Published on 23 May 2023
A stunning piece of public art that will stand at the heart of a new community in Sunderland has been unveiled.
‘The Suddick Flypast’, a piece by contemporary fine artist and University of Sunderland lecturer Dr Ron Lawson, has been installed in Southwick, standing at the heart of Arnay Court on Old Mill Road, a newly completed development Sunderland City Council took possession of in February that has recently welcomed its first residents.
The artwork has been designed to reflect the location and history of the community of Southwick, with references to the old mill that used to stand close to the site, as well as Southwick’s position close to the river and the strong military links that the area has, something also celebrated close by on Southwick Green.
It was commissioned by Sunderland City Council and is part of a commitment to supporting local artists and creatives through its five-year Housing Delivery and Investment Plan (HDIP), which is delivering new communities across the city to ensure older and vulnerable residents have the homes they need to thrive. The plan set out ambitions to commission local artists within these new communities, to support the creative sector in the city.
Ron, who has a studio in Sunderland city centre, said: “I wanted the piece to really connect with the place and the people who live in Southwick, reflecting the history of the area using iconography that conveys the varied past of this part of the city.”
The piece – which features flying mallards to highlight Sunderland’s riverside location - was made from welded steel, with layers to it that give it texture, encouraging people to take a closer look at it. It features a windmill, depicting the area’s industrial background, but also the semi-rural nature of the area in the past, with leaves to reflect its nature and green spaces. There is a reference to oak, symbolic of the strength of the community, and poppies, in a nod to the area’s military connection.
“This is a layered piece, that intertwines stories from various stages of Southwick’s evolution and the city more widely. It should be a piece that people want to get up close to, to see and appreciate the different parts of it, and the various textures and materials used too,” said Dr Lawson.
The piece was commissioned in the autumn and planning approval was granted earlier this year. Dr Lawson, who lectures in Professional Practice for the University's Faculty of Business Law and Tourism, has been working on the artwork from his studio in Norfolk Street and workshop in Dubmire near Fence Houses, and travelled to South Wales in April to cast the bronze ducks by hand.
Dr Lawson said: “I completed a bronze casting course last year, and I felt the use of this material would be perfect for the two flying ducks that I have included in the piece.
“Though my workshop in Dubmire has a small forge, it isn’t big enough to cast the birds, so I went to Wales to create the birds using, what is called, the lost wax approach, an ancient way to cast bronze.”
The approach saw Ron model the birds from clay, from which he made a mould, which then created a wax model. Ron created a ceramic shell around the wax, which was then melted out of the shell, allowing it to be filled with molten bronze. The shell was cracked, releasing perfectly formed mallards that added some colour and texture to the piece. It was a new technique for Ron, who was originally a sheet metal worker - a traditional skill that he has been able to apply to his work as an artist.
Ron has been commissioned twice in the past by the council. Once for a sculpture of a schoolgirl, affectionately known as Joy by local residents, which now stands in a new community in Columbia and a second piece, depicting a miner, at Boult Terrace.
Councillor Kevin Johnston, dynamic city cabinet member at Sunderland City Council, said: “Artwork like this not only celebrates the rich past of the city, but encourages our residents to get out and explore their community, and that’s something I’m proud of.
“The council can make an incredible difference to communities – whether that’s to our residents through the places we create, or to the creative community, through commissions that support their business – so this really is a stunning piece that gives back to everyone and hopefully inspires the residents who now call Arnay Court home.”
Arnay Court is one of a number of new HDIP developments across the city. The scheme includes five new 3-bedroom family homes and 11 2-bed bungalows for older people, and are designed to deliver good-quality, affordable accommodation for rent. The homes were built by Sunderland-based MCC Homes.