Blazing a trail for artist whose works show Wakefield’s past

Sarah Cobham of the Forgotten Women project with Louisa Fennell's trail. Picture: John Clifton.
Sarah Cobham of the Forgotten Women project with Louisa Fennell's trail. Picture: John Clifton.
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The city that Wakefield artist Louisa Fennell captured so beautifully in watercolour at the turn of the 20th century is almost unrecognisable today.

But a new walking trail, that launched on Friday, is offering a window into that past and, at the same time, bringing to life the legacy of a woman whose talent was all-but forgotten to the passage of time.

A respected watercolourist of her day, Louisa showed an early talent for art and was just 18 when she received a first class medal at the Wakefield Industrial and Fine Art Exhibition in 1865.

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Despite the then male-dominated art world providing fewer opportunities for women, she embarked on what would become a distinguished career, exhibiting at the Royal Society of British Artists and devoting her life to her love of painting and travelling the world.

In her 50s, she focused her talent closer to home, painting her childhood haunts in Wakefield.

Based on sketches she made in her teenage years, the majority, painted between 1898 and 1903, show a landscape that has now altered almost beyond recognition.

Though some of her works are held at The Hepworth Wakefield gallery, the new trail places them in situ on boards across the city centre.

They not only bring to life her paintings, as portals into the city’s past more than a century ago, but also commemorate her story and achievements and “make her visible”.

“It’s incredibly fulfilling to see Louisa’s paintings on our streets,” says Sarah Cobham, the CEO of Dreamtime Creative.

The organisation is behind the Forgotten Women of Wakefield Project, which seeks to research and bring to light stories of the area’s pioneering women, including Louisa, provide them with recognition and make the city one of blue plaque parity for men and women.

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“The trail highlights our ‘you cannot be what you cannot see’ approach, which combined with our blue plaque parity scheme, places women’s achievements at the front and centre of our cultural landscape,” Sarah continues.

“Louisa Fennell, as an artist and a woman, has gifted us a powerful 
and inspirational legacy which continues to inspire the hundreds of women who engage in our creative projects, so I am delighted that her art and her voice is now accessible to everyone.”

Following the unveiling of a blue plaque for Louisa last year, the trail aims to honour her life, help people to understand what she might have seen whilst painting her watercolour and highlight some of the most important and interesting buildings in Wakefield’s past.

It is hoped that the route, which begins at Trinity Walk shopping centre, will inspire people from all generations to connect with their own memories, share their stories and learn more about the city’s heritage, whilst leaving a visible legacy of which citizens can be proud.

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“We love being a part of Wakefield and that includes bringing its creative past to life by working with passionate people like Sarah and everyone else involved,” says Cormac Hamilton, centre manager of Trinity Walk, which has supported the project alongside Wakefield Council and Wakefield Civic Society.

“There’s so much still to discover in the city and by supporting this new trail, we can encourage more people to visit.”

The first guided walk of the Louisa Fennell trail, on September 22, is already fully booked, but another will be held on October 13 and people can also follow the trail boards without a guide. Visit forgottenwomenwake.com