Falkirk’s public art collection is getting big

The Kelpies are nearing completion. Picture: Lisa McPhillips (132396)
The Kelpies are nearing completion. Picture: Lisa McPhillips (132396)

The fantastic Kelpies are nearing completion and it will not be long before they join the Angel of the North as instantly recognisable examples of modern public art.

For thousands of years communities have created statues and memorials of all kinds to celebrate their past history or to let the rest of the world know who they are and what they believe in. Falkirk district is no different but, to be honest, we’ve had a paltry collection so far.

The earliest example is the remarkable Pineapple at Dunmore, but it was never intended for public consumption and was more of a male vanity project by an aristocrat. In Falkirk’s Newmarket Street the stony Duke of Wellington and his faithful steed Copenhagen have stood on their plinth since 1905 after 50 years at the bottom of the steeple.

Even earlier is another work by the same sculptor, Robert Forrest, of the Prodigal Son, outside Arnotdale in Dollar Park. It has been there since the 1830s though it is doubtful if many young folk recognise the man with the pig at his feet these days!

At the gates of the park, Robert Dollar’s two magnificent Chinese Lions are a reminder of his days as the king of the Pacific shipping trade. Back in Newmarket Street a soldier stands guard over a fallen comrade from the Boer War in a memorial unveiled by Lord Roberts in 1906. And famously in Grangemouth’s Zetland Park, Alexander Proudfoot’s controversial stone lion still devours the German eagle.

The nearby Catholic Church has a statue of Jesus as ‘the Sacred Heart’ overlooking the park gates from 1927 and, in similar style, in Hope Street, the massive statue of St Francis Xavier looks from the church that bears his name across the town towards the mission fields of China.

The statue was carved from Blaxter Stone by Maxwell Allan of Edinburgh for the new church which opened in 1961. On the same building are the symbols of the four evangelists in concrete by Elizabeth Dempster.

Another saint who is more difficult to find in Falkirk is Scotland’s patron St Andrew. There is a stone statue of him right in the middle of the town, but most people pass it by without knowing. Where is it? Well that’s for you to find out! Here and there we have a few carved plaques, the occasional gargoyle and Mathieson’s unicorn but that’s about it!

There is hope for the future, however. A few years ago when developers created new retail and business parks they were obliged by the planners to provide works of art to enhance the area.

As a result we have two fine pieces of modern art, one in Central Retail Park depicting an iron worker in action and the other near the entrance to Callendar Business Park close to the Antonine Wall, which I think represents the mighty legions of Rome though it has a kind of Viking look to it as well!

A year or so ago when the graveyard of the Parish Church in Falkirk was restored there was some talk of erecting a kneeling statue of Robert Burns at the tomb of Sir John the Graeme in a permanent repeat of the events of August 25, 1787.

It didn’t happen then but I know that many, including members of Falkirk Burns Club, would like to see the project back on the table.

I agree completely.