Stone artist has grand plans to make city unique

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Perth stone artist David F Wil­son has re­turned from a re­search trip to the United States with grand ideas for how Perth’s unique iden­tity can be en­hanced by pub­lic art­works made of rock.

As is of­ten the case, David is bet­ter known abroad than he is in his home city of Perth, as one of the key Bri­tish fig­ures cre­at­ing gi­ant and in­trigu­ing ob­jects in stone.

He has very recog­nis­able pub­lic com­mis­sions in Ed­in­burgh and other cap­i­tal cities and he’s added stone el­e­ments to a gold medal-win­ning gar­den de­sign at Chelsea Flower Show.

Lo­cally he is re­spon­si­ble for the bronze flood­gates and This­tle Sculp­ture which grace the North Inch area of Perth.

In 2017 he took up a ‘dream trip’ to visit the es­sen­tial fig­ures in his field, made pos­si­ble by fund­ing from the Win­ston Churchill Memo­rial Trust (WCMT) which made him one of its 150 fel­lows.

In Oc­to­ber he planned and ex­e­cuted the am­bi­tious itin­er­ary which saw him cross­ing Amer­ica from east coast to west and back over east again, mak­ing vis­its to Amer­i­can leg­ends, revered for work­ing with stone in new and ex­cit­ing ways.

The con­di­tion of David ac­cept­ing the bur­sary from WCMT was he pre­sented a re­port of his find­ings and made rec­om­men­da­tions.

And in De­cem­ber he gave a pub­lic talk in Perth, lift­ing el­e­ments from the 15,000 word fi­nal re­port ‘Cre­ative Space’ his in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the ‘con­tem­po­rary use of stone in ur­ban spa­ces’.

“I’m a pub­lic artist in­ter­ested in pub­lic spa­ces,” David ex­plained.

“I wanted to meet the key peo­ple in this spe­cial niche, be­cause in Amer­ica and Canada they don’t have the long tra­di­tion of work­ing with stone we have here in Scot­land and the ‘old world’ as a whole.

“Dur­ing the last 100 years over here, the pass­ing on of skills has fal­tered, the con­nec­tion with the tan­gi­ble ma­te­rial that is stone has be­come frag­ile. Over there, it is very fresh and cher­ished.

“Since I be­gan work­ing in the 80s, I’ve found there are very few peo­ple do­ing sim­i­lar work in my im­me­di­ate vicin­ity.

“On the plus side, the in­ter­net has changed ev­ery­thing in this very spe­cial­ist cre­ative space. Sud­denly the scat­tered in­di­vid­u­als who de­vote them­selves to work­ing with stone talk and share ideas on so­cial me­dia, re­gard­less of where they are phys­i­cally based. “We’ve be­come con­nected.” David’s goal was to phys­i­cally con­nect by ar­rang­ing a trip to hunt out mem­bers of the ‘stone tribe’.

“When I drew up a pitch for WCMT of what I was in­tend­ing to do with the travel fund, it was like fan­tasy foot­ball, I com­piled my dream team from peo­ple who are lead­ers in the world of stone art.

“Then, when to my de­light I was awarded it, I had to make this out­ra­geously am­bi­tious road trip ac­tu­ally hap­pen.

“I got the fear I’d bit­ten off more than I could chew, the size of Amer­ica com­pared to the UK was in­tim­i­dat­ing.

“One con­tact, To­mas Lipps, I shared my trav­el­ling itin­er­ary with said: ‘Yes, it’s crazy. But you’ll do it, you’re young.’ I like that – I’m 56.”

David and his wife Jane mo­tored 10,000 miles over six weeks. The up­shot was the trip was amaz­ing. And this au­tumn, David went as an in­ter­na­tional guest of the Dry Stone Walling As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada (Dry David F Wil­son went to a dyk­ing fes­ti­val in Canada Stone Canada) to their 2018 fes­ti­val held on Amherst Is­land in Lake On­tario.

“They ‘get’ stone in Canada and Amer­ica.

“I’d dare to say we al­most take it for granted here. That’s con­cern­ing.

“So much can be done to en­hance pub­lic spa­ces with art made from this hugely im­pres­sive, tac­tile ma­te­rial.

