The Clerk in the Country

Friday 13th October 2023

Sculpture to remember

It’s the season of school crocodiles.  Lines of matching young children are regularly shepherded past the Lodge by teachers who must breathe a sigh of relief after negotiating the hazards of Museum Street and reaching the safety of the Gardens.  Once past the temptation of the icecream stall and having resisted their own need for coffee, they can relax for a while.

In 1969 a similar green sanctuary, the playing field in the heart of Selby, was the destination for one of my early school visits.  Part of the celebrations for the 900th anniversary of the founding of Selby Abbey, “Exias 69” was an exhibition of agriculture and industry with a number of stands spread across the field.  I remember a fashion tent, sponsored by a knitwear company, where elegant women paraded up and down a catwalk in the latest twinsets, a stall piled with potatoes, an inflatable submarine, and some friendly ladies giving out cocktail sticks with a cube of cheese and a piece of pineapple.  It was my first encounter with a cocktail stick.

Towering above everything, at 80 feet tall, was a “kinetic sculpture”.  Three or four huge brightly coloured interlinking cogs rotated on a backboard, moving a piston which rose and fell above the whole.  Younger Selebians, on seeing photographs of it, often ask what “the other sides” were like, but there were no other sides.  The sculpture was in two dimensions, the rear a disappointing expanse of chip board with a couple of sturdy struts and an electric cable.  Long after the rest of the exhibits had been packed up and taken away, the sculpture stood in isolation on the playing field, its cogs motionless, but still an object of fascination to me.

Some of this season’s crocodiles may have been taken to see the maquette of the statue of Mary Anning, recently on display in the Yorkshire Museum.  I hope the sprightly figure striding purposefully to her pioneering work on the fossil-rich shore at Lyme Regis lingers as long in their memories as Selby’s “kinetic sculpture” has in mine.