Elisabeth Clements (1909 - 2009):
Margaret Elisabeth Clements, known as Betty, was born in Downpatrick in her family home on 1st April 1909. She was the youngest of the four children of James Clements, manager, then owner of Downpatrick Timber Slate & Coal Co. and his wife Elisabeth. Clements lived with an aunt in Belfast for much of her youth, attending the Belfast Royal Academy and at the Belfast School of Art (1928-31), where she studied sculpture under Seamus Stoupe. Following this Clements studied alongside George MacCann and Mercy Hunter at the Royal College of Art in London. Here she was taught by Henry Moore and woodcarving by Alan Durst from 1931-34. The time spent in London was a great influence on Clements’ sculpture work - she later commented on the difficulty of developing her own style and in breaking free from Moore’s prevailing and largely overwhelming influence - and it was here that she saw Eric Gill’s Genesis. During the 1930s Clements was one of a group of Northern Irish art students in London and she was close friends with MacCann, Hunter, Crawford Mitchell, William Tocher, William Scott, Jean MacGregor, and James D. McCord who she would marry in 1937.
Clements was awarded a travelling scholarship from the RCA for her diploma piece The Visitation, and her interest wood carving led her to Germany to study medieval carving and limewood sculpture. Clements was originally interested in studying Egyptian carving, but could not afford to travel to Egypt. While she was in Germany in 1934 she reportedly found the attitude of the Nazi Brown Shirts and Black Shirts boorish and, as a young woman on her own, very annoying. Nevertheless while in Germany she came under the influence of fourteenth century Church woodcarving and it proved to be a visit that was to shape Clements’ sculpture on her return to Belfast, where she continued to carve in wood.
While still studying at the RCA Clements exhibited with the Ulster Academy of Arts and showed six sculptures, including study of a girl with mandolin in wood, at the Northern Irish Guild of Artists in 1933. After her return to Belfast in 1934 she exhibited as a member of the Ulster Unit, alongside MacCann, Crawford, Hunter and her husband. That same year she showed a half figure in bronze of Miss Odette Davies at the Royal Academy in London and submitted work to the International Arts and Crafts Exhibition in 1935. Clements and her husband were founding members of the Art Teachers Association (N.I.) in 1936 and in 1940 she trained with St John’s Ambulance and served as Air Raid Warden in north Belfast until 1945. Following the Second World War Clements attended evening classes in pottery, taught by the artist Jean McGregor. During the 1940s and 1950s Clements taught art at Stranmillis College. She was a close friend and mentor to the sculptor Carolyn Mulholland and after a break of forty years Clements continued to exhibit sculpture and paintings in Belfast from 1970s until the 1990s. She helped to establish a fund in her husband’s name following his death in 1999 and she was a patron of the Down County Museum, which held a retrospective of her work in 2000. She died in March 2009, just short of her hundredth birthday. Archives of her work are held at the Down County Museum and at the RCA.
Black, E and Simpson, M L:Art of Down: the fine art collection of Down County Museum, Yearbook of Down County Museum, 2011.
© 2017 Ulster History Circle