A NEW sculpture celebrating the life of Robert Owen was unveiled in Newtown last Saturday, May 14, on what would have been Mr Owen’s 251st birthday.

Mr Owen, a Welsh textile manufacturer, philanthropist and social reformer, was born in Newtown on May 14, 1771.

The public artwork was commissioned as part of a project to mark the 250th anniversary. The official unveiling of the sculpture – designed to illustrate a roll of textile material with strands flowing behind – was supposed to take place on the 250th anniversary of Mr Owen’s death a year ago, but Covid restrictions saw it postponed.

Instead, it was unveiled at Trehafren Fields by deputy minister for arts and sports Dawn Bowden and the new High Sheriff of Powys, Tom Jones.

The sculpture was made by artist Howard Bowcott and has been created to reflect all aspects of Mr Owen’s history, both as an innovator and socialist but also as a man who originally used cotton from plantations worked by slaves in America for his materials.

Mr Bowcott said he hoped the sculpture will act as a platform for debate and a place for socialising.

Writers Sadia Pineda Hameed and Dylan Huw were commissioned to work with the community and compose words in response to Mr Owen’s history through the lens of the 21st Century – words written by the pair appear engraved in black along the sides of the sculpture to contrast the white marble which it is primarily covered by.

“Robert Owen made his money from textiles so I quickly came up with idea of a roll of textiles,” said Mr Bowcott.

“There’s this roll of cloth unfurled and then it unravels the threads of Robert Owen’s life.

“He did some wonderful things in his factories and with his pioneering beliefs but I wanted to tell the other side of the story which is that his cotton came from black slave camps in America. In these more enlightened times it hits home a bit harder.

“The piece I hope depicts both sides of his life. With the top half of the sculpture in white you’re seeing his whiter than white reputation, while on the sides you’re seeing the multi-layered aspects and words from poems by Sadia Pineda Hameed and Dylan Huw.

“The poems are about working together and cooperation and I wanted to tell both sides of the story of Robert Owen.”

The unveiling of the new artwork was part of a festival celebrating the legacy of Mr Owen, alongside Laura Ashley, Pryce Jones and David Davies, that took place in Newtown last weekend.

The Powys Pioneer Heritage Festival was held at the iconic Royal Welsh Warehouse, which is also known as the Pryce Jones building, from 2pm on May 14.

As well as coinciding with the birth of Mr Owen it is also the 60th anniversary of Laura and Bernard Ashley relocating their business to Carno.