August 28th - A bit of a strange day. I wasn’t planning on going to work, but ended up called in anyway. It wasn’t a bad commute as it happened, and the journeys were pleasant. On the way home, I passed over the The Bridge in Walsall town centre. It was while there that I spotted something I pass by loads, that is really part of Walsall’s furniture; the concrete hippo. It occurred to me that I’d never featured it here before.
Derided and loved in equal measure, this 1970s artwork has formed a meeting point for a couple of generations of Walsallians. Up until a decade ago, the hippo basked outside BHS, and teenagers, before mobiles and social media would agree to ‘see you by the hippo at 12 o’clock’ or somesuch.
For a while, the hippo image was even used to advertise the Walsall Show.
The story of how our town came to have this bizarre object is complex and not without some debate, but I think all true Walsall folk love it. There is talk of a renovation, of fixing the broken ear. I hope they go through with it.
Walsall is full of surprises. A concrete hippo - without any apparent rhyme or reason - is just one of them. And it’s lovely.
March 23rd - It’s always good to get home. I’m quite liking this new camera, too…
February 12th - a rough video, but it fascinated me. The sign hanging on the inside of the Walsall Wood Pithead sculpture was swinging well in the wind.
I hope it’s attached top the frame better than Bob the Fish was attached to the Walsall Wood Fisherman, which was by the same artist. Bob the fish famously escaped captivity and is presumably still living the life of a trophy fish somewhere in the locality.
Probably best not to stand in close proximity to the pithead during a gale…
January 5th - The Lammas Land isn’t at it’s best this time of year, but it is still nice to ride along the quiet trail. Running the length of the Footherley Brook along the northern perimeter of the village, it’s a lovely community project and facility, of which the villagers are rightly proud.
I’m not sure, however, about the Shining Stone. A stainless steel sculpture standing in the brook by an old pedestrian bridge on the footpath to Ashcroft Lane, it looks like some alien dropping polluting the water.
Put in place in 2002 and designed by artist Jo Naden, it’s said to take inspiration from the derivation of the name ‘Shenstone’, meaning shining or beautiful stone. It was stolen by metal thieves in 2010, to be found in a scrapyard in the Black Country, from whence it was returned (the material it’s made from isn’t that valuable as it happens).
The inscription reads ‘A flock of birds settle the green field re-echoes where there is a brisk bright stream’, an Irish traditional verse.
So help me god, it looks like some metallic turd. But the way the water swirls around it is fascinating.
An odd thing, to be sure.
November 15th - It had been a long day, the energy was low, and I didn’t have much time. I spun up the High Street at teatime and rode the backstreets for a bit. Returning, I looked at something thats so familiar, I rarely pay it much attention: Morris, the Brownhills Miner. Much as I feel uncomfortable with the extravagance in a faltering town, I do love him. John McKenna’s work in drafting all those fragments, then welding them together in a finite-element model like this is stunning, and always has been. So much better than the laser cut by numbers tat in Walsall Wood, this took a really skilled artist a huge amount of time to design, facilitate and build. I just wish the blue lights didn’t make it look so cheap.
Morris is such an obvious and cliched subject, I’ve only rarely featured him here, but it’s worth it, once in a while, just to share him. The politics and cost aside, it’s a terrific thing.
October 18th - I’ve been in Darlaston all this week, and Kings Hill continues to pique my interest. As well as some great faded architecture, this characterful post-industrial borderland between Walsall and Sandwell contains a really great park. Recently refurbished Kings Hill Park - which I erroneously referred to as King George Park in an earlier post for some reason - is hilly, wooded and beautiful. There’s a wonderful new sculpture, and the whole place is wearing autumn beautifully. Emerging into Franchise Street, I admired the view of St. Matthews, Walsall over the rooftops. There are some fantastic old houses here.
Darlaston is full of surprises.
November 18th - Today I made time to take a quick photograph of the concrete play sculpture at Chasewater, featured in a post on my main blog. It was created in 1962 by artist Bryan Blumer as a climbing object for kids, and originally stood in the play park. As Anne Bradbury says, it now somewhat ironically stands on a traffic island with notices requesting kids don’t play on it. Sad.
