12 June 2009

A Second Lionel Britton Bust, Fredda Brilliant, Ben Gelman, and Makanda, Illinois

In August 2007, on a second visit to Carbondale, Illinois, I spent several weeks at Southern Illinois University (SIU) researching Lionel Britton's unpublished manuscripts at the Special Collections Research Center. Professor Herbert Marshall, who was a good friend of Lionel Britton's and who worked at the university for a number of years in the the twentieth century, had all of Britton's unpublished work shipped to SIU on Britton's death in 1971. Marshall was married to the sculptor Fredda Brilliant, who is best known for the Mahatma Gandhi statue that once stood in Tavistock Square, London, England, and who created two busts of Britton. Yesterday I received the book Fredda Brilliant: Biographies in Bronze (New York: Shapolsky, 1986), which Britton's great-nephew Robert Hughes had very kindly sent me. It contains a wealth of detail about Brilliant's bronze sculptures, with not only biographical information on the subjects, but also autobiographical information by Brilliant about the circumstances behind the sittings.

But another interest behind this post is the inscription on the title-page that Brilliant made to Ben Gelman in 1986. Gelman was a writer and ornithologist, I discovered through Googling, who used to live with his wife Virginia in Makanda, Illinois. This brought back vivid memories: towards the end of my stay in Carbondale, my partner Penny joined me and we spent some days just exploring the area, driving across the Mississippi and Ohio rivers into Missouri and Kentucky. But we didn't have far to go to reach Makanda, which is just seven miles from Carbondale, although I could have done without the zigzag hairpin bends I had to negotiate to the bottom of the valley where this tiny hippie haven lies. There are just nine shops there, but we spent a few hours just pottering around and above all enjoyed visiting Dave Dardis's Secret Garden. When I woke up this morning, I remembered I hadn't mentioned Ben Gelman and Makanda to Penny. She fell into raptures and ferreted about in a drawer under the bed to shove two sealed bars of soap under my nose: 'Butt Naked' and 'Monkey Farts' from Smelly Hippie, Makanda. She'll never use them as she just finds the smell therapeutic, having a kind of Proustian effect that serves as a brief antidote to having to live in the blighted UK. With thanks to Mark Choate of the Special Collections Research Center, without whose suggestion I'd probably still be unaware of the place.

Some of the included sculptures are of: Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Pandit Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Vallabhbhai Patel, Morajii Desai, V. K. Krishna Menon, Dr Haru Krisna Mahtab, S. K. Patil, G. D. Birla, Dr Y. S. Parmar, The Maharaja of Baroda, Chief Justice Chagla, Sri Karmarkar, Anna Ornsholt, Mohammad Ali, President Kennedy, Professor R. Buckminster Fuller, Taras Shevchenko, Anton Chekhov, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Sergei Eisenstein, Andrey Voznesensky, Lionel Britton, Sir Maurice Bowra, Professor Herbert Marshall, Anton Slonimsky, Lord Elwyn Jones, Dr Delyte Morris, Dr Francis Warner, Bernard Ostrey, Sir Isaac Hayward, Max Meldrum, Nadia Nerina, Julian Carroll and Alban Barkley, Carl Albert, Meliyn Price, Terry Thomas, Willy Gallagher, Tom Mann, Kay Harrison, Francis Flaherty, Pera Attasheva, Professor hyman Levy, Duncan Grant, Galya Yevtushenko, Georgi Dimitrov, Joseph Wolfing, Pavel Morozov, and Sir John Rothenstein.

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