“Stone is such a fun­da­men­tal ma­te­rial; through it we can ex­press such a con­nec­tion with el­e­ments of na­ture and the world. For the first time in our his­tory, that con­nec­tion with stone is un­der threat. Con­crete, glass and steel are now the dom­i­nant ma­te­rial in the build­ing en­vi­ron­ment. I’m keen to look to how we can ar­rest that de­cline.

“I want to make an ap­peal – par­tic­u­larly to the author­i­ties of my home city of Perth – that cre­ativ­ity and stonework should be en­cour­aged.New, rel­e­vant, con­tem­po­rary, aes­thet­ics are needed. To do this we need to be in­no­va­tive and use the high-tech com­puter-aided de­sign op­por­tu­ni­ties to go be­yond the tra­di­tional.”

A sec­tion of David’s fi­nal re­port was en­ti­tled ‘Sur­prise, sur­prise’.

“That’s what art and stonework should do for peo­ple, when they turn a cor­ner in an ur­ban space and en­counter some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary,” he ex­plained.

“In the 16th cen­tury San Savino said some­thing I think is in­tensely rel­e­vant for to­day. He said: ‘Cities should be built for the con­ve­nience and sat­is­fac­tion of those that live in it, and to the great sur­prise of strangers.’ It is my per­sonal mantra now.”

Perth is at the edge of a new era, with money made avail­able through the Tay Cities Deal.

In De­cem­ber Perth and Kin­ross Coun­cil an­nounced the idea for pro­duc­ing a new vi­sion for the de­vel­op­ment of Perth as it moves off into the fu­ture, a con­cept called ‘Perth’s Story’.

He went on to un­der­line the way pub­lic art can en­hance a place: “On the trip I vis­ited Boul­der, Colorado, where they have rein­vented ‘Pearl Street’.

“This was a se­ries of stone art­works which sought to halt de­cline in the city’s main street. In Boul­der they had recog­nised there that ur­ban streets needed a re­think.

“Just like in Perth, the streets were laid out as a thor­ough­fare for the shops, but in Pearl Street they had looked at the spa­ces in be­tween, made them en­gag­ing, more vi­brant pub­lic spa­ces.

“Its an idea that has been shown to in­crease foot­fall, to pos­i­tively al­ter the eco­nomics of an ur­ban cen­tre when you cre­ate more than just rows of shop door­ways.”

Only in the last few days a new gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tive to ar­rest the de­cline of the tra­di­tional high street has been an­nounced, af­ter Jake Berry the high street min­is­ter launched a £675 mil­lion Fu­ture High Streets Fund ear­marked for modernising town cen­tres for which new ideas are be­ing sought.

David feels there are a myr­iad of ways to re­alise the unique op­por­tu­nity the WCMT fel­low­ship has given him and the act of meet­ing other mem­bers of the stonework fra­ter­nity has pro­voked David to make a call to arms, what he de­scribes as ‘a dec­la­ra­tion of in­tent’.

“I’d like to copy the Amer­i­cans and form an as­so­ci­a­tion akin to the Stone Foun­da­tion in Scot­land and the UK that links up all the var­i­ous as­pects of stone un­der one sup­port­ive um­brella, ad­vo­cat­ing what stone can do for so­ci­ety. It would look at teach­ing mod­els, bring­ing older skills up to date with new cut­ting tech­niques and of­fer master­classes.

“And imag­ine a pod­cast, with Perth as the lo­ca­tion, where in­vited masters of this art share their ideas, it re­ally would en­hance the stand­ing of the Fair City in so many ways.”

Most of all, David F Wil­son wants to draw to­gether key in­ter­na­tional fig­ures from his field and hold a fes­ti­val here in Perth to rein­vig­o­rate in­ter­est in stone her­itage and to this end he has been speak­ing to Cul­ture Perth and Kin­ross.

He ex­plained the idea: “The stone art fes­ti­val in Perth would bring in re­spected crafts­men and artists from across the planet and with work tak­ing place out­side in the street, pro­vide the pub­lic with ac­cess to how mon­u­ments are cre­ated, the skills and the peo­ple be­hind them.

“What was left be­hind af­ter the fes­ti­val would be a mag­nif­i­cent legacy.

“It would place Perth on the in­ter­na­tional stage.”

Trav­eller

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