About

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Detail from: Memorial to 158 Squadron by Peter W. Naylor, 2009

The PMSA founder, our valued colleague and friend, Jo Darke, died peacefully on Friday 4 June 2010. These tributes are some of the many that we have received from both the United Kingdom and abroad.

Jo Darke

In the 1980s, while bringing up her children, my mother, Jo Darke, who has died aged 71 of cancer, turned her hand to writing. The Monument Guide to England and Wales (1991), a coffee-table tome that took her five years to complete, left her with such a feeling for public sculpture that she launched the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, with the aim of contributing to its preservation, protection and promotion. The association helped kickstart a number of high-profile projects, including the National Recording Project, intended to document all public sculpture in the UK; the biannual Sculpture Journal, a vital resource for art historians; and the Save Our Sculpture campaign.
Jo was the eldest daughter of an actress, Betty Cowen, and a Cornish farmer, Bob Darke. She and her siblings (the designer Caroline Darke and the late playwright Nick Darke) spent their childhood surfing in the sea and climbing the craggy cliffs of Porthcothan Bay, Cornwall. At 16, Jo gained a place at St Martins School of Art in London, followed by an apprenticeship in the Soho studio of the innovative photographic designer Maurice Rickards. Dropped into city living in the late 1950s, Jo picked up on her new career quickly, developing a lasting love of the lens and a lifelong affection for Soho.
London life opened the door to further travels. Rickards's Italian wife was a cook, and heard of a group of nurses needing both caterer and photographer; the two women joined a British nurses' goodwill tour, with Jo in the role of official photographer. The 15-month trip around the Mediterranean left her with a suitcase of stories about the Levant.
Back in the UK, Jo married a Cornish science teacher, Richard Pearce, and they had two daughters, Tamsin and me. Our family lived between London and Cornwall.
Over the last 10 years, Jo had chosen to ignore the fact that she was undergoing therapy for cancer, threading her treatments through a sociable home life, busy career and travels to Japan, China and India.
During her last six weeks, in both hospital and hospice, Jo worked propped up in bed. Medical staff might remember her booking a "meeting room" (the ward matron's office) to discuss a current project, and stalling a trip to the operating room while she took an urgent phone call as the nurse waited, cannula at the ready.
She is survived by my father, my sister and myself, and a grandson.
Morwenna Lawson, published in The Guardian, Wednesday 23 June 2010

Obituary in The Times 19 July 2010

Author, editor and campaigner who devoted her life to furthering the cause of public sculpture in Britain
Jo Darke possessed many talents - she was an accomplished photographer, writer and editor - but she will be chiefly remembered as the founder of the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association (PMSA), which she chaired from its establishment in 1991, retiring as its chief executive only on her 70th birthday in 2009 because of the effects of cancer. The association was set up to heighten the appreciation of public sculpture in Britain, and to contribute to its preservation, protection and promotion. 

During most of her PMSA career Darke was non-salaried, and her commitment and directness meant that she added a voice that was both distinctive and invaluable to those of an influential core of specialists. The group swiftly embarked on several highly significant projects. Perhaps the most important of these was the National Recording Project, established to document all public sculpture in the UK online and in ten volumes published by Liverpool University Press, thus creating a comprehensive system now followed in numerous countries. 

The Sculpture Journal, an internationally refereed periodical that has filled a vital niche in art history, was also founded under the auspices of the PMSA. Additionally, the Save Our Sculpture campaign has created a handbook for custodians of sculpture studios. The PMSA also administers the Marsh Award for public sculpture, awarded annually for a newly commissioned public sculpture or for a public sculpture restoration project. Winners include Peter Randall-Page (2006), James Turrell (2007), Ian Rank-Broadley (2008), and last year Jaume Plensa for his sculpture Dream. Maggi Hambling won the first Marsh Award in 2005 for her controversial sculpture Scallop, erected on the shoreline at Aldeburgh, Suffolk, in 2003 as a memorial to Benjamin Britten. 

One of Darke's lesser-known activities in recent years was the time she gave as a trustee of the Ilam Cross Trust, set up by Phil Mottram to preserve and conserve an impressive Victorian memorial cross in Derbyshire. She collaborated on this project with the scholar and writer Julian Litten, and with Marjorie Trusted, senior curator of sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, whom she had met at the Sculpture in the North conference in Leeds and Liverpool in 1991. 

