public art in the UK and Ireland

Once or twice a year my father drove our family from the farm in north Florida for weekend visit to my relatives in Daytona. Our travel always took us through Palatka. This was a highpoint of my trip because I loved the bronze statues of service men with the eagle sitting on top of the bronze globe at the top of the arch. It’s the Memorial Bridge across the St. John’s River and was erected to the memory of soldiers and sailors of Putnam County, Florida. Each time we crossed the long concrete bridge, I sat enthralled by the miles and miles of vessel laden river. My father would casually remark that the soldiers were all taken down twice a year. Of course–as he knew I would–I’d always ask why.  “So they can pee and have a bath.” As you can see, I’m not entirely responsible for my coarse–some might say crude–sense of humor. I respond best to the simpler themes of uncelebrated people and animals, caught in simple and everyday events. Those that tell a story of sorts.

I like this lion because the artist made it look so easy that I could do it myself if I just had a big enough rock and a hammer and chisel. The Lion of Scotland it’s called, by Ronald Rae, is the traditional symbol both of power and of Scottish identity. It once stood between the royal palace of Holyrood House (Edinburgh Castle) and the home of the Parliament, but it was moved in 2010 to the St. Andrew Square Garden in the middle of Edinburgh where I took this shot. If you’re looking to buy a lawn sculpture–perhaps as a Christmas gift or as a means to publicly denote your Scottish heritage–this one is for sale. Be advised, though–for shipping purposes–it’s sculpted of granite, is about 8 x 17 x 7 feet in size, and it weighs 20 tons.

Gretna Green is a small town in Dumfriesshire County in Scotland on the road south from Edinburgh to northwest England. It’s biggest claim to fame, as far as I can tell, is the number of marriages performed there every year. Parliament passed a law in England in 1753 requiring parental consent for anyone under 21 years of age to marry. In Scotland, the legal age for marriage was 14 for boys, 12 for girls–with or without–parental consent. Obviously, these conflicting ages of consent caused a lot of problems for irate parents, and Gretna Green soon became famous for runaway marriages. Another peculiar Scottish law at that time, that allowed anyone to perform marriages, led the two blacksmith shops to begin performing marriages there to earn extra money. They quickly became known as anvil priests and were very popular for eloping couples from England. According to an online Gretna Green wedding history, young couples often were chased by at least one set of angry parents, and that on occasions the ceremony would be halted and the young couple hustled into the nearest bed. When the angry father found the couple in bed together he would head home in disgust, thinking he was too late. Once the father had gone, the couple would then continue with their wedding.

Moving on to Limerick in Ireland, I’m reminded of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, and it actually is the setting for both the book and the movie. It may be the vividness of detail McCourt recalled in the book that color my impression, but oh well. To me it will always be a depressing place. The fact that it was raining during the one night we spent there did not help either. Neither does this statue of a hurling player and a rugby player on a downtown street in Limerick do anything to dispel my overall impression. For the sake of the people who live there, I hope I’m wrong. To say I am not a sports aficionado would be an understatement. Except that apparently the people of Limerick love football–all kinds–I find no romance in violent sports and, alas, no story either.

Dublin is a different story. Except for its busy-ness that I generally disliked, I found it quite a colorful place. I wish we’d had more time for exploring there. Much of its charm I attribute to those wonderful doors of Dublin all around the city, and Molly Malone the lass who wheeled her wheelbarrow through streets straight and narrow singing cockles and mussels alive alive-o, designed by Jeanne Rynhart. It’s quite rare, I understand from the locals, to find her all alone without tourists posing next to her, but here she is. Gee, now I wonder why her breasts are not as dark as the dress she’s almost wearing? Our local guide, a quite proper looking woman, I thought rather gleefully pointed out her various nicknames among Dubliners: Tart with the Cart, Trollop that sold Scallops, Dolly with the Trolley, Dish with the Fish, and Flirt in the Skirt.

Backtracking a tiny bit here, Chester was by far my favorite town in England. One of its most unique features is the nearly two-miles of walls surrounding most of the city center that makes the most complete Roman and medieval defensive wall system in Britain that served as inspiration for artist Stephen Broadbent’s Celebration of Chester sculpture I found near a tourist information center just outside a shopping mall. The three intertwined bronze figures symbolize three important aspects–thanksgiving, protection, and industry–that reflect the personal and corporate life of the city.

Nearby we found this baby elephant that looks so real, our first impulse was to reach out and stroke it. I wanted to take it home with me, but decided to capture this image instead. Its creator, Anna Yarrow, grew up in India in the 1930s and 1940s and thus has first hand knowledge of elephants. Remarkably lifelike, this bronze beauty was a gift from the Chester Zoo to celebrate the friendship between the zoo and the city of Chester.

At this point, I’m realizing the futility of placing 15/16 pictures into one post. Rather than leaving some out, I should stop now and leave the remaining ones for another post. In the meantime, friends of ours recently returned from a visit to Chicago, shared pictures of a couple of new pieces of public art they saw there. Just to show the U.S. will not be left behind in the premise of public art, I share one here with you today and hold the other, my favorite, until the next post. I hope you’ll come back and see it another day.

[photo credits: John and Pam Sanders]

According to Wikipedia, Cloud Gate, a sculpture by Indian-born British artist, Anish Kapoor, is the centerpiece in this loop community area of Chicago. From another angle you can see a 12-foot-high arch providing a gate to a concave chamber beneath the sculpture, inviting visitors to touch its mirror-like surface and see their image reflected back from a variety of perspectives. Chicagoans immediately dubbed it The Bean because of its bean-like shape. It’s made up of 168 stainless steel plates welded together with highly polished exterior with no visible seams. Pretty fantastic, huh?!

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10 thoughts on “public art in the UK and Ireland

    • Make your reservations! Only please choose a nice day as Chicago can be fiercely cold in the winter and spring! We’ll all go, since I’ve added the bean to my bucket list.

    • You seem to be ahead of SLC this year on the snow, Colleen! But if you don’t mind my saying so, *you can have it! we don’t want it! *Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

  1. I love public sculpture and really enjoyed your choices. My favorite it the lion. I don’t understand how they could bear to sell it.

    I’ve seen the bean many times, since I’m in Chicago almost as much as New York, but I don’t think I’ve ever looked at it from that angle. Have to check it out next time. Let me know when you are coming to Chicago. Maybe I can meet you there.

    • I’ll certainly do that! My question is, do you have an opinion on the best time to visit Chicago? I was there in May and nearly froze! Is summertime better? or fall?

  2. The photo of Snookie and the baby elephant reminded me of our trip to India, even though we did not have enough time to visit the elephant reserve. On your next trip to Pittsburgh, I’ll show you all the public art that has been erected since you left. We’re good at recycling old monuments. PS: I didn’t like that china pattern either and returned it shortly after I purchased it. This was an omen to my feelings about Peter.

    • Next time the animal reserve for sure. Hubby speaks now of spending a month or two in a rental home there during the less desirable weather here; you should plan to join us for part of the time if that should come to pass. As for Pittsburgh’s public art, I was expecting maybe a dinosaur exhibit–perhaps in your back yard. Your neighbor could be a visitor guide; bet she’d love that! 😆

  3. Happy Thanksgiving to the two of you.

    Nope, I Googled all new barnum books and came up with one on PT Barnum. Grandfather always said he wasn’t part of the family, but mother said he was. LOL Nope I couldn’t find the new book. So sorry about the note feature on my blog. You can always go to the other one…..if you can get in.

    In Open Diary, I am Georgette and the blog name is Day Tripper. 🙂 Same stuff.

    http://www.opendiary.com/entrylist.asp?authorcode=C100459

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