Alma Mater, the
Sculpture at Exeter
College by Marco de Alberdi
Marco de Alberdi
was a great friend of St Osyth. His father "Joxe" sculptured
a statue for Osyth which stands
today in the grounds of Exeter College, Oxford.
I knew St Osyth Wood as a youngster.
She stayed with us in London and was an honorary 'great aunt'.
she was a great patroness of my father's sculpture work.
She was very generous to my father. She gave him all sorts
of memento's. Amongst which were a number of photographs taken
by Thomas Wood on a voyage he took with Osyth from Gibraltar
to Barcelona in February 1936.
Osyth gave these pictures to
my father and many years they were published in a book in
the Catalan language about the voyage and its circumstances
as they were on the eve of the Spanish Civil war.
The book includes pictures
of Thomas and one of Osyth.(see right)
It also includes a copy
of a photo of the unveiling of the Alma Mater statue at Oxford
with my father and Osyth.
Osyth in Malaga, Spain
It occurs to me that I am probably the only person who now remembers
the creation of the Alma Mater sculpture in Exeters back quadrangle.
sculptor was my father Joxe Alberdi, who died recently. For me,
one of the saddest parts of sorting through my parents possessions
and splitting things up with my brother and sister has been the
loss of experiences, memories and contexts that death brings. I
am writing this to record some of the history of the sculpture in
the quadrangle and of the sculptor who created it before that history
Alma Mater was commissioned by St Osyth Wood, who
was married to Thomas Wood (1892 1950). Thomas Wood was a
lecturer at Exeter College in the 1920s and is probably best known
for his connections with Australia and as a musician who arranged
Waltzing Matilda. I remember Osyth Wood quite well as
she was also our honorary Great Aunt Osyth.
She smoked untipped cigarettes incessantly, Weights and Woodbines,
and was a very generous, fiercely intelligent and almost frighteningly
observant woman. She told my father that as she had not had her
own children she was privileged to choose the children she wanted
to support. She certainly supported my father in many ways until
her death, commissioning work and buying some of his most important
The Alma Mater sculpture is in Travertine marble, and my father
went to the quarries himself to choose the piece of marble, just
as his hero Michelangelo had done before. He revelled in walking
in Michelangelos footsteps! The block was transported to the
Basque province of Vizcaya in
Spain, to a location near the town of Marquina, home to some black
marble quarries. In working large pieces of stone, my father was
in the habit of
using professional masons rather than the art students he usually
employed as assistants on other big works. The professional mason
for this work was Aquelino who usually worked in the
Marquina quarries. Michelangelo reportedly carved his sculptures
starting at the front, revealing and finishing the form as he worked
through to the back. My fathers technique differed; Aquelino
and my father roughed out the marble in the round over a long summer,
working from the model of the maquette. Many people came to have
a chip and I learned to carve marble that summer, working
on the sculpture, though I have to admit my contribution to the
finished work was pretty minimal. Carving marble with a hammer and
point chisel is very hard work and lapses in concentration are harshly
punished with nasty bruises and grazes. I avoided it where possible!
The sculpture was shipped back to my fathers studio in Wandsworth,
London in the autumn and finished there.
During the various meetings and preparations
for commissioning and erecting the sculpture.................................
I dont quite know how it happened, but the sculpture was never
meant to sit on the base it now occupies. It was intended to have
a rather higher
rectangular base. It is now standing on a granite grindstone that
was used to grind pepper in a spice mill near Putney Bridge that
was demolished in the early 1960s. The grindstone was supposed to
be a temporary measure. (Its companion stone was used as an outdoor
table by the family until the 1990s!).
The sculpture must have been unveiled in early 1968, the same year
my father became a Fellow of the Royal Society of British Sculptors.
was always very proud to have this piece of his sculpture at Exeter
College in the University of Oxford
Author:- Marco de Alberdi
Courtesy of Exeter College Newsletter 2008
*** From the Latin "almae
matres".To remind oneself of the school, college, or university
that you once attended or graduated from