In 1997 Darke, Trusted and the sculpture dealer and expert Joanna Barnes launched The Sculpture Journal, which has become a recognised and authoritative publication in the field of European sculpture studies, and which is now published biannually by Liverpool University Press. Many seminal articles by international scholars have appeared in the journal, which from the first has covered European sculpture over a wide chronological range. Darke came to public notice soon after the formation of the PMSA, intervening in a row in 1992 over a planning application by the Henry Moore Foundation to build a reception centre, study and conservation building in the grounds of Moore's old home at Perry Green, Hertfordshire. She told an interviewer: "To build a visitors' centre, however sensitively, with the large number of visitors it would attract, might interrupt the tranquillity and rather charming domestic feel of the place." The campaign to preserve this domestic tranquillity was successful, to some extent thanks to Darke. 

Johanna Dundas Darke was born in 1939, in Wadebridge, Cornwall. Her parents were disparate, although their families had associations in earlier generations: her father was a sea captain's only son who worked a small farm in Cornwall her mother was an actress from Hampstead who never fully surrendered to rural life. All their children eventually returned to the places or ways of previous generations: Johanna, the eldest, was sent to London to become a photographer, Caroline became a designer and teacher of leatherwork, and Nicholas became a playwright of local and national repute. 

Her childhood in Cornwall was idyllic but often lonely until she attended St Clare's School in Penzance. Sent to London to St Martin's School of Art at 16 she was immersed in a life as remote from the farm and the beach as could be imagined. After college she was apprenticed as a photographer's assistant at the influential design studio of Maurice Rickards, where she developed a love for images, still or moving, that dominated her life, as well as a dogged professional commitment. Her father, though scornful of schooling, was a self-educated naturalist, and later wrote lyrical fiction with a Cornish setting, which Darke sometimes edited into more conventional English. 

A curious but influential phase in Darke's life was a 15-month journey around the Mediterranean with a group of British district nurses, in 1963-64. The British Nurses' Goodwill Tour aimed to bring the benefits of UK standards to other countries. As their photographer and journalist, Darke was fascinated by the local traditions which she encountered - none more odd than the nurses' own. 

Married in 1967 to a schoolteacher of Cornish stock, Richard Pearce, she soon had two daughters, Tamsin and Morwenna. In 1976-77 the family went to live in the US, near Baltimore. This period rekindled her love of travel and reportage. She wrote a novel written in this period that was never published, but led to a number of books of topographical writing, and, through her literary agent, Jennifer Kavanagh, to further commissions. 

She wrote What You Must See in the British Isles (1981), Colourful Britain (1982) I-Spy Guide to London (1986), as well as Cornish Landscapes, South Coast Landscapes, Yorkshire Landscapes and Lake District Landscapes, all of which were published in 1983. As part of English Heritage's Year of Public Sculpture in 2000 Darke devised and edited the text for a book of sculpture walks, A User's Guide to Public Sculpture

The commission that changed her life, however, was for a book planned to be called the National Trust Book of Monuments. Researched exhaustively from 1986 to 1990, it emerged in 1991 as The Monument Guide to England and Wales, with photographs by Jorge Lewinski and Mayotte Magnus. A work of great ambition and scope, it brought her into contact with many experts on public sculpture, and ultimately to the foundation of the PMSA. 

Darke had a lively spark and sense of fun and an energetic intelligence that was immediately striking. She did not take herself too seriously, even while achieving tasks of real value. Her contribution to the world of sculpture has been hailed by colleagues in public life, museum curators, university teachers, specialists at English Heritage and the National Trust. Blessed with a model broadcasting voice, she was often called upon to comment on the latest "scandal" of public art and its funding.
She is survived by her husband and two daughters. 

