William Moelwyn Merchant was an academic, novelist, sculptor, poet and Anglican priest. He was born in Port Talbot, his first language was Welsh. He was educated at University College, Cardiff. He died in retirement at Leamington Spa.
After teaching at the University of Wales, in 1961 Merchant was appointed Professor and Head of Department of English at the University of Exeter. He was responsible for the beginnings of the study of Drama at the university. He left Exeter in 1974 to teach at the University of Chicago. As an academic, he is best known for his widely used editions of Shakespeare.
In addition to his academic work, Merchant was active in the Church of England. After leaving Chicago he became Canon and Chancellor of Salisbury Cathedral, before returning to Wales to become vicar of Llandewibrefi near Tregaron. Late in life he wrote a series of fictionalised accounts of biblical stories. Merchant published a number of books of poetry, including Breaking the Code (1975), No Dark Glass (1979) and Confrontation of Angels (1986).
In 1964 the distinguished academic, poet and priest began to make sculptures under the influence of his close friend Barbara Hepworth.
'When Barbara Hepworth with a single challenge - "Let's see if you have hands" - had enabled me to break out of my obsession with words, sculpture became a third vocation as natural and inevitable as the first two, of priest and academic.'
He had numerous solo shows, and also exhibited jointly with Josef Herman; his work is still in demand. Examples of it stand on the campuses of the Universities of Stirling (Growing Form), Cardiff (British Triad), Exeter (Ascending Form and Tension) and Warwick (Triad); and in All Saints' Church, Leamington Spa (Confrontation of Angels). He donated Ascending Form to the University of Exeter after his retirement, and both this and Tension now form part of the "Sculpture Walk" through the university campus, along with a piece of Hepworth's, which Merchant was instrumental in obtaining for the university.
His sculpture ‘Helmut’, made of cast iron, can be seen on the grass lawn at the rear of the Orangery.