November 10th - I have an odd relationship with Morris, the Brownhills Miner. I like the sculpture, he’s well-loved, and I really appreciate the work that’s gone into making him. But when it comes down to it, it’s a 10 metre stainless steel miner, lit by blue LED lights. Pretty, but also pretty ineffective. Morris didn’t bring regeneration, or prosperity. He doesn’t symbolise a rebirth or recovery. He just stands, back to the town, holding a lamp out to see if anything better is coming, all the while reminding us of what was lost.
That’s the thing about civic pride, statuary and economics. It’s best done when you’ve fixed the other stuff. It’s not a cure all.
November 1st - I’m experimenting with long exposure settings on the camera. I did a little last year, but largely left the shutter and aperture to the camera. I’m beginning to get a feel for how there settings work now.
I’m not a huge fan of the Walsall Wood Pithead sculpture as many will be aware. I resent the poor engineering and tokenism of it, and the shallowness such artworks always engender. But it does make an interesting subject at night. It’s interesting when it catches the floodlight from the football pitch nearby, it almost appears to be lit from below.
August 23rd - Rust never sleeps. A couple of years after installation, Walsall Wood’s iron cutout people look dreadful, in my opinion. Had they been coated, or made from stainless steel, they would have worked a whole lot better, but the rusted, corroding versions just look like visually confusing scrap these days. The text milled into every figure is very hard to read now, as there’s no contrast due to the oxide.
A wasted opportunity. Walsall Council paid thousands of pounds in development funds for this. Surely a more enduring use of the cash could have been found.
June 26th - Catshill junction has a complex history. A three-arm junction with roving bridge where the Daw End Canal meets the Wyrley and Essington, it was a major toll point for the canal system. The ‘narrows’ here (there are a pair, a third isn’t needed) were where toll masters in the long gone Tonnage House would record the weights of the boats and their cargoes, and charge accordingly. Now, there are nice footpaths, limpid, soft waters and greenery. It’s a lovely, peaceful spot. As teenagers, we challenged each other to jump the narrows here - not seen anyone do that for a while.
Overlooking it all is a sculpture, placed here when the towpaths were upgraded in 2007. Sadly, it’s completely inaccessible to all but the most fearless bushmen, and the fine detail in it is lost from afar. Another bit of ill-judged, pointless public art.
February 27th - Out early to Telford again today - hopefully for the last time in a while. Standing on platform 4c (sort of like New Street’s version of Harry Potter’s platform 9 and three quarters, only less feasible) I looked across the dismal concrete and steel architecture and noticed the steel horse. Life size, jet black and approaching 25 years old, this is part of one of the better public artworks I’ve ever seen. I think there are twelve metallic equine silhouettes in total, at various locations between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, all in animated poses as if racing the train. They are regarded with surprising affection by travellers, and after two and a half decades, they still make me smile.
December 13th - Darlaston, like most places, seems to possess its fair share of public artwork. The sculptures in Victoria park have no plaques, but their root is fair clear; they’re harking back to an industrial past. I’m not sure if the hammer is a genuine old machine or a composite, but I can’t really see how it worked, whilst the tree seems to be suffering the same rust affliction that befalls the Walsall Wood Pithead. Looking like a child’s approximation of a tree, I find this sculpture odd; it’s hugely detailed in the leaves, which contain items of Darlaston’s past; nuts and bolts, washing machines (Servis were just down the road) and so forth, yet the ensemble gives the impression of something simplistic and cursory. I’m not sure the best tribute to a true seat of precision engineering should look like this, but folk seem to like it.
August 10th - My dislike of the Walsall Wood pithead sculpture is well known and somewhat controversial. I actually think that it’s not only aesthetically dreadful, but badly engineered and ill thought out. In the construction, there’s a random mix of stainless steel fasteners and normal ones, which stands out; looking at the frame there are multiple sets of holes that appear to have been redrilled, but this may be intentional. The sign commemorating the pit seems to face the wrong way, and cannot be read from the road, whilst the construction is topped by a pennant bearing the initials NCB, for the National Coal Board. The NCB never actually operated the pit, but oversaw it’s closure, which shows a particular ignorance of history.
July 4th - Anyone reading my work would think that I am completely against public artworks. This isn’t the case, there are plenty which I like, but this sculpture at Catshill Junction is not amongst them. A clearly very detailed piece, it has been placed on a canal bank on the far side of the junction where it cannot be seen clearly enough to discern the detail. Further, it’s overgrown and looks unloved. How much did we spend on this, and what was the point?