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Crown Works

Sunderland has a long heritage of making cranes, most notably at the Crown Works site belonging to Coles Cranes. Cranes were built here from 1939 to 1998. In 2015, the site was cleared to make way for the construction of the Northern Spire bridge.

Much as with the Doxford Arch, this stonework was retained when the headquarters of the Crown Works was demolished and has been re-sited nearby in this memorial.

You might reasonably ponder the relevance of the retained 1879. This is the year Coles Cranes was founded, initially based in Derby.

The site is due to have an exciting future, with one of the UK’s most extensive sets of film and television studios planned for construction—the Crown Works Studios. Separate, though seemingly less-developed, plans exist for constructing Shipyard Studios nearby, including re-purposing the old shipyard to create the world’s largest underwater studio.

It seems like Sunderland is making a concerted push to pivot from heavy industry to visual arts.

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Doxford Arch

From 1870, William Doxford & Sons Ltd has a large shipyard in Pallion, Sunderland. After a storied history, the final ship floated out of the yard in 1989.

The yard’s gatehouse, built in 1903, was a local landmark. Many thousands of workers plodded through its archway in the twentieth century. Yet by the twenty-first century, the gatehouse was badly dilapidated and in need of demolition.

In 2019, the gatehouse was knocked down—but the archway was preserved, and reconstructed close to its original location in 2021.

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‘Gan Canny’

This metal sculpture by Ray Lonsdale in Sunderland city centre commemorates the Vaux brewery. The brewery operated from 1837 to 1999.

The brewery continued using horse-drawn delivery wagons long after other methods became financially preferable. Five delivery horses were rehoused at the Beamish museum after the brewery ceased production in 1998, and the last surviving horse—Justin—died there in 2016. The chains on the sculpture were donated by a former driver, and are part of the original tack.

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Northern Spire

The Northern Spire bridge in Sunderland opened in 2018. It’s the tallest structure in Sunderland, soaring to 105m—a little taller than Parliament’s Elizabeth Tower.

The A-frame pylon was manufactured in Belgium and brought to Sunderland by barge. Perhaps appropriately, the first three vehicles across the bridge after it opened were locally-built Nissans.

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Joiner shop

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I’ve been to see ‘900 miles (from Home)’

This is the first UK solo exhibition by Jade Sweeting. It features a small selection of 8×10 black-and-white photographs of parts of motorcyclists’ bike jackets and leathers. The pictures are accompanied by an audio recording of motorcycle noises, which the exhibition notes reveal to be from the artist’s own bike.

Unfortunately, this didn’t do anything for me. The notes say that it is ‘erotic, sensual and tender’ and that it explores the artist’s position as a woman in the male-dominated world of motorbikes. I didn’t get any of that; it seemed like a collection of interestingly composed photos of zips and stuff. Perhaps, in part, this is because I have no direct knowledge or experience of the subculture Sweeting explores in this exhibition.

I’m pleased that the artist pursued her vision and that the gallery wasn’t shy of putting on a solo exhibition of work that’s a little less obvious. The result of both things is that some of the work featured will fail to connect with some of the audience. In this case, I’m afraid that applies to me.

900 miles (from Home) continues at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art until 21 January.

This post was filed under: Art, Post-a-day 2023, , , .

National Glass Centre to close

Given that I’ve visited the National Glass Centre a few times this year, I should mention that its future is under serious threat.

The National Glass Centre opened in 1998, partly funded by the European Regional Development Fund. On 31 January 2020, Boris Johnson chose the site to hold the Cabinet’s last meeting before the UK’s exit from the EU, promising ‘a new chapter in the United Kingdom’s story’. Three years on, with no EU funding incoming, it’s become clear that the ‘new chapter’ doesn’t include the very place where it was proclaimed.

Due to structural problems with the building, the ‘world-class cultural asset’ of the final (and very busy) glass furnace in Sunderland is due to be lost. The upper end of the much-disputed restoration cost is £45m: less than one day of the funding the former Prime Minister claimed the UK sent to the EU, or less than a fifth of one percent of the estimated cost of restoring the Palace of Westminster. In the Government’s view, the value of glass-making on the Wear is negligible compared to law-making on the Thames.

There’s a spirited campaign underway to save the National Glass Centre. I would miss it if it closed down, and that feeling was only reinforced by seeing the building half-closed due to storm damage on my most recent visit.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, , .

I’ve been to see Glass World

The National Glass Centre has curated an exhibition to show the influence of international studio glass styles and techniques on the British studio glass scene. It features work representing the practice in thirty different countries.

Here are three objects that stood out.

This is Dancing Goblets, a 2021 work by Sacha Delabre. Delabre grew up in France and studied for a BA in Glass on the internationally renowned programme at Sunderland University. He now works at the Glass Hub down in Wiltshire.

I’ve previously seen the left-most of the three goblets exhibited on its own. I was taken by its surrealist form. Seeing these three pieces together brings out the dynamism of the dancing. They are wonderful.

I didn’t react as emotionally to this 2016 untitled work by Czechia’s Martin Janecký, but I was amazed. The detail and complexity of the large form seemed incredible.

My visit to the exhibition of work by Neil Wilkin and Rachael Woodman earlier this year taught me something about the challenge of working with glass. It is hard to comprehend how Janecký made such a detailed, lifelike form from such an uncompromising material.

Map of the World, diminished by Inge Panneels is a tiny 2023 work, perhaps only a couple of centimetres square. Slightly cheekily, this work apparently represented Belgium, Scotland and England on the basis that Panneels is from Belgium, taught in Sunderland and works in Scotland.

This stood out to me, combining the aspects I liked in the previous two works. It is surrealist: the practical map is rendered impractical through its tiny size. It’s also an astoundingly detailed representation of a familiar form rendered in an uncompromising material. It’s brilliant.

Glass World continues at the National Glass Centre until 10 March.

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This post was filed under: Photos, Post-a-day 2023, .

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