Thursday, July 18, 2013

Public Sculpture

Today's Guardian Country Diary described the woven willow sculptures at the Woodland Trust's Low Burnhall farm reserve near Durham. The Coal Miner has been in place for a couple of years now and, judging by the number of people who have their photograph taken next to him, he's captured the affections of many visitors.

Art critics are often rather snooty about public art installations, such as Antony Gormley's Angel of the North, but if one of the tests of meaningful public art is that it provokes a reaction and instils a sense of public ownership,then it (and the Coal Miner) are resoundingly successful. If you drive past the Angel of the North at any time of day you'll almost always see people standing in front of it, adopting its pose and having their photo taken. These willow sculptures at Low Burnhall provoke much the same reaction.

The Coal Miner enjoys a wonderful view over the reserve from his perch on the escapement. Down below him there was once a short-lived colliery, whose traces have almost disappeared.

Recently the Coal Miner has been joined by his wife - again, a willow-woven sculpture, twice life-size - situated under a hedge at the other end of the reserve.........

........... where she's feeding here willow-woven hens.

Both sculptures are the work of Ruth Thompson (of Sylvan Skills) and Anna Turnbull (of Biteabout Arts).

I particularly like the way that the Miner's Wife looks up to the sky, as if sensing a change in the weather.

She was installed last autumn, so stood there throughout the worst of last winters snow and freezing winds. 

Recently when we visited we noticed something new about her and her flock. Some kind soul, perhaps mindful of that long winter, had knitted scarves for her chickens (double-click the image above to enlarge and see these more clearly) .......

....... and woolly hats for the eggs in the basket that she carries over her arm. 

Clearly, someone has great affection for this public art installation too.........


  1. Brilliant sculptures. Love to see those made with 'natural' materials. I must admit I have never liked the Angel of the North but then I have only seen photos.

  2. There was a lot of adverse comment about the Angel when it first appeared John, but I think most people in Gateshead are rather pleased with it now and it has become the focus of civic pride. Gateshead used to be just a place you travelled through on your way to and from Newcastle, but the Angel has become a potent symbol of Gateshead's regeneration, with world class developments like the Baltic Centre for Modern Art and the Sage concert Hall which have followed since. Some of Gateshead's neighbours on the other side of the Tyne are quite jealous....