A giant floating head has returned to Glasgow over three decades on from its appearance at the city’s famous Garden Festival.
The sculpture, designed by Richard Groom, will sit in the Govan Canting Basin, next to the Science Centre, until October 6.
It follows a crowdfunding campaign which saw the late artist’s family team up with the Sculpture Placement Group (SPG) to arrange the necessary repairs and get it back into the river safely.
The 27-tonne concrete and steel artwork was built for the Glasgow Garden Festival, which took place in 1988, and was on show in the same dock it was returned to on Monday.
Commissioned especially for the festival, it was one of five sculptures built for display with the help of shipbuilders from the Govan docks. The idea was to bond the city’s industrial heritage with the art-making process.
Find it, fix it, float it
Andy Groom, the artist’s brother, said: “Myself and my family were so touched at Richard’s funeral where so many of his friends and colleagues commented on all of his work, especially the floating head.
“It became apparent very quickly we had to find it, fix it, float it. We couldn’t believe our luck when we found and met with Offshore Workboats, who had rescued it.
“We then tracked down and met Ian Henderson, the owner of the head, who has allowed us the opportunity to display the head again for the public to see.
“We’re really grateful to all of them, and everyone else, who has made it possible for us to have the sculpture restored and returned to the heart of Glasgow.”
The artwork has been conserved and partially restored by workers from Concrete Repairs Ltd.
The conservation work has been carried out in a way that means the head still shows the signs of ageing and how nature encroaches on man-made artefacts, so the moss which gradually grew on the sculpture remains in place.
It is hoped that someone will come forward to give an appropriate longer-term home to the sculpture, which could also be displayed on dry land.
SPG co-director Michelle Emery-Barker said: “People have very fond memories of the Garden Festival, and a huge attachment to Glasgow’s heritage as a world centre of shipbuilding, so we’re really pleased to have the sculpture floating on the Clyde once again.
“It’s an astonishing story – an artwork that was nearly destroyed being rediscovered after decades, restored by the boatbuilders of today, and then towed back up the river and proudly put back on public display.
“We think it will really resonate with people, and hopefully be quite an attraction for Doors Open Day.”
Capturing the public’s imagination
A crowdfunding campaign run by SPG and the family raised £7,000, helping to cover the cost of the restoration, while £13,000 came from donations and grants.
The head is 23ft (7m) long, 14ft (4.3m) high and 10ft 8in (3.25m) wide.
Gemma Wild, heritage outreach manager at Glasgow Heritage Trust, said: “Glasgow City Heritage Trust was delighted to be able to support this project via a heritage grant.
“The Garden Festival of 1988 holds a special place in the memories of many Glaswegians and marked a turning point in Glasgow’s transformation from industrial powerhouse to cultural centre.
“The refloating of Richard Groom’s sculpture and the accompanying programme of workshops with Glasgow Science Centre offers an exciting opportunity to engage Glasgow’s communities with the legacy of the Garden Festival and Glasgow’s shipbuilding heritage.”
A highly-skilled artist, Groom’s early career saw him exhibiting sculptures in a London gallery and also working as a stone carver for many of Scotland’s most-loved buildings.
He taught stone carving at Telford College in Edinburgh, and remained a passionate champion of both traditional sculpture skills and the preservation of the built environment until his death in 2019.
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