Academy.
In 1949, Gwynneth and her husband moved to Broomfield where they were both highly regarded artists. Gwynneth specialised in sculptures for churches in Chelmsford such as St Mary’s, Broomfield, the Church of Immaculate Conception in New London Road, as well as many other churches within Essex, Cambridgeshire and London.
Her husband worked as a lecturer as well as having publicly commissioned sculptures such as the statue of Helios (at BBC Television Centre) and the Joy of Life Fountain in Hyde Park in London. He was also commissioned to create the Mother and Child statue within Chelmsford’s Central Park Memorial Garden and the figure of St Peter on the exterior of Chelmsford Cathedral.
In 1952, Gwynneth was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors. She was known to be one of the society’s earliest female members, where she expressed frustration at the sculpture profession being dominated by men.
“Women are just as intelligent as men, and their contribution to art is just as valuable: They are not given a chance to take art up seriously. What with looking after the house, there is not much time left for concentrating on art.”Gwynneth Holt (1909–1995)
Following her death Gwynneth ‘s work has been showcased in many places by both the Royal Society of Sculptors and Chelmsford Museum.
Essex Women Commemoration Project (EWCP)
The EWCP was launched in 2020 to identify distinguished Essex women who have not received public recognition and celebrate them with blue plaques.
“We are delighted that Chelmsford City Council have responded so enthusiastically to our suggestion and that as a result these two distinguished women artists have received the public recognition they deserve. In their different ways both Gwynneth Holt and Joanna Constantinidis enriched their local community and it is right that they should be remembered in this way.”Dr James Bettley, architectural historian and EWCP member
How to nominate a blue plaque
Let’s celebrate Chelmsford’s women by proposing more blue plaques representing women. You can get more information on blue plaques and how to nominate one.