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Inspired by Jack Merritt: Cows about Cambridge art that shows the value of learning in prisons



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The wait is almost over. Cows about Cambridge, the enormous 10-week art trail supported by the Cambridge Independent, begins on Monday (June 28).

David Merritt and wife Anne at Herd HQ in The Grafton looking at the cow 'Entwining of Two Worlds'. Picture: Keith Heppell
David Merritt and wife Anne at Herd HQ in The Grafton looking at the cow 'Entwining of Two Worlds'. Picture: Keith Heppell

Among the 44 large cow sculptures on the trail is one inspired by Jack Merritt, the University of Cambridge graduate killed in the Fishmongers’ Hall terror attack.

His father, David Merritt, visited Herd HQ at The Grafton on Tuesday (June 22) to take a look at the colourful work of art, called ‘Entwining of Two Worlds’, which was created by prisoners at HMP Warren

Hill.

Jack’s desire to pursue fairness for those on the edges of society, and his commitment to rehabilitation rather than revenge, led him to become the course co-ordinator for the Butler Law Course at the Suffolk prison.

David Merritt and wife Anne at Herd HQ in The Grafton looking at the cow 'Entwining of Two Worlds'. Picture: Keith Heppell
David Merritt and wife Anne at Herd HQ in The Grafton looking at the cow 'Entwining of Two Worlds'. Picture: Keith Heppell

While there, he met prison art teacher Tom Cringle. “Jack and I approached the Cows about Cambridge team together, to see if we could be part of the art trail, but unfortunately Jack died before the sculpture could be realised,” explained Tom.

“We decided to follow the project through, but felt it would be respectful to alter our original design by incorporating thoughtful phases and testimonials about Jack and his work here at Warren Hill.”

The life-size fibreglass cow sculpture has been hand-painted by seven prisoners. Two trees in blossom form the basis of the design, illustrating how inmates at HMP Warren Hill and students studying at the University of Cambridge work collaboratively on the Butler Law Course.

David Merritt and wife Anne at Herd HQ in The Grafton looking at the cow 'Entwining of Two Worlds' with artist Tom Cringle. Picture: Keith Heppell
David Merritt and wife Anne at Herd HQ in The Grafton looking at the cow 'Entwining of Two Worlds' with artist Tom Cringle. Picture: Keith Heppell

One of the trees is depicted on the sculpture as twisted and restrained, the other free-flowing and lush. At the point where the branches of the two trees entwine and grow together, they sprout fresh leaves, blossom and flowers.

Although the sculpture pays homage to Jack, it is the principle behind the project that best represents his legacy. Tom said: “Real-world projects like this one demonstrate the value of education in the prison system. The artists who worked on this sculpture did so with skill, respect, dignity and pride. Education doesn’t just pass the time, it’s a vital part of rehabilitation.

“It’s the platform for learning new skills, and links to future employment. It creates hope and increases the chance of a positive outcome after release. Jack knew this. He believed in second chances and consistently looked for the best in people.”

Cows await deployment on Sunday at Herd HQ in The Grafton. Picture: Keith Heppell
Cows await deployment on Sunday at Herd HQ in The Grafton. Picture: Keith Heppell

Jack, who was 25 and from Cottenham, was course co-ordinator for the university’s Learning Together prisoner education programme. His parents, Dave and Anne, said: “Jack reconnected with his artistic side through working with students on the Learning Together course at Warren Hill, and other prisons he worked in.

"Jack appreciated the therapeutic and personal growth aspects of art, and he definitely regarded it as pleasure, not work.

“We encouraged Jack to appreciate all forms of art from a young age, and he particularly enjoyed conceptual and political artists such as Ai Weiwei and Marina Abramovic. Jack would be honoured and amused in equal measure to have a cow dedicated in his name in the Cows about Cambridge project.

David Merritt and wife Anne at Herd HQ in The Grafton looking at the cow 'Entwining of Two Worlds'. Picture: Keith Heppell
David Merritt and wife Anne at Herd HQ in The Grafton looking at the cow 'Entwining of Two Worlds'. Picture: Keith Heppell

"We hope it makes people think about the power of art to help prisoners on their journey towards rehabilitation and reintegrating in society.” Tom added: “I’d love to see more artists, poets and writers involved in helping inmates to see life from a new perspective – and it doesn’t have to be as complicated as delivering a four-foot hollow cow into a Category C prison during a pandemic!”

The Cows about Cambridge sculpture trail has been created by global event producers, Wild in Art, and will raise money for the children’s charity, Break. It runs until Saturday, September 4 across Cambridge city centre and also includes 46 mini moos, giving a total of 90 cow sculptures to visit.

For more on the trail, visit cowsaboutcambridge.co.uk - and don't miss the 10-page guide, including full trail map, in this week's Cambridge Independent.

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