Jo Darke, founding chairman of the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, was born on January 4, 1939. She died of cancer on June 4, 2010, aged 71

Obituary in The Henry Moore Institute Newsletter August / September 2010

Jo Darke (1939-2010)
Jo Darke was one of the four founder members of the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association in 1991. From the start Jo was the chief inspiration of the association. When the PMSA formalised its structure, Jo became the first Chief Executive. She was therefore intricately involved in all the organisation and activities, communicating with members and officials, appearing as chief public spokesperson. At one period she was one of the triumfeminate of Editors of the Sculpture Journal. She played a central role in setting up the National Recording Project of public sculpture, drawing up the detailed requirements necessitated by a Lottery Grant. And so it went on. What was so remarkable about Jo was her total commitment to public sculpture. She insisted that we should avoid being mandarin in our definitions of what was good or bad in public sculpture, an admirable objectivity others found hard to imitate. She also insisted from the start that the PMSA was not just another academic body, we needed a broad-based membership to join in what she (and many of us) saw as a crusade for public sculpture. Woe betide anyone who tried to take over any of our many functions for a more restricted approach. What I will most remember about Jo was her constant availability, long discussions about almost everything under the sun, spiced always with sense and good humour.
Ben Read

I've known Jo since the occasion of the Sculpture in the North conference, which took place in Leeds and Liverpool in 1991, and which she enlivened throughout with her good humour, energy and knowledge. A little after that, she, Joanna Barnes and I started up The Sculpture Journal, which has gone on from strength to strength since those early days in the 1990s. Jo's ability to write and edit good English were essential, and an invaluable ingredient to the success of the journal. Her work in the cause of public sculpture is well-known, but one of her lesser-known activities in recent years was the time she gave as a trustee of the Ilam Cross Trust, founded by Phil Mottram to preserve and conserve this impressive Victorian memorial cross in Derbyshire. Jo and I attended many meetings of the Trust in London, and we went up on one extremely enjoyable outing to Derbyshire to see and discuss the Cross direct. As always, her sense and sensibility were in the forefront, and she was a superb colleague and adviser on all fronts. We will miss her professionally, but more importantly as a good, warm-hearted friend.
Marjorie Trusted, Senior Curator of Sculpture, Victoria & Albert Museum 

I received with equal sadness your news that Jo Darke, our Founder and great friend, died on Friday 4 June. I knew her well and had a deep affection for her and great admiration for her remarkable work. I certainly agree with her Family's view that her role in the PMSA was the greatest achievement of her career. She had many other successes in her all too short life, but her role in PMSA can never be overestimated and will never be forgotten. All of us who knew and loved her will miss her very much indeed. Nobody is irreplaceable, but she was truly unique! RIP
Professor Andrew S. Ciechanowiecki 

I was so sorry to have seen your news about Jo. I can only reiterate what Andrew has expressed so well and please extend my sympathies to her family.
John Lewis 

It was very, very sad to hear of Jo Darke's death from Anthony. She was such an extraordinary and lovely person who has done so much for us all & for public sculpture. It is early days but I’m sure we would all be keen to celebrate her life and wish to commemorate her in some form or other. I would be most willing to help contribute in whatever way is most appropriate.
Professor Fran Lloyd, Associate Dean and Professor of Art History, Kingston University

So very sorry to hear this. I only met her once but she was so remarkable in her knowledge, enthusiasm and humour.
David Cross, Cumbria and North Lancashire Regional Archive Centre 

I am very shocked. Jo was such a lovely person. Back in the 1990s when I was responsible for the PMSA North East England survey I saw and corresponded with her a lot and she was always so kind. And it's hard to imagine PMSA ever getting started and then keeping going without her. She was not only sensible, unflappable and efficient; she also infected everybody with her enthusiasm for the Project. She made it all seem so worthwhile and such fun. She will be greatly missed. I would be grateful if you forward this to Richard.
Paul Usherwood, Reader in Art History, University of Northumbria

Thank you for this terrible news, which is of great sadness to all friends of sculpture. Jo incarnated so much the PMSA, that I always thought of her as "the mother of the PMSA", even though many others were and still are highly involved in the marvellous action of this society. Please forward this message to her family and I hope that you will be in touch as to further practicalities. Please also think of spreading the memory of her good work, e.g. in publishing obituaries. Our own newsletter would be a logical place for such a text. Despite this loss, keep the PMSA's momentum up, that's the best tribute one can make to Jo.
Dr. Léon E. Lock, President, The Low Countries Sculpture Society, Brussels

Thank you for letting me know. I did wonder that I had not heard anything from her for a while. I'm pleased that the end was peaceful for her - it's been a long time but she never gave up and never complained. There will be a hole in the heart of the PMSA for a long while. She was a very special lady.
Dianne King, Edinburgh Regional Archive Centre

