Betty Campbell MBE. The First Monumental Welsh Woman
Julie Nicholas provides the Betty Campbell sequel to her blog about Statue for Lady Rhondda; both women are part of the Monumental Welsh Women campaign.
Well it’s finally happened, on Wednesday 29 September 2021 the first statue of a named Welsh woman was unveiled in Wales. And it is truly Monumental!
There were cheers and tears as Betty Campbell, was revealed in Central Square Cardiff, by more than a dozen members of her proud family. The unveiling took place in front of local, Senedd and Westminster politicians and hundreds of onlookers gathered to celebrate the incredible woman who smashed through systemic barriers, celebrated diversity and inspired her community and the nation with her activism and wisdom.
Mrs Campbell’s daughter and granddaughters gave inspired and personal speeches about their mother and grandmother, and the children of Mount Stuart school where she was headmistress, sang her favourite song ‘Something Inside so Strong’ by Labbi Siffre, who moments before had been one of the famous faces on the giant video screen talking about Wales’ first black head teacher, alongside others including HRH Prince Charles, Rakie Ayola, Michael Sheen and Julia Gillard. Future Generations Commissioner Wales’ poet-in-residence Taylor Edmonds read out her specially commissioned poem, ‘When I Speak of Bravery’ and the sun shone all day; the only sunshine in a torrential week of rain.
The reaction to the monument has been critical praise and public acclaim. Whilst the artist Eve Shepherd’s scale and symbolism are breath-taking, it is her clever innovations and details that keep you standing and staring. There are two empty chairs that encourage children (and some adults) to become a part of the art, by joining the other sculpted boys and girls surrounding the trunk of Betty Campbell’s huge, bespectacled bust; standing tall as the Mother Tree, providing shelter and knowledge to the little ones underneath her.
The dozens of fine features that are dotted about, partially hidden to casually appear as you unpick the story are frankly astounding; from the boy playing with the ship, a replica of the Ocean Vanguard, torpedoed & lost during the 2nd World War, on-board which Mrs Campbell’s merchant navy father lost his life, to the map of Tiger Bay that makes up the footing of the tree trunk. From the stack of books entitled with African American authors, who inspired Wales’ first black head teacher to introduce the UK version of Black History Month into her own multi-racial school’s curriculum, to the tiny outline of the Wales Millennium Centre’s famous horizon.
From the coal wagon arriving from the valleys above, to the tiny face of Nelson Mandela, this sculpture is a rich and unfolding tale of a remarkable life and place. Go and see it to be inspired by the boldness of Betty Campbell’s giant bronzed head, then get lost in the intricacies of this original Monumental Woman’s story.
This is the first of five sculptures of Welsh Women that the team, led by Helen Molyneux, are determined to install across Wales. Lady Rhondda is our Newport woman, and we have now reached £41,000 in our fundraising bid. A few of us from the Statue for Lady Rhondda gang were there at the unveiling and left sunflowers to honour the first of our Monumental Welsh Women - Betty Campbell has set a very high bar for the rest of the sculptures to follow.
Get involved and be part of history in the making (or herstory in the making if you prefer)– we can do it.