Plymouth’s ‘Mad Rider’ commemorates the 29th Infantry Division at Mount Edgcumbe
Final-year BA (Hons) Craft & Material Practices student Stuart Morrissey from Arts University Plymouth has created ‘The Blue and Grey’, a memorial sculpture and bench dedicated to the 29th Infantry Division, which will be given a permanent home in Mount Edgcumbe House and Country Park in Cornwall.
62-year-old Stuart, who lives in Plymouth, first joined Arts University Plymouth for an Extended BA (Hons) Craft & Material Practices degree in 2020. After serving in the Royal Air Force (RAF), Stuart has had a lifelong interest in and respect for the armed forces.
Stuart was inspired to create the new memorial bench and sculpture after reading about the history of the 29th Infantry Division, which were based on Mount Edgcumbe during World War 2 before setting off to join the first wave of troops on D-Day on 6 June 1944 to land on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.
Researching their activities through local archives in The Box, Plymouth, Stuart discovered that some of the soldiers embarked from the Barn Pool area at Mount Edgcumbe and other locations in the South West, including Plymouth. Very little photographic evidence of their presence is now available, because their mission was classified as being top secret, but during his research Stuart uncovered some unpublished photographs from the period.
Stuart Morrissey with his bench
Stuart, who was born in Salford, was a Chef in the RAF from 1979 to 1983. Following his time in the military, Stuart worked in catering for a number of years before taking on a role at Toshiba helping to make televisions. His career was derailed after an accident in which he slipped three discs in his spine, a condition that stopped him from working at the time and which has deteriorated since.
After being introduced to the world of motorbike riding Stuart found a renewed purpose and in 2004 took part in his first charity bike ride. In the period since 2004 Stuart has fundraised over £100,000 for over 30 charities, earning the nickname of the ‘Mad Rider’ from friends.
Although happy with the community that he’d found as a biker, Stuart craved a creative outlet in his life. A friend showed him how to create mosaics and Stuart set up Madrider Mosaics and Contemporary Art, a business platform creating mosaics that revolved around his interests in the military, local history, music and motorbike culture.
Stuart at work in Arts University Plymouth on the base for the memorial
In 2020 Stuart discovered that one of his neighbours was studying at Arts University Plymouth so he visited the arts university and met Senior Lecturer and Extended BA (Hons) Degree Subject Leader Helen Markes, and Senior Lecturer and BA (Hons) Craft & Material Practices Subject Leader Gayle Matthias. Both encouraged him to pursue a degree at the university and to use the Craft & Material Practices course to push himself to experiment and learn how to work with a wide range of materials beyond mosaics.
Each year as part of their studies, second-year BA (Hons) Craft & Material Practices students create site-specific sculptures to exhibit in the Formal Gardens and grounds of Mount Edgcumbe House and Country Park. Researching the history of Mount Edgcumbe in relation to World War 2 and the US troops who were posted in the park, Stuart wanted to create a new memorial to troops who launched from the Rame Peninsula to capture the Omaha Beach landing area. He hoped that a permanent memorial could complement the existing American Garden that had been established to commemorate the American troops.
Stuart said: “I wanted to create something lasting to commemorate the lives and sacrifices of the troops of the 29th Infantry Division. Although my name is on the memorial, I had a lot of help in creating it, particularly from Noah Taylor, a Technical Resource Manager, Tom Matthews, a Workshop Coordinator in the Materials Lab, and Ian Hankey, Fab Lab Principal Technician. Between them they helped me a lot with the metalwork and construction of the base. I also had a lot of charitable donations to help towards the costs, for everything from the materials to the transportation and construction.
“I’m proud to think that a sculpture I’ve created will endure for future generations and proud to have made it at Arts University Plymouth. I’ve gone through a lot in my life, seen things that have left me with PTSD and endured accidents that have limited my options physically, but if some good can come from these experiences and if I can give something back and leave something lasting behind then that makes me happy. I hope that people will visit the memorial to remember their loved ones and find some peace.”
Tom Matthews, workshop coordinator for the Materials Lab assists Stuart
Stuart’s memorial will be held temporarily by Mount Edgcumbe House and Country Park until June 2024, when Stuart will formally hand the sculpture over to the estate on the 80th anniversary of D-Day to keep as a permanent tribute to the 29th Infantry Division.
As Stuart enters the final year of his degree at Arts University Plymouth, he is specialising in large-scale metalwork of the kind that can be seen in his memorial sculpture. His work will next be on display and for sale at Drawn to Make: Festival of Contemporary Makers, Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 November from 10am to 5pm at Yelverton Memorial Hall.