Saxon sculpture could be an angel to transform our fortunes

Pieces of the priceless Staffordshire Hoard.

Pieces of the priceless Staffordshire Hoard.

There you are, minding your own business as you drive along the M6 approaching Stoke-on-Trent.

Suddenly, off to the left, the gentle monotony of rolling fields is broken by something huge dominating your vision.

Atop a ridge, framed by a stormy grey sky, is a colossal figure – easily 70 feet tall.

The cloaked warrior, a sword strapped to his back, wears a full-face helm and chainmail armour and carries a large round shield and a spear, which is thrust towards the heavens.

Sculpted from a russet brown metal, he is only visible from the knees up as though this god of war had burst from the soil.

This is the world-famous Staffordshire Saxon.

It signifies the county’s ancient history and reminds everyone, who passes by that the Staffordshire Hoard was dug up in a field not far away.

It tells coach-loads of tourists that they are close to their destination – the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, in Hanley, – where much of the Hoard is on permanent exhibition to the public.

Now, before you shoot me down and tell me such a monstrosity would spoil the countryside, be a distraction to motorists, is in the wrong place, or would cost far too much money, hear me out.

In 1994, work began on a landmark project to create an iconic public work of art in England.

It was finally completed in 1998 and cost more than £800,000.

Twelve years on and the Angel of the North has become an instantly recognisable sculpture and one of the most viewed pieces of art in the world – seen by more than 33 million people every year.

In addition, about 400,000 people visit the sculpture each year.

What’s more, the Angel is credited with helping to revitalise the North East and aiding Gateshead Council in attracting around £145 million of lottery funding.

A new report states: “The value in promotional terms (of the Angel) cannot be accurately measured, but the exposure generated for Gateshead would have cost millions of pounds in advertising.”

It goes on to say: “The process set in train by the Angel has boosted employment in the tourism and cultural industries.”

The report also states: “Importantly, the economic growth ushered in during the Angel era appears sustainable and the regeneration activities that followed its installation are ongoing.”

Now the Angel of the North is undoubtedly a fine piece of art but it was the vision of one man – sculptor Anthony Gormley.

It was not created to coincide with a breathtaking archaeological discovery of international significance.

Yes, we can argue about the cost and location all we want – we are very good at throwing obstacles in the way of radical proposals.

However, the news that the joint bid to keep the Staffordshire Hoard in the Midlands has been successful presents us with a unique opportunity.

So before Britain’s ‘second city’ steals our thunder let us seize the day as our Saxon warrior ancestors would have.

Let us position the Potteries – and not Birmingham – as the centre for the Hoard’s legacy so that inward investment and tourism flows into North Staffordshire.

Over the next few years, millions of pounds more will have to be raised to create the so-called ‘Mercian Trail’ in order that our museum can be radically altered to accommodate the permanent Hoard exhibition.

Already our colleges and universities are tapping into the interest generated by the Hoard and laying on courses about Anglo-Saxon England.

The time is right to think big, throw off the shackles of our industrial past and create for ourselves a new identity.

On TV at present there is a slick, beautifully-shot advertisement featuring beaches, castles, galloping horses and a helicopter flying low over hills and dales.

A gravelly-voiced bloke tells of an amazing land ‘where the tempo rises as the sun goes down’.
Where is this magical place, you may ask?

It is the North East of England – the giveaway being a shot of the Angel of the North during the final couple of seconds.

Thus, the makeover is complete.

And there is absolutely no reason why Stoke-on-Trent can’t ‘do a Gateshead’ and enjoy the same sort of renaissance.

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