Craftsman David Holgate has a lasting legacy outside Norwich cathedral
10:03 10 July 2014
©Archant Photographic 2009
David Holgate, a renowned Norwich sculptor, letter carver and musician, has died after a short illness aged 75. JOYCE DUNBAR, a dear friend and neighbour, looks fondly back at his rich and varied life
David was born in April 1939, son of a signwriter and jazz pianist, in a flat in Romford High Street.
With war declared, he was sent to live with an aunt in Blackpool. The family finally regrouped - with the addition of sister, Betty, in Cambridge, where his parents later ran a pub and David became a member of St John’s College choir.
His first ambition was to be a traditional painter, but deterred by the explosion of abstract art at the time, he became instead an apprentice in letter cutting to David Kindersley, who in turn was taught by Eric Gill.
After marriage in 1960 to Anne, an art student, the lure of the pop world proved stronger than the chore of sharpening chisels, and David spent the rest of that heady decade freewheeling between Norfolk, London and Bristol with his music.
There was a spell in a band for Anglia Television, the formation of a group called the Tempos and a flower power group called the Rainbow People (in which his wife sang), making records and TV shows.
He toured Europe until the bubble finally burst and he found himself separated from his family - by now including two children - and working as a door to door salesman selling Kleeneze brushes and polish.
From his home in Aslacton, he gradually eased himself back into his dual career, carving house name plates to be sold in the craft shop in Elm Hill and offered a new job in a jazz band by one of his kleeneze customers.
Part-time teaching at Ipswich Art School gave him a new stability and space to perfect his skills.
Now, nationally regarded as one of our foremost craftsmen, he has a lasting legacy in the statues of Mother Julian and Saint Benedict on the West front of Norwich Cathedral.
His work is also to be found in many buildings and gardens in Norfolk, and in private collections in the UK and abroad. For the last 16 years he worked in a tiny courtyard in the front of his house in Cow Hill, open to all observers.
With his manifold skills and interests, David became a lynchpin in Norwich. He was founder member and chairman of the Norfolk Contemporary Craft Society, served two years as chairman of the Norwich 20 group and on the committee of the Norfolk Contemporary Arts Society, played the double base at gigs and at the Norwich Christmas pantomime and was constantly on call for his technical knowhow in fixing things.
Above all, he was a kind man. No-one was ever turned away from his door or denied help with a problem.
He was not religious, but had a strong sense of the sacred, even in hospital.
David once said: “I like to impress. If I could die an impressive death, I wouldn’t so much mind the dying.”
After an impressive life, David has his wish.
He joins the ranks of the many unnamed stoneworkers who have added so much to this beautiful city over the centuries.
He is survived by his wife, Galina, his first wife Anne and their children, Kate and Matthew, and grandchildren and Philippa Fawcett, his assistant, to whom he has passed on his skills.
*A funeral service is being held at Norwich Cathedral on Thursday July 17th at noon.
Family flowers only but donations if desired for Cancer Research UK may be sent c/o Allcock Funeral Services, Falcon House, 96a City Road, Norwich, NR1 2HD www.allcockfunerals.co.uk/in-memory
*Acknowledgement for information: www.wisearchive.co.uk