Josefina was the only daughter of the Brazilian Hyppolito Hermes de Vasconcellos Consul General for Brazil in Liverpool England. His mother was sister to Marechal Hermes da Fonseca who was the first Military leader elected by public vote in Brazil.
Her grandfather was brother to the first President of Brazil Marechal Deodoro da Fonceca who was a Brazilian Marshall and politician and became the first Brazilian president. He has been responsible for proclaiming the Brazilian Republic on 15 November 1889 making Brazil independent from Portugal.
His public standing enabled him to lead Republican and antislavery forces, which led to the fall of the Portuguese Empire that ruled Brazil from when it was discovered in 1500AD.
Josefina de Vasconcellos MBE was the great, grand-niece of the first president of Brazil.
England – Josefina came from a talented Quaker family. Her Mother was Freda Coleman the daughter of Alfred Coleman, the dental surgeon of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital who invented the ‘Coleman Gag’ used in anesthetics. Her uncle was the aeronaut, Frank Hedges Butler, and Lord Lister.
Josefina’s cousin was the famous pioneer of antiseptic surgery.
In England and Brazil, Josefina had extraordinary connections through her family and her artwork.
The way we knew Josefina
“with every person that she met she would have a way of making that individual feel hopeful and enthusiastic about an idea and she would always try to find a way to help, even when some of her friends would tell her it wasn’t a good idea but she never listened once she made up her mind.” Santa Tattersall.
Josefina produced hundreds of sculptures including many for both public and private commissions in the UK and around the world. When not sculpting, she painted, wrote poetry, made music, danced or spent time helping others. She had a love of life, a wonderful sense of humour and limitless energy.
She met and married Delmar Banner, a painter, academic and Anglican lay preacher. Her love of God and nature is visibly expressed in the timeless quality of her work.
Josefina was influenced by many life experiences. She enjoyed a memorable time with relatives in Brazil and spent her student years touring Europe with her mother listening to music and appreciating art. She studied sculpture at the London Polytechnic under Harold Brownsword FRBS, in Paris under Bourdelle, in Florence under Anderotti and at the Royal Academy Schools.
At the age of twenty, (1924) she gained her first large scale commission for the Church of St. Valery at Varengeville. She was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy and the Paris salon, a fellow of the Royal British Society of Sculptors and a co- founder of the Society of Portrait Sculptors.
Some of her best known works were inspired by her reaction to the two World Wars. The Prince of Peace, a war memorial sited in Aldershot, was carved from an eight ft. piece of Portland stone which had been rejected by Christopher Wren in the building of St. Pauls cathedral.
She held two joint exhibitions with Delmar Banner at the Royal Watercolour society Galleries in London in 1946 and 1954.
The two large sculptures which were intended for the 1946 exhibition, Christ the Judge and The Last Chimera were too massive to go into the gallery, so Josefina arranged for them to be displayed on a bombsite at 35 Piccadilly. Thousands of people saw them there, and found the presence of art among the rubble strangely encouraging at a time when Britain was weary and worn.
In 1977 she was commissioned to make a sculpture for the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford University where later she received an honorary doctorate. In 1995 this sculpture, which had been originally titled “Reunion” was renamed “Reconciliation” and was chosen to mark the 50th anniversary of VJ Day. Sir Richard Branson contributed the finance for bronze castings to the old Coventry Cathedral, the gardens at Stormont in Belfast, the Peace Gardens of Hiroshima and then another one was placed at the Berlin Wall Memorial on the occasion of the re-opening of the Reichstag in 1999.
The Belfast version was presented by the dean of Coventry Cathedral and Sir Richard Branson, and was unveiled in November 2000 by First and Deputy Ministers, David Trimble and Seamus Mallon. During the ceremony representatives from Belfast, Coventry, Hiroshima and Berlin threw pebbles from their respective countries into the sculpture`s surrounding water garden, where stone boulders bear the names of those cities.
The inscription on the sculpture reads; “These sculptures remind us that human dignity and love will triumph over disaster and bring us together in respect and peace.”
The sculpture depicts a man and a woman embracing each other across barbed wire. Describing the inspiration for the piece Josefina said “The sculpture was originally conceived in the aftermath of the war. Europe was in shock, people were stunned. I read in a newspaper about a woman who had crossed Europe on foot to find her husband, and I was so moved that I made the sculpture. Then I thought that it wasn`t only about the reunion of nations which had been fighting.”
“Reconciliation has become something of an international icon, and represents what this sculptor set out as her guiding principle many years before, when she described sculpture as not only an art but a message. It is the voice of man through the ages in which his very thoughts, his noblest beliefs and aspirations are perpetuated in stone.” Magaret Lewis
In her profile of Josefina, “Love Set in Stone” 07/02/1998, Sue Gaisford refers to Josefina`s encounter with approved school boys (when she was working on “The Last Chimera”) which led to her developing a ruined farm in Ulpha with boys and officers all working together, cooking, building and clowning around. They were able to meet children in wheelchairs and “off they went carrying them, taking them up the fells over the lakes and afterwards, cooking them supper in the farmhouse.”
This led to the conversion of the derelict trawler “Harriet” into a play centre for disabled children on the coast at Millom. With swings and carts for the children to enjoy a sense of speed, and freedom, a huge multi-textured carpet so that blind children could dance barefoot knowing where they were by touch, this led to Josefina being awarded the MBE for her work with disadvantaged children.