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Coventry Cathedral sculptor dies

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Inscription carver and sculptor Ralph Beyer is eulogized in the papers this morning for his innovative and controversial work on Basil Spence’s Coventry Cathedral.

In an obituary printed in The Times , Ralph Alexander Beyer (born 1921) is hailed as a divisive figure who effectively created ‘a corporate image for the cathedral’ with his carving of the Tablet of the Words and his invention of a letterform alphabet to provide a distinctive typographical style for the Cathedral’s hymn numbers, decoration and printed material.

Originally from Berlin, it was on the recommendation of architect Erich Mendelsohn (a close friend of his father, art historian Oscar Beyer) that Beyer relocated to England in 1937, where he spent six months as an apprentice to Eric Gill, learning the qualities of carved stone.

He studied at London Central School of Arts and Crafts and at Chelsea School of Art, where he met Henry Moore, with whom he worked briefly before his internment as an enemy alien in a camp at Huyton, Liverpool, at the outbreak of the Second World War.

In a remarkable twist of fate, one of his fellow inmates was Nikolaus Pevsner, then at work on An Outline of European Architecture. According to The Times, Beyer read and discussed each chapter with Pevsner, and after the internment, it was Pevsner who encouraged Spence to meet Beyer.

Beyer’s work at Coventry, which consists primarily of large sandstone slabs carved with words, was influenced by Moore, who agreed that the dominant interior decoration should be lettering, rather than sculpture.

In the article, he is remembered for his modesty, his precise work, and his legacy of changing ‘architectural lettering in Britain from the craft tradition of Gill and his disciples into an art form’.

Beyer passed away on 13 February aged 86.

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