Please pass on my heart-felt sympathy to the family. She will be dearly missed and I shall remember her with extreme fondness.
Dr Gerardine Mulcahy, Burton Constable Hall, East Yorkshire

I was so sad to receive your email about Jo as I hadn't realised that she was so ill. She really simply was the PMSA and we must all do what we can to make sure that her work continues. What sad news!
Lord Crathorne

I was very saddened to learn of Jo's death. I knew she had been in a brave and dignified struggle with serious illness, and I recall how she made light of it to any concerned enquiry from a relative outsider like myself. She and Ian were characteristically welcoming and supportive to those giving papers in that AAH session, and Jo continued to share her enthusiasm in subsequent meetings, newsletter correspondence and the like. I remember her gentle teasing of the length of my title for the Sculpture for the Millennium conference at the V& A, and I remember it because she always seemed to have a lively spark and sense of fun about her, even when she looked frail, and such an energetic intelligence. She did not take herself too seriously, while achieving tasks and influence of real and serious worth. There are many who knew her much better than I did, and will be able to pay proper tribute, but I wanted to try to indicate how her influence and personality rippled out to those of us on the fringes. It was a privilege to meet her.
Helen E Beale (formerly University of Stirling)

I remain numb at Friday's sad news. Jo was an exceptionally brave, courageous and energetic woman, to the end.
Kate Eustace, Editor, Sculpture Journal

Thank you very much for letting us know promptly. It is very sad indeed. Richard's tribute is very modest as regards Jo's role in PMSA. One could justifiably say 'Her role in creating the PMSA ...'
Alan Clark

I am saddened to hear of Jo's death. Her contribution to the world of sculpture was of immense value and greatly appreciated. I hope we may see a full tribute and acknowledgement of her work in the next issue of the society's journal.
Ian Rank-Broadley, Sculptor 

So sorry to hear of Jo this month of June. She was the approachable face of the PMSA and the person who fielded all the new enquiries. She encouraged me and many others to contribute to the cause and I shall miss her calm, intelligent and witty conversation, usually by telephone. It was good to see these tributes and Leon Lock's view of Jo as 'the mother of the PMSA' seemed just right.
Richard Barnes, Frontier Publishing 

It was such a treat to know Jo. She and I organised a conference on monumental sculpture in Dublin in 2005 and we had such fun planning the whole thing that it never quite seemed like work. I have terrific memories of shared time with her both here and subsequently in London. She was always good company and, even in difficult times, made light of her illness. Such courage! Surely all of us in the world of sculpture will miss her greatly. Goodbye Jo.
Paula Murphy, University College Dublin 

Although I never met Jo she became a member of a weekly email based photo quiz I run for a few friends, the photos are usually of follies, interesting buildings and sculptures from around Cheshire and the Wirral, living so far away Jo didn't get too many photo clues right unless it was of a sculpture then she was usually spot on, she very quickly became a big part of our small group.
All the photo quiz members were so sorry to hear the sad news and it was such a shame we never got the chance to meet her after all our email contact over the years, I know she will be sadly missed by all that knew her and who's lives she touched.
David Brothwood 

I was very saddened to hear about Jo. In the late 90s, we worked at adjacent desks in the Conway Library at the Courtauld Institute. She was a pleasure to work alongside - infectiously enthusiastic about the PMSA, gratifyingly interested in other people's work, hugely knowledgeable about art and simply very good company. She will be greatly missed.
Ben Whitworth (author, 'The Sculpture of Leon Underwood') 

I was saddened to learn of Jo Darke's recent passing. Although I never met her in person we had numerous telephone calls over recent years, where I found her to be charming, warm, and most supportive in registering data. I did not know Jo was the founder of PSMA and equally she never let on, an example of modesty and humility. I wish Jo's immediate family long life.
Robert Erskine, International Beit Award for Public Sculpture Excellence, Member International Sculpture Centre USA, FRBSS

The PMSA is no doubt fortunate in many ways, but it cannot have been better served than by Jo. To me, she was the PMSA - lively, charming, informed about everything, dedicated, optimistic, indefatigable, amusing, willing - how much we shall all miss her.
Tim Llewellyn