Yesterday, on my email, I received an email from Conservative-controlled Basildon District Council, linking to a press release on the future of Dave Chapple’s “Woodsman” sculpture. The Council has decided to remove the statue permanently (it is currently in storage) and replace it with the original town clock. As you can see, it says:
“A location for the statue is currently being found within the Park, and the woodsman will remain in storage until then.
Cllr Stephen Horgan, deputy leader of the Council, says: “The woodsman is a well loved piece of public art, and we believe that a new home at Wat Tyler Country Park is more suitable and appropriate, where he will be appreciated by the hundreds of thousands of people that visit the park each year.””
I am all for putting the clock back on display (where it can be properly seen from all four sides!). I am also for ensuring that hundreds of thousands of people get the opportunity to enjoy the unique and other-worldly charm of “The Woodsman”. However, in an act tantamount to municipal vandalism, Conservative councillors intend to remove the sculpture from the urban space for which it was created and place it in a country park – changing its context, function and form entirely.
There is no explanation as to why it is to be moved. We are left to speculate why Cllr Horgan advises that Wat Tyler Country Park will be “more suitable and appropriate”. Perhaps reinstating it so close to the Council’s offices would be a potent reminder of how successive administrations – including the current Conservative administration – have failed to take care of this significant contribution to Basildon’s artistic heritage?
For me, “The Woodsman” isn’t just a quirky carving. Wood is a unique medium to work with. Unlike sculpting in bronze, from a cast, every single wooden carving, even if it appears the same, is very different. Each piece of wood has a different grain. Each piece of wood will have different knots to tax the skills of the carver. Hewn from local timber, from a tree felled in the Great Storm of 1987, “The Woodsman” is a unique piece of art designed to provoke thought and comment in the centre of a busy urban environment. In its original position, it broke up the concrete lines of the town and prompted a pause for thought, even if only a few seconds, to reflect on something that somehow managed to be both incongruous and perfectly situated at the same time.
“The Woodsman” was also a reminder of Basildon’s past. We’ve recently celebrated 60 years as a town. Prior to its construction, much of the area was fields and woodlands. Even now, Basildon is a place that contains areas of incredible natural beauty. It’s not without reason that Arthur Young, in his A Six Weeks’ Tour through the Southern Counties of England and Wales, wrote the following about Langdon Hills:
“I forgot to tell you, that near Horndon, on the summit of a vast hill, the most astonishing prospect that ever was beheld by human eyes, breaks almost at once upon one of the dark lanes. Such a prodigious valley, every where painted with the finest verdure, and intersected with numberless hedges and woods, appears beneath you, that it is past description; the Thames winding through it, full of ships, and bounded by the hills of Kent. Nothing can exceed this amazing prospect, unless it be that which Hannibal exhibited to his disconsolate troops, where he bade them behold the glories of the Italian plains! If ever a turnpike should lead through this country, I beg you will go and view this enchanting prospect, though a journey of 40 miles is necessary for it. I never beheld any thing equal to it in the West of England, that region of landscape.”
“The Woodsman” provided a connection to our history and that natural environment right in the middle of our town, where it could be enjoyed by those shopping, working, visiting the Council or passing through. We didn’t have to make a special trip to see it.
Finally, it also stood as a testament to the talents of Dave Chapple, who passed away on Friday 6th November 2009. Dave had even proposed a sculpture for the Millennium Dome when the Government was seeking ideas for what to put inside. To my mind it was a stunning challenge to the material assumptions that have overtaken us, putting Christ at the centre of the building commissioned to mark the new millennium.
To my mind, we have lost something as a community when politicians are prepared to spend £38 million on a sporting complex, but those same politicians are not prepared to find the money, time or motivation to ensure that “The Woodsman” – created in Basildon, for Basildon – can be enjoyed by thousands in the space it was created for.
“The Woodsman” is a thing of beauty that tells a story far greater than many imagine.
The Town needs to remember its roots – and the people of the town want to know its history and be reminded how beautiful parts of our district truly are.
And The Politicians need to remember who they represent. They also need to remember the heritage – cultural and natural – that is entrusted to them.
If you are interested in seeing some of Dave Chapple’s other work, please see this online gallery.