At the heart of Langlees

Artist Jephson Robb next to 'Love and Kisses', the recently unveiled sculpture in Abbotshaugh woodland, near Langlees.
Artist Jephson Robb next to 'Love and Kisses', the recently unveiled sculpture in Abbotshaugh woodland, near Langlees.

If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise.

That’s because a massive new artwork has been unveiled in Abbotshaugh woodland, near Langlees.

‘Love and Kisses’, a steel sculpture designed by artist Jephson Robb, was officially unveiled on December 21 by Provost Pat Reid.

Representing the area’s rich Roman heritage, as well as the concept of ‘healing’, it is hoped that the monument will encourage more people to visit Abbotshaugh, a woodland that was planted from scratch by local residents in the late 1990s.

The artwork is the first to be built as part of The Helix project, which is opening up more than 300 hectares of land for public use between Falkirk and Grangemouth.

Robb, from Glasgow, was commissioned in September 2010 to create the first significant part of the Helix.

But this was no ordinary commission. A key requirement of the successful applicant was the ability to work with the local community when designing the artwork.

Speaking at the time, Bainsford artist Helen Coffey, who was involved in the selection process, said that she was confident they had chosen the right candidate.

“Throughout the interview process it was clear Jephson would have no problem engaging with the community,” she said.

“He was comfortable working with the youngest to the oldest members of the Dawson community. I feel Jephson will listen to our ideas and create something unique that people will want to use. The whole process will bring the community closer together.”

Now two years on, Helen told The Falkirk Herald that she was delighted with the end result.

“We couldn’t have picked a better candidate,” she said.

“Jephson had no problem getting out and about in Bainsford and Langlees and speaking to people, both young and old. And he was very receptive to our feedback.

“The plans for Abbotshaugh originally envisaged a mound of earth, taken from the Helix works, which would then be sculpted. But a lot of people just didn’t want a mound of earth dumped in the woods - we wanted something more visually pleasing.

“That’s when Jephson came up with his idea for ‘Love and Kisses’. The feedback I heard was very positive, and I absolutely love the finished piece.”

Robb is responsible for several other notable public artworks, including ‘Change’, which was commissioned as part of the on-going regeneration of Clydebank waterfront in 2009.

Made from cast bronze, the sculpture depicts a section of the type of industrial-strength chain used by large ships - the type that Clydebank once was famous for building.

The Abbotshaugh sculpture unveiled last week is similarly rooted in local history.

It represents several themes, all of which Robb took the time to explain in-depth to local groups before work commenced on-site.

Speaking at the unveiling, the artist said: “My brief was to engage with the residents of Langlees and Bainsford and encourage them to revisit and re-imagine their local woodland as part of the transformation and regeneration works being delivered by the Helix project.

“The principle form of the sculpture takes its inspiration from the profile of a laurel leaf, making reference to Falkirk’s rich Roman heritage. The laurel leaf is also a recognised symbol of victory, because the main reason the woodland thrives today is down to successful tree planting by local residents between 1996 and 2000.

“The Helix’s investment in the woodland has enhanced the resident’s achievements, and helped retain it for future generations.

“I see the finished sculpture as being fundamentally about healing and from this day forward, the Helix will become part of this ongoing healing process.

“The sculpture has been designed as a scar: in other words, a healed wound. But when viewed from above, or on Google Earth, it resembles a pair of lips. The shapes contained within the sculpture have informed the title of the piece, ‘Love and Kisses’.”

Provost Pat Reid said: “The formal unveiling of this new sculpture marks an important milestone in the ongoing enhancement of the Abbotshaugh woodland as part of the Helix project.

“Jephson’s close collaboration with local groups has been an example of community engagement at its best, and has resulted in an impressive, thought-provoking piece of art of which everyone can be rightly proud.”

‘Love and Kisses’ was not the only piece of artwork to be unveiled on December 21 however.

Helen Coffey’s ‘Human Sun Clock’, which first went on display in Langlees in 2002, has been restored and moved to the site.

The 43-year-old originally built the piece as part of her HND Public Art course at Forth Valley College.

“My course required me to make something for public display, and I wanted to do something in my own community,” she said.

“The original piece was unveiled in 2002 but suffered from vandalism. Thanks to The Helix, it’s now been restored and moved to a more suitable location. I would not have had the opportunity otherwise.

“The whole project has been a fantastic thing to be a part of.

“It’s my hope that as many people as possible will visit Abbotshaugh to see Jepshon’s artwork. The principle aim of this whole thing was to encourage more people to visit in order to make this a welcoming environment.”

Mike King, programme director at the Helix, said: “I’m delighted that a sculpture which was originally due to be installed in 2013 is now making its entrance in 2012 as part of the ‘Year of Creative Scotland’ celebrations. This momentous achievement is down to the commitment and enthusiasm of everyone involved - the local community, the client panel, the artist and contractors.”