Almost every city, town and village in the UK has its local artists or sculptors, but few achieve national recognition. The work of these artists and sculptors is largely unknown by all but a few devotees. We recognise, record and protect, the work of greater names - Moore, Hepworth, et al - but works of art without a recognised pedigree are at the mercy of indiscriminate protection.
And yet the work of these 'local' artists and sculptors can be of excellent quality, and, more importantly, they are a major part of the heritage of their local communities.
Without national recognition for these works, and the protection it affords, we are losing excellent works of art at a significant rate - and with it a valuable and irreplaceable part of our heritage and history. These works of art may be on display on, or in, public buildings (council offices, community centres, and so on), or the offices of private companies.
At a meeting convened by the Public Monuments and Sculptures Association (PMSA) in February 2007 it was stated that there had been a 500% increase in public art theft over the previous year/18 months. While some of this activity was theft of national treasures, such as the 'Moore' sculpture, many of the thefts were of lesser known, publicly displayed, sculptures. The theft of the 'Moore' provoked a public outcry (and a £10,000 reward), but it was probably destroyed for the cash value of the material from which it was made. Lesser-known sculptures often share the same fate, but with little public interest (and no reward), or they are simply destroyed by an insensitive owner when a building is refurbished or demolished. Often the owners fail to appreciate the 'value' of the sculpture, both intrinsically and to the community in which it is displayed.
This is by far the biggest threat to works of art by relatively unknown sculptors and artists. It is a sad reflection on us all that we cannot protect these works of art. While the risk of theft can be minimised by good security, this does not protect art from wanton destruction through ignorance.
The work of Ronald Pope is a clear example of this problem. His work is disappearing at an alarming rate - of almost sixty publicly displayed sculptural works, nearly half are missing. The photo gallery 'Lost Sculpture' shows how many pieces, small and large, have been destroyed or have not been located - if you can help to locate any of these sculptures please contact us (Please use this link to contact us)
Ronald Pope is just one 'local' sculptor - how many more fine sculptures have been destroyed, simply because no one understands their real worth - their value to the community; their importance to the heritage of the local community?
The work of lesser known sculptors and artists deserves and needs the protection of the communities in which they are displayed. But your help is needed.
The UK has a 'national gallery' of public art, but we have no adequate documentation informing the public of this vast open-air gallery, and there is no adequate network for alerting interested parties to theft, and natural or deliberate damage.
We need, therefore, to raise awareness of the importance of these works - to the people of local communities, to Local Authorities, to public and private institutions and politicians - and collectively we need in the UK a robust art culture. A sculpture may be privately owned, but its display in public brings it into the heart of the community, and as such the owners should be seen as not so much in possession, as caretaking for future generations.
Public art suffers from having no obvious champion. The PMSA has taken the lead in an attempt to stimulate interest among various public institutions, but the campaign also needs public interest - your interest. Please let us have your views - Guest Book