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Prayer: New home for sculpture in Chiswick

by Fr Michael Dunne, Parish Priest of Our Lady of Grace, Chiswick

Prayer is normally an activity, the raising of the heart and mind to God, or it can be, more contemplatively, a resting in the Lord, more a state of being. But in our church it is now also something else: it’s the name given to the Carrara marble sculpture by the renowned sculptor Thomas Mewburn Crook, 1869-1949, which has just been left to the parish by the sculptor’s family.

Who the model might have been is not the question of course, but what she evokes. As an image of what prayer is she is most communicative: her poise is indicative of that interior recollection essential for the activity of prayer but at the same time, her demeanour and her composure, the tilt of her head and the expression on her face, communicate that she is indeed resting in her conception of the Lord’s presence to her. And then of course, being a child, a girl at prayer, she is herself the very image of innocence: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’ (Mt 5:8).

Furthermore, she’s Chiswick through and through, having been sculpted in the artist’s studio in Gainsborough Road in 1904 around the time the artist moved from Manchester to become a parishioner of Our Lady of Grace and St Edward’s, where he remained for the rest of his life.

The sculpture has the distinction of being Mewburn Crook’s first work to be exhibited at the Royal Academy. Many more were to follow and he went on to become an establishment sculptor, being both a Fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors and Professor of Sculpture at the Royal College of Art, among his distinctions.

The artist married his wife Winifred in 1929 and their five children were subsequently baptised in our church, two of them later marrying here. With the bomb falling on Duke’s Avenue on 19th February 1944 shattering much of the eastern wall of the church, it was Mewburn Crook who took it upon himself to restore the almost irreparably damaged Stations of the Cross, the work of a nineteenth century Belgian artist, Charles Bayaert. However, his deteriorating health did now allow him to work on the restoration. After his death in 1949, his widow Winifred fulfilled his intention as she painstakingly worked for several years to restore the Stations to their former glory. We are profoundly grateful to both of them.

One of their daughters, Cecilia, joined religious life at seventeen, becoming
Sr Bernadette Crook of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. An internationally renowned painter of icons, some outstanding examples of her work most locally are in St Vincent de Paul’s Church in Osterley. Sr Bernadette died last May, and her father’s sculpture, Prayer, was in her house. To fulfil her late mother’s wishes, the sculpture was to come to us. We are privileged to receive it. May parents and children rest in peace. In January, Bishop John Wilson blessed the statue while on a visitation to the parish.

For further information about Thomas Mewburn Crook, visit www.tmewburncrook.com.