I’m constantly impressed by Maureen Robinson’s generosity to Scarborough. Her gift of Freddie Gilroy was a truly philanthropic act. Churlish though it seems for me to say it however, her kindness should have stopped there.
I’m prompted to write having read of Mrs Robinson’s latest gift — a stainless steel tunny, wrought by her beneficiary, Ray Lonsdale.
My late grandfather, Frank Watkinson, was one of the Tunny Club’s best known secretaries; he was also housing manager for the former Scarborough Corporation. As a small boy, I was impressed by his expensive and much sought-after rods and reels, two valuable examples of which I believe at one time languished in the cellars of Londesborough Lodge, as no other home could be found for them. My Granny’s photographs of him in his waistcoat and pork pie hat — or was it a trilby? — standing next to various tunny, numbered and hanging from a pole on the seafront, are forever in my memory and were on display at Woodend Museum, where I showed them to my own children. So I hope Mr Lonsdale might do justice to this notable aspect of our heritage which brought short-lived prosperity to the bleak east coast in the shape of the wealthy big game-fishers of Europe and the USA of the 1920s.
He’s a clever metal worker, but I’m not a fan of his art. He’s a skilled welder, but for me his subsequent commissions have been less impressive. They remind me of giant versions of the sort of sentimental souvenir trinket available in the gift shops prevalent in Scarborough in the 1970s, of a standard well below even the dubiously valuable but collectable Capo di Monte figurines and tableaux. I know others enjoy what he does but aside from Freddie, I’m not one; each to his or her own, eh?
What needs to be asked is who gives permission for these generously donated pieces to be sited around the town? Are they subject — as I’m pretty sure they should be — to local planning legislation? Because not all of us people who make Scarborough our home want to see its every corner bristling with these designed-to-rust (but not for any obvious reasons) creations, and yes, I’m aware stainless steel doesn’t rust. Just because kind-hearted Maureen wants to pay for sculptures doesn’t mean we shouldn’t say: thanks, but no thanks.
Scarborough and District Civic Society demonstrated when they commissioned the two dreadful sculptures - Diving Belle - sited far enough away from the public gaze as to be grudgingly acceptable, and Bathing Belle, with her physiologically inaccurate limbs and hands, her dismally realised, spooky eyes and the laughable plinth from which she hopes to dip a toe in the water — that they may on occasion be a body capable of offering advice on matters of architecture but when it comes to art, they can’t be trusted. My Dad, by the way, was one of the society’s founding members, back in the late 1960s — he was also Filey School’s first Head of Art, a post which brought him home to Scarborough from Surrey and allowed me to enjoy my life in Scarborough, for better or worse, for the last 52 years; I can draw a bit myself, too. I met the artist’s model - his wife. His finished product did her little to no justice.