An account by Peter Bates
When we came to Henfield in 1969 the residents of Hole Farm Studio at Woodmancote were the sculptress Fredda Brilliant with her husband, film maker and translator, Herbert Marshall. Fredda sculpted many of the great figures of 20th century history, including Mahatma Gandhi and J. F. Kennedy. Her most famous statue, a 12ft bronze image of Mahatma Gandhi, stands in the centre of London's Tavistock Square. The project for the statue floundered and was saved in 1966 when the Labour Government stepped in with a grant of £4,000 towards the cost of £9,500.
I remember giving them both a lift home after a jumble sale and being shown round the vast collection of small and large statues that there were in and around her studio. In the 1930s the couple lived in Moscow where Fredda, with no formal artistic training, cast in bronze many Russian film makers and authors, including Sergei Eisenstein and Anton Chekhov. She also sculpted Molotov for the Soviet Government.
Fredda Brilliant, who died in 1999 aged 95 in Illinois, USA, was born into a Jewish family in Lodz, Poland. The family emigrated to Australia where Fredda became an actress and continued to act after emigrating to America in 1930. She also worked there as a scriptwriter and singer. She married Herbert Marshall in 1935 and they came to England in 1937, after their Soviet sojourn, managing to leave while the going was still somewhat good. After the war, in 1947, she played the lead opposite Michael Redgrave in Thunder Rock in London's West End, directed by her husband.
From the late 1940s Fredda and Herbert spent much of their time in India where she sculpted a whole generation of Indian politicians and he made films for the Indian Government. From the mid 1960s the couple alternated between Illinois, where he was professor of Soviet Film and Literature, her London studio in Belsize Park and the converted barn studio in Woodmancote. Herbert Marshall died at Homelands Nursing Home in Cowfold in 1991.
In an obituary in the Independent in June 1999, Patrick Reade writes that Fredda and Herbert returned to Sussex in 1989 and faced a bitter fight to reclaim their home from tenants and lived a very reduced state for many months. Doubtless folk will remember that 'she promenaded around the village of Henfield dressed in long black dresses, tasselled shawl about her shoulders and brilliant headscarf encircing her dark hair and small face - in winter she would wear a fur cost to the knees. With her emotions unleahed, her language let loose and her clothes trailing behind her, she became something of a local legend'.
Text by Peter Bates, as first published in the Henfield Parish Magazine, 2020
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