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A giant canary bird and Edith Cavell on a bench - Norwich society member calls for more public art in city

PUBLISHED: 19:31 19 September 2017 | UPDATED: 19:31 19 September 2017

Photo essay. Norwich statues. The statue of the Duke of Wellington at Upper Close, Norwich Cathedral. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

Photo essay. Norwich statues. The statue of the Duke of Wellington at Upper Close, Norwich Cathedral. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

archant 2017

From a giant canary bird that fans touch for good luck on their way to Carrow Road, to a bench outside a Norwich hospital featuring Edith Cavell.

In 2009, the charity Statues for Norwich was founded to encourage more sculptures in the city. 
It raised £30,000 for its initial project, a sculpture celebrating the Norwich School of Artists, on St Martin at Palace Plain. Photo:  Statues for Norwich In 2009, the charity Statues for Norwich was founded to encourage more sculptures in the city. It raised £30,000 for its initial project, a sculpture celebrating the Norwich School of Artists, on St Martin at Palace Plain. Photo: Statues for Norwich

These are some of the ideas put forward by a member of the Norwich Society who believes the city’s empty spaces need bringing to life with more artwork.

In a letter, Alec Hartley has highlighted a lack of “eye-catching” and “funny” works of art, which can be found in cities elsewhere in Europe.

He said that such pieces - whether they are sculptures, fountains or reliefs - can help bring history to life.

Mr Hartley said the biennial GoGo sculpture trails was a good example of the positive impact art can have.

Alec Hartley has highlighted a lack of “eye-catching” and “funny” works of art, which can be found in cities elsewhere in Europe. Photo: Alec Hartley Alec Hartley has highlighted a lack of “eye-catching” and “funny” works of art, which can be found in cities elsewhere in Europe. Photo: Alec Hartley

“Anyone who watches the armies of children, their parents and assorted tourists on photo-trails when the GoGo creatures are in town will see the power of visual, representational art at work,” he added.

His own idea, would be a for a giant canary bird on Riverside plaza, which City fans could touch its feet or beak for luck on their way to a match.

“I believe the works must be representational, not abstract,” he said.

“A friend and colleague has suggested a bench with Edith Cavell sitting on one end outside the Norfolk and Norwich [University Hospital] so trainee nurses can have their pictures taken with their great heroine.”

A statue of a beggar in Budapest. Photo: Alec Hartley A statue of a beggar in Budapest. Photo: Alec Hartley

His views have been echoed by other individuals and organisations in Norwich, who all believe the city would benefit from more public art.

The Norwich Business Improvement District (BID) has already started to introduce new artwork to the city, with various large murals on buildings.

Martin Blackwell, operations manager, said public art can have a positive impact on local business as it can attract more visitors.

He said the Tunnel of Light, which was installed over the Christmas period last year in Norwich, received 8m shares on social media.

“Tens of thousands of people walked through it, and that [the tunnel] was a form of art,” he said. “Art is a really important piece of the city’s culture.”

Mr Blackwell said that as well as another mural on Arcade Street, BID was now looking at London Street as a potential venue for another work in the future.

Statue in honour of Norwich pub landlord

Admiral Lord Nelson, Queen Victoria, Winston Churchill and Edith Cavell have all been immortalised as statues and now a Norwich pub landlord is set for the same honour.

A life-size, bronze-effect sculpture of Phil Cutter will be unveiled outside the Murderers pub by BT Sport presenter Jake Humphrey later this week.

The unusual ceremony is part of a new Manager of the Month award being launched by BT this week to celebrate landlords who use sport to bring people together.

Mr Cutter will be one of the first publicans in the country to win the award - and have a fibreglass statue of themselves unveiled.

He said he did not know whether it was a wind-up or not when he first got the call.

“I was approached a few months ago. They said they were starting a new scheme to try and show that there’s a lot of publicans out there that do things to try and promote their pub.

“To be honest I thought why would anyone want to make a life-size sculpture of me but he said it was going to have a big national profile.

“I came round to thinking it wasn’t a wind up and it was real.”

Mr Cutter, who has worked at the Timber Hill pub since 1987 and last year pulled his one-millionth pint, went down to Pinewood Studios to have his body digitally mapped by cameras for the statue.

He said: “I was in this studio in the middle of Pinewood where they recreate models for Star Wars.”

Mr Cutter said he stood still while 160 cameras, which were all trained on him, took a 360-degree picture of him from which his sculpture has been made. The Murderers is renowned for the live sport it shows, particularly football and boxing, and has previously won best sports pub at the Great British Pub Awards.

