In praise of Peter

An­thony Smith is en­tranced and moved by a small piece of pub­lic sculp­ture in Nor­wich’s Lanes

Norfolk - - ARTSMITH - [email protected] An­thony Smith di­rec­tor of in­ter­na­tional art deal­ers

Pub­lic sculp­ture is not some­thing that one thinks about ev­ery day, but with­out it, our cities and towns would be a lot duller. Also, it is one of the few ar­eas of art that those who are visu­ally im­paired have an op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence and ex­plore.

I must say that I have not al­ways looked at pub­lic sculp­ture with af­fec­tion. Of­ten I found memo­ri­als to ex-may­ors or gen­er­ous bene­fac­tors to be, frankly, dull; a form of im­mor­tal­ity-seek­ing that will, in­evitably, fail.

There’s a lot more to pub­lic sculp­ture though. Some pieces cer­tainly were cre­ated and in­stalled as mon­u­ments to some great and heroic in­di­vid­u­als; I am think­ing of Nelson, Edith Cavell and Ge­orge Van­cou­ver and oth­ers, while other works have been cre­ated to sim­ply give us plea­sure or a sud­den re­al­i­sa­tion of the beauty around us.

On my first visit to Thet­ford many years back, I was sur­prised and de­lighted to see the sculp­ture of Arthur Lowe as Cap­tain Main­war­ing from Dad’s Army. It brought back mem­o­ries of the TV se­ries but also, the rel­e­vance to Thet­ford was the re­mark­able and per­ti­nent fac­tor to me. A su­perb sculp­ture by Sean Hedges-Quinn in its own right, made more mag­i­cal in its to­tally ap­pro­pri­ate set­ting.

Brain, the large, re­al­is­tic sculp­ture in Nor­wich by Anne and Pa­trick Poirier as homage to the 17th cen­tury physi­cian and au­thor Thomas Browne, the Stock Fish Rack in Kings Lynn by the British Artist Black­smith As­so­ci­a­tion as well as so many other con­tem­po­rary pub­lic sculp­tures are fa­mil­iar to us as well as an amaz­ing her­itage of art deco works.

Yet for me, it is the small and some­what in­signif­i­cant that take my eye and draw me to them. I have a favourite.

It’s small, not par­tic­u­larly beau­ti­ful, but draws me to it ev­ery day as I walk past. This one, to­gether with those that are as­so­ci­ated with it, tops off a bol­lard in one of Nor­wich’s his­toric lanes.

The sub­ject of it is Peter, the wild boy. I’m sure that you are al­ready fa­mil­iar with the story of this 18th cen­tury boy who was brought from Hanover by Ge­orge I as a ‘cu­rios­ity’ and many years later ap­peared, as an un­recog­nised adult, in Nor­wich where he was kept at the Bridewell, at the time the equiv­a­lent of a cor­rec­tional fa­cil­ity un­til a fire there.

His was re­ally one of life’s sad sto­ries, hu­mil­i­ated and treated like an an­i­mal in a cir­cus or freak show. Yet he sur­vived. His life and the sto­ries of him have also sur­vived when many of those around him who, at the time, were im­por­tant or wealthy, have faded into obliv­ion.

Peter’s story touches some­thing in me and brings to the fore ques­tions of life, be­lief, faith and the hu­man ca­pac­ity to sur­vive. Here, a per­son whose only claim to fame was sim­ply sur­vival, is re­mem­bered in a small, but quite beau­ti­ful sculp­ture of a naked boy in an al­most fe­tal po­si­tion, as if pro­tect­ing him­self from tor­ment or ridicule.

How ap­pro­pri­ate and sen­si­tive a ren­der­ing. It touches me as few other sculp­tures or art­works have ever done.

ABOVE: The small sculp­ture of Peter the wild boy which tops a bol­lard in Nor­wich

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