Tarka chance on me.
Charles Kingsley is one of our most celebrated exports – we have him to thank for “Westward Ho!” the novel, the town and the railway station. In later years, he has become more eccentric with his traffic cone hats and pigeon armada, but when you make the leap from man to statue, you’re bound to take on a few behavioural quirks. Indeed, along with the likes of Sir Richard Pinecoffin by the river, Kingsley’s statue outside Victoria park has been a landmark for decades – though to the next generation, it will forever be ‘ that really hard gym in Pokémon Go’. If you’re recognised by a world-wide video game franchise, you know you’ve made it in the landmark stakes. He is possibly the most famous statue we have. But lo! Another contender has entered the arena.
This month saw a rival monument appear in Bideford – one of Tarka the Otter. So far, Henry Williamson’s creation has been honoured with an eponymous trail and a mug shot on every bottle of Tarka spring water sold – a variation on those age old ‘have you seen me?’ pictures on milk cartons. Indeed, we have seen him sitting majestically astride his own plinth opposite Mr. Chips. Sleek, shiny and beautifully carved, Tarka has found the best possible position by the river, so that visitors can pose beside him with this quintessentially Bidefordian backdrop in view.
The entire project was masterminded by local businesswoman Tonia Quance who said, “Well Saturday was a huge relief! Until then we just felt blind terror- is something about to go awry? Are going to have a howling gale and torrential rain? But seriously I am so very pleased that we have been able to realize this project in little over a year and very thankful to have had so much wonderful support from the community. I think everyone is pleased to have something like this in Bideford.”
With a budget of just £15,000, a 150% life size bronze statue, slate plaque and commemorative book may have seemed like a big task, but people soon rallied behind the cause. With the support of the town council last year, the project took on a life of its own and the otterly great idea became a reality.
It was quite a day at the unveiling! Like a mummy with eight face lifts, Tarka’s real visage had been kept studiously under wraps, so when the moment came, it was a genuine surprise to all – artist Rowan Fawdon has worked miracles with the source material, creating something at first hyper realistic, but also hugely recognisable.
People got into the spirit in a wide range of ways. Faces were painted at the Baptist church, and by the time the big moment came a little after 10:50, it looked like an otter family reunion. As Tonia herself says, hopefully this is the start of many more such projects to come!
Open Art Exhibition.
Our arts stay-cation doesn’t stop there. Local artists have been invited to show their work along Landivisiau Walk every Sunday until 29th October. Thanks to their “no selection” process, it is hoped to attract both professionals and amateurs alike. Did the Burton Art Gallery school’s exhibition whet your appetite? Are you a young Damien Hirst without the corpse desecration ( or at least access to formaldehyde?)
The council are looking for young artists to add to this scheme- and it could be the perfect place to show off your work! Situated between the river, town and Victoria park, it’s bound to get a lot of footfall and a lot of interest in your composition. If you’d like to get involved, Councillor Johnny Langton-Lockton wants to hear from you, and can be contacted at email@example.com.
If you’re more of a watcher than a doer, these voyeuristic tendencies can be sated for free – as there is no ticket price for the outdoor exhibition. Rather than being cordoned off for the enjoyment of a paying elite, the walk of fame will be open to all. The works will be available for sale with contact information on site. If this pilot scheme is successful, it will become a recurring feature every year. Just as a robin ushers in the first frosts of winter, when that first painting finds its way to the railings, we’ll know that Spring has arrived.
Millie Sutherland O’Gara.