Lurgan Portadown Sculpture

In March 2014, the local press was buzzing with stories about the new sculptures being installed in the market town centres of Lurgan and Portadown; the giant art pieces were having an effect before they were even finished. Perhaps this was the desired result for those who instigated these projects and secured these striking steel artworks back in 2010.

The sculptures were created by Maurice Harron who is from Derry and studied at the Ulster College of Art & Design. His works often demonstrate and tackle issues of belief, ethnicity and political tension and his public works explore themes connected to social, historical and cultural identity. Two of his most notable commissions are the Reconciliation/Hands Across the Divide in Carlisle Square, Derry and the Gaelic Chieftain, in the Curlew Mountains, County Roscommon.

The sculptures were part of a wider regeneration project to improve the economic, social, physical and environmental quality of both towns with Craigavon Borough Council working in partnership with Government agencies, investors and the private sector to realize these initiatives. At the end of these works, these giant sculptures are perhaps the most readily identifiable parts of the public realm schemes but it is the aesthetic setting (their “plinth”), and the broader improvements to the townscape areas that collectively lift the spirit or sense of place and allow these works appropriate physical space to breath. Public realm projects in town centres are often onerous commissions for Councils and designers and it was not until January 2013 that the funding package for the art installation project was announced. Park Hood were engaged to design the public realm areas and develop the potential landscape and townscape relationships for the public art sites.

In Lurgan, the sculpture location was on the site of an existing YMCA building which sat rather awkwardly in the middle of Market Street. The removal of this building had the instant benefit of opening up a vista across the wide streetscape but also revealed a significant basement void requiring a hefty engineering input to redress. Following the groundworks, the area was repaved in natural stone granite paving (that tied in a recent public realm project in the town centre) and the appropriate setting for the public art achieved. The selected sculpture for this site comprised two semi abstract standing figures holding steel ‘linen fabric’ between them to reflect the area’s linen industry.

In Portadown, the site selected was adjacent to an old railway shed on a town edge location between West Street and the Northway which was not particularly distinctive but widely visible to passing traffic and road users. The key objective was to instigate regeneration in this area with the introduction of the art piece acting as a catalyst. The wider area was designed to be useable parkland including amenity grass and seating areas with the basic design objective to provide a significant betterment of landscape character and visual amenity in this part of Portadown. The Harron statues erected on this Greenfield area depict the apple industry in the Armagh area and comprises three four metre high steel figures holding segments of a scaled up apple.

Public art today can consist of an array of works including seating, fencing, outdoor lighting, paving and all imaginable street furniture which is all interlinked with the objective of aesthetic betterment. The landscape design in both these instances took the initiative of the fine sculptures and extended “art” across the public realm of both town centre areas. This artistry extended to include clever consideration of nighttime aesthetics when the sculptures are illuminated by colour changing and static white lighting.

Public art is not a substitute for urban renewal or social work, although projects may address or include such functions. It ideally stimulates better places and provides enjoyment, insight, and maybe even hope to its participants, viewers, and users. Sometimes there are unreasonable aspirations in the commissioning of public art and the key to the success of these projects is to ensure these visual landmarks are effectively sited and that the adjacent landscapes are effectively designed to achieve the desired objective of instigating regeneration.

Perhaps the best time to write about public art is not when it is first installed but after it has “settled in.” At this stage, they have undoubtedly added character and become visual landmarks within the respective town centres and have already caused a bit of a positive stir and it can only be a matter of time – in that Irish way – that the locals concoct humorous nicknames for them.

The total package of £177,862.00 was funded by DSD. Craigavon Borough Council contributed £69,150 towards the
project, by way of commission phase, fabrication and technical issues. The Arts council for Northern Ireland also contributed £75,000 towards the fabrication of the project.