click photo to enlarge
Is durability a quality that we require in public sculpture? There are arguments for and against that proposition. If the sculpture is mediocre or bad we might wish for it to be momentary, the sort of thing that soon falls apart and is taken away. If it's high quality and durable we will usually be pleased for it to remain, though if it's good but poorly made we may well find ourselves balking at the cost of restoration. Another consideration is that tastes change over time, and what is lauded when new might be castigated a hundred years later. My view is that sculpture should be made to last: that a society should accept the good, the bad and the indifferent that is bequeathed to us by each generation. Why? Well, such sculpture offers not only an aesthetic experience and a piece of public art, but it is a memorial of past taste, and a small slice of history: as such it offers us something useful even when we don't like it.
I was reflecting on this the other day as I stood in the main street at Sleaford, Lincolnshire. Next to me were some railings-cum-sculpture, and nearby was a prominent Victorian monument that parts the traffic on this busy thoroughfare. I've said elsewhere that public furniture and fixings that try to be artistic and utilitarian at the same time rarely succeed in either function. And that's the case, in my opinion, with the Richard Bett's ship/fishes/wyvern that form the railings of the small garden at this location. This "Sleaford Pride" sculpture of 2001 uses imagery associated with the town, but is too obviously a tricked up barrier, and the sculpture part I find too slight. The Handley Memorial, a Victorian re-working of the Eleanor Cross idea, dates from 1850. The overall design is William Boyle's, and the sculpture of Henry Handley M.P. is by John Thomas. It is a well-made but fairly unexceptional example of a Victorian memorial to a noteworthy man. It has lasted for 110 years so far, and looks like it has a century or two in it still, so it is certainly durable. The modern sculpture is positively new-born by comparison, and even though it is made of steel, is unlikely to have a comparably long future ahead of it.
Standing near these two examples of the sculptor's art I tried to incorporate both in a single shot. The best image I managed is this one with the wyvern's head looking like it is about to take a bite out of the old stone monument.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen
Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 8.8mm (41mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f4
Shutter Speed: 1/640
Exposure Compensation: -0.66 EV
Image Stabilisation: On