Gateshead now has a legacy of 50+ major public works by leading artists and received funding from sources like the Arts Council Lottery, Northern Arts and local developers and sponsors. Art has helped reclaim derelict areas eg Gateshead Quays which transformed a former industrial area into an attractive public area enhanced with artworks.
Note that mining ceased on this Gateshead site in the late 1960s. But Gateshead Council's Art in Public Places Panel didn’t decide to earmark the site overlooking the A1 for a future landmark sculpture until 1990.
The Angel of the North is a contemporary weathering steel sculpture, designed by Antony Gormley (b1950). I didn’t know Gormley’s name because he is of the generation of young British artists who emerged recently. He has exhibited work around the world and has major public works in the USA, Europe, Japan and Australia. In 1994 he won the Turner Prize and in 1997 won an OBE for services to sculpture. He has shown in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate Gallery, British Museum and Leeds Henry Moore Sculpture Gallery.
It is located in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. The artwork stands on a hill, overlooking the A1 and A167 roads and the East Coast Main Line rail route, south of the site of Team Colliery. Work in Hartlepool began on the project in 1994, using government art money and private sponsorship.
Gormley was selected by a panel and his design proposals progressed with engineering consultants, Ove Arup & Partners. Fabrication contractors visited Gormley's studio to see the Angel models and in May 1997, the fabrication company was chosen: Hartlepool Fabrications on Teesside.
A revolutionary approach to the Angel was devised by Hartlepool Fabrications working closely with consulting engineers Ove Arup and Gateshead Council. The original body castings of the Angel by Gormley were scanned by the Geomatics Department at Newcastle University and the precise co-ordinates plotted to create an electronic 3D virtual reality.
A panoramic hilltop site was chosen where the sculpture would be clearly seen by more than 90,000 drivers a day on the A1 and by passengers on the East Coast London-Edinburgh main line. The site, the former colliery pithead synonymous with Gateshead mining history, was later re-turfed and the landscape in the surrounding area reinstated.
Completed in Feb 1998, the Angel was 20 ms tall with wings 54 ms across. Due to its exposed location, windloads on the wing boxes were transmitted along the ribs, down the body and into the foundations, to withstand winds of 160+ km/h. Thus, foundations containing 600 tonnes of concrete anchored the sculpture to rock 21 m below.
The angel was made in 3 parts, the body weighing 100 tonnes and the 2 wings weighing 50 tonnes each; then they were brought to its site by road. Working from scaffolding, workers secured each wing with 88 bolts then welded the plates together. The wings were angled slightly forward to create a sense of embrace. The angel was based on Gormley’s cast of his own body.
Despite the originally strong opposition, The Angel is now considered to be a landmark for N.E England. Just in case car accidents might result from the statue's special position near the A1 motorway, trees were planted to hide the sculpture from the road exactly where it passes closest. For those of us not driving around in the UK, the best cultural reference is in the tv detective show Vera (2011-) which uses the Angel to establish its Northumberland setting.