Sunderland’s iconic dray horses, that walked the streets of the city centre until the closure of the Vaux site, will be remembered at Keel Square with a planning application for a life-sized statue submitted to the council.
Created by Ray Lonsdale, Sunderland City Council has submitted an application to erect a stunning piece of public art that celebrates the history of the Vaux site, on the corner of Keel Square, overlooking the transforming Riverside Sunderland site which comprises a number of parts of the city centre including where the brewery once stood.
The piece, entitled ‘Gan Canny’, is one of three designed by Ray – who created Seaham’s famous Tommy – who has spent 14 months creating the stunning Vaux piece, and a further 19 months for the other two sculptures.
Gan Canny is the first piece to be unveiled and it is expected the other pieces will be installed separately at different sites across the Riverside Sunderland development.
Ray, whose family are from Sunderland, still has a strong connection to the city and said it has been a privilege and challenge to create the artwork of an iconic city sight that he still remembers himself.
He said: “My grandad used to take me down to Sunderland on a Saturday morning and I can recall the atmosphere in the city centre when Vaux was open. The dray horses – which, by then should really have been a thing of the past – were part of what made Vaux what it was. I can still picture them in my mind.
“When I was first approached by the council to work on this piece, I just felt that it was too good an opportunity to pass up. I know how much the dray horses meant to people and it is really nice to be able to create something that so many people have a positive sentiment about.”
The artist, who has a studio in South Hetton, used corten steel to create the sculpture, which forms a thin layer of oxide when its surface is exposed to the elements, producing a ‘rust-like’ coating that helps it blend into the environment it is in. The piece – which captures two men riding the dray horses, with a cart full of Vaux beer on the back – includes details like the spokes of the wheels, to a realistic recreation of a bucket carrying sculpted horse mess that hangs on the side of the cart. Crates of Vaux even contain sculpted bottles.
“It’s certainly the most complex piece I have worked on in my career so far.
“Detail wise, the horses were a challenge. Though it’s art, and an artistic interpretation of reality, you still want to be right. You want it to be realistic enough that people connect with it. And that’s often about the small details. I wanted to create a piece that feels real and connects people to the history of the site, and that people would return to and, each time, spot a detail they might not have the last time they saw it.”
The piece will stand on the North West corner of Keel Square, looking across the road to the Vaux site, which is now part of the Riverside Sunderland quarter, an area undergoing rapid change with £350m worth of development projects underway on the site right now.
Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “This is a stunning piece of art and we are so proud to have engaged a local artist of the calibre of Ray, to help celebrate the past on a site that is very much focused on its future.
“Riverside Sunderland is transforming, and it will be a real focal point of our city centre and a place where new communities will form – to live, work and play. Public art plays an important role in engaging people when they visit and telling them the stories of the city we’d like them to know. We’re proud of our past, and all three of Ray’s pieces celebrate it. This, the first one, is stunning and I hope to see it installed soon.”
The planning application is likely to be reviewed in November, and it is thought – if approved – the piece will be installed at Keel Square by the end of this year.
To stay up to date with the latest news from Riverside Sunderland, visit www.riversidesunderland.com.