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Twickenham - Emanuel

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totem pole carved by Emanuel
carved totem pole (1970?)
(Eel Pie Island in background)
bronze head cast by Emanuel
cast bronze head (1970?)

Emanuel was from Nigeria and had come to England to study art. He rented an old chapel (or was it a church hall?) for use as a studio not far from the bridge leading to Eel Pie, and for some it provided a welcome refuge when things got a little too hectic in the hotel.

His father was a chief of a Yoruba tribe and he would tell wonderful stories of tribal magic and his ancestry. Emanuel persuaded Richmond Park to give him a large number of tree trunks which were piled up on the pavement by the studio. He'd carve these into giant sculptures similar to totem poles, not putting a mark on the wood beforehand; it would all come out as he worked with mallet and chisel. (The one pictured above was about 12-15 feet high.) Some of the totem poles may have gone to London's Commonwealth Institute.

The Twickenham church hall was filled with tools, materials and half finished works. There were huge terracotta heads that were beautiful, but if you tried to move them, they cracked and broke under their own weight. Many of his carved tree trunks dried and split and distorted. For Emanuel, the process was everything, the end result or technicalities never mattered.

When he worked, he would go into a complete trance, standing a bare tree upright and dancing round it going 'Hah! Hah! Hah!' Every time he went 'Hah!', he'd whack the tree with his mallet and chisel. He never drew what he was going to do, either on paper or on the tree itself, it all came from his soul, straight out into the wood. Emanuel would keep this trance up for hours, absolutely oblivious to anything else.

Sometimes he would sing and recite his poetry whilst dancing and acting out all the actions in the poems, a wild happening which would take up most of the free space in the studio.

The last I heard of him was in 1973, when he was working with a Black theatre group from the Keskidee Centre in Brixton.

[if you have any more info on Emanuel, please let me know].

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revised 21 January 2021