A new sculpture celebrating the life of Robert Owen was unveiled in Newtown this weekend 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 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 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 with the white marble.

The National Wales: Welsh social reformer and political icon, Robert Owen. Source: National Library of WalesWelsh social reformer and political icon, Robert Owen. Source: National Library of Wales

The unveiling of the new artwork was part of a festival celebrating the legacy of Mr Owen, alongside fashion designer Laura Ashley, entrepreneur Pryce Jones, and Barry Docks industrialist David Davies, in Newtown this weekend.

The Powys Pioneer Heritage Festival was held at the iconic Royal Welsh Warehouse, which is also known as the Pryce Jones building.

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

Who was Robert Owen?

Robert Owen is most known as a leading figure in the utopian socialist movement, which aimed to present a vision of ideal, ethical communities based on fairness that could become possible in some future time.

The term "utopian socialist" was given to figures like Owen by later theorist Karl Marx, whose ideas still form the basis of left wing socialist movements across Wales and the world today.

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Robert Owen – One of Wales’s greatest political icons

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Mr Owen is also known as one of the founding fathers of co-operativism, in which people come together to jointly own and operate a business or other enterprise solely to meet their own needs and the needs of the local community.

Examples of co-operatives in Wales today include Egni Co-op, a community owned solar energy company, and South Caernarfon Creameries, a farmer-owned dairy that produces cheese and butter.

Additional reporting: Rebecca Wilks

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