Original mosaics designed for Norwich Central Library by Norfolk artist Laurel Cooper now on display at Norwich Millennium library

30 August 2017

Rescued from the fire at Norwich Central Library in August 1994, this original set of mosaics were designed and created in the early 1960s by local artist Laurel Cooper. There were five of them in total each depicting the history of the written word.

Recently found earlier this year covered in soot in the basement at County Hall, the mosaics have since been restored to their former glory and are now on display at the Norwich Millennium library.

Laurel Cooper artist, now 88 years old is returning to Norfolk this week and has been invited to the Millennium Library with her family to review her mosaic work in their new home on 30 August. Laurel Cooper lived for a time in Norfolk and was renowned for her work on mosaics and stained glass.

Councillor Margaret Dewsbury, chairman of Norfolk County Council’s Communities Committee, said  “ These mosaics were iconic in their time and will spark many memories for people who visited Norwich Central Library before the fire in 1994. They were a historic part of the former library and it’s wonderful to see that they have now been reinstated in the Norfolk Heritage Centre at the Millennium library”.

Head of Norfolk County Council's library and information service Jan Holden said, “It took a long time to find them, but we found them earlier this year still covered in soot from the fire more than 20 years ago, and have cleaned them up and put them on display in the Millennium Library on the second floor. People who can remember the mosaics in the old library are invited to pop in and see them during library opening hours. We’re very pleased to be able to welcome Laurel Cooper to the Millennium library on Wednesday 30 August”.

Bill and Laurel install mosaic panels in Library (KEYSTONE)
Bill and Laurel install mosaic panels

Notes to editors

History of the mosaics

The 5 sets of mosaics were rescued from the fire in August 1994 and since then have been languishing in the basement at County Hall until a NCC former employee, Anne Cormie, whose father was part of the architects team who designed the original library urged us to find them and reinstate them in the Millennium Library.

The mosaics can be viewed at the Norfolk Heritage Centre on the second floor at the Millennium Library.

The story of the mosaics – in Laurel's words

The mosaics depict the history of the written word.

The first figure is an Assyrian, the writing is cuneiform on clay tablets.

The second is Egyptian writing in painted or sculpted hieroglyphics.

The third is a mediaeval monk, writing and illuminating manuscripts in uncials or script in beautiful calligraphy.

The fourth is the introduction of the printing press-probably Gutenberg’s but perhaps Caxton—I don’t recall my reference. The machines are very similar.

The last figure is a librarian helping a child to read.

Laurel talks about her mosaics commission for Norwich Central Library:  “All designs have to go before committees. I had designed the last panel with two females. They wanted me to change the child to a boy. There were already four men depicted, now they wanted a fifth. This was the 1950s, remember, very male directed. I had trouble with some of the older generation disapproving of my “wasting time on frivolity when I should be directing all my energy to husband, home, and children.” Thank goodness my husband, and the architects who commissioned me, were much more modern in outlook. Today I would have stuck to my guns, but I was a child of my time and I gave way. So reading and writing are symbolised by five males and one female. Totally wrong!”

Other works of Laurel Cooper include the Memorial to Fishermen stained glass window in Lowestoft parish Church, a “Miraculous draught of Fishes” in the Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen also in Lowestoft, and works are also displayed at the following local pubs:

St John’s Head, the Coach and Horses, and Falstaff Arms all in Gt Yarmouth

The Ark Royal, Wells next the sea, and The Queen Edith, Cambridge

For political comment 

Cllr Margaret Dewsbury (Conservative) Chairman of the Communities Committee, on 01603 759693
Cllr Julie Brociek-Coulton (Labour) on 07786 694325
Cllr Sarah Butikofer (Liberal Democrat) on 07968 897235

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