Mr Cutter, who is also a co-chairman of the Norwich City of Ale Festival, said he was “really very proud” to be recognised in this way.

He said: “You imagine how many pubs there are across the length and breadth of the UK and to not only be considered but have the honour of winning and being one of the first ones, I’m really very proud.”

The landlord said the statue would be found a place somewhere on the premises which was a way for him to “be at the pub all the time now”.

Sculpture plan for St Martin at Palace Plain

This is not the first time someone has attempted to get more public artwork in Norwich.

In 2009, the charity Statues for Norwich was founded to encourage more sculptures in the city. It raised around £30,000 for its initial project - a sculpture celebrating the Norwich School of Artists, on St Martin at Palace Plain.

Artist Mariele Neudecker proposed a see-through, yet reflective glass screen, which also combined photographs of trees - one of the outstanding features of the work of Cotman and Crome, the leading artists of the Norwich School.

But Since Palace Plain is a conservation area and Cotman House is a listed building, any changes needed the approval of English Heritage.

When the group consulted the organisation, it rejected the proposal stating it was inappropriate. An alternative proposal was also unpopular with relevant planners, and it marked the end of the road for the project.

The letter from Alec Hartley

What is it that makes our great city Norwich great? Its mighty history, its built heritage, its liveliness, its focus on shopping, its cultural life, its two thriving universities?

All of these, of course, but there is another aspect that we simply take for granted – the open spaces, the squares and gardens where citizens mingle, chat or simply watch the world go by.

We have a wealth of these – ranging from ancient ones such as Tombland, the Market Place, Chapelfield Gardens and St Martin at Palace Plain to more modern additions such as the Riverside plaza and, most recently, All Saints’ Green.

In other great cities of the world these spaces would be full of public art. Sculptures, dancing fountains, reliefs, all bring history to life, acting as a focus for interest, for discussion and for selfies. We don’t have nearly enough of these.

Yes, we have the City Hall lions, memorials to Edith Cavell and the dead of two World Wars, Sir Thomas Browne in the Haymarket and a few others, concentrated particularly around the Cathedral. Private enterprise contributed John Moray-Smith’s great bas-reliefs in St Stephen’s Road and Denmark Road. But that’s more or less it.

Where are the visual memorials to the Kett brothers, our great industries like weaving and shoe-making, philanthropists like Elizabeth Fry and the Colmans?. And where are the eye-catching, plain funny works of art springing up in many other cities both here and abroad?

Recently I visited Bratislava, capital of Slovakia. Its squares are full of sculpture both humorous and historic.

Thus the Slovaks use humour and history to focus attention on the quality and character of their public spaces. There is something of this in our biennial Gogo sculpture trails at raise money for the great Break charity. Anyone who watches the armies of children, their parents and assorted tourists on photo-trails when the Gogo creatures are in town will see the power of visual, representational art at work.

I emphasise representational because I believe that recent attempts to bring sculpture to the empty spaces of Norwich have failed because the art establishment seems to think that sculpture that tells a story using human or other life forms is somehow unworthy.

The Sir Thomas Browne collection of forms, beneath his earlier, very representational and much-loved bronze statue, have only just received grudging public acceptance as an interesting clutter of street furniture. Sculpture for Norwich foundered without achieving its aim of a memorial to the Norwich School of Artists. So what can be done? There is no point in trying to add more public art in public spaces without the involvement and approval of the public. It is also essential that the city and county councils are involved from the start – severely practical questions such as where you position a multi-tonne sculpture without affecting traffic, pedestrians, underground cabling and pipes have to be settled.

This is where the internet comes in.

A public consultation on potential sites could be followed by another ballot on possible subjects, with maybe a list of suggestions drawn up by a representative group of enthusiasts and experts which can be added to by voters, followed by an on-line competition to pick treatments for the favoured sculpture or sculptures.

As for finance, can you think of a better subject than this for crowd-funding? In straitened times local government finance is severely stretched, popular and specific projects are being successfully funded by appealing to the public over the internet.

Now comes the really interesting question. Who or what should we celebrate in our empty spaces? As before, I believe the works must be representational, not abstract. Personally, my favourite would be a Canary, celebrating not only Norwich City Football Club but symbolising Norwich’s proud history as a community open to all. Canaries were brought here by weavers from the Netherlands fleeing religious persecution – at one time a third of people in the city were so-called ‘Strangers’. Can you imagine a giant bird in the Riverside plaza, with its feet and beak being touched for luck by City supporters on their way to a match? A friend and colleague has suggested a bench with Edith Cavell sitting on one end outside the N&N so trainee nurses can have their pictures taken with their great heroine. What do you think?

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