New Town artist angry after council loses work in Glenrothes

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David Harding with one of his pieces called Henge

An acclaimed artist who has created dozens of sculptures in a post-war Scottish new town says he is “very upset” that the council has lost some of his work.

David Harding, 86, said three poetry plates had been unearthed from the pavement in Glenrothes, Fife.

They went missing on the grounds of an old shopping mall, which has been fenced off awaiting demolition.

The Fife Council said their disappearance was “really disappointing” and it did not know where they were.

Mr Harding was the Town Artist in Glenrothes for 10 years beginning in 1968.

The missing pieces were located on the site of the former Glenwood shopping center. They include poetry by Douglas Young, Hugh Macdiarmid and Sydney Goodsir Smith.

Poetry plate

A passer-by reads one of the missing poetry plates

Speaking from his home in Glasgow, Mr Harding told TBEN Scotland that the works were part of his legacy.

“I have about 30 or 40 works of art in Glenrothes and I thought they would stay there forever. I did it for posterity,” he said.

“I take great pride in my work and I get immense satisfaction when I walk through Glenrothes and see them.

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“So when I heard that three poetry records had disappeared, I was very sad.”

He had made 10 poetry records at bus stops and phone booths around the city, but he believes only one remains now.

“I think it speaks volumes about the literacy of Glenrothes that they want to acquire poetry,” he said.

Poetry plate

Poetry plate

Mr Harding said some years ago some staff from Fife Council’s parks and landscapes department had begun to break up his compositions.

“They put pieces here and there, despite the fact that I designed them very specifically for a specific place,” he said.

“They decided to split them up. They took them out of the neighborhoods and put them on roundabouts and main roads.

“I think the council has a bit of an arrogant attitude and doesn’t really appreciate the full integrity of any work.”

Mr Harding grew up in Leith and studied at Edinburgh College of Art.

He worked as a teacher in Nigeria before returning to Scotland at the age of 30, where he was an independent artist.

John Gray, David's assistant (L) and Malcolm Robertson - David's successor (R)

David’s armchair and concrete TV sculpture on a street in Glenrothes

He then answered a newspaper advertisement for the position of town artist with the Glenrothes Development Corporation as the new town took shape in the east of Scotland.

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The task involved creating a series of public art installations throughout Glenrothes, using the same building materials used to create local housing.

Two of the works he created are now heritage-listed: the Henge, a spiral of poured concrete slabs in Beaufort Drive; and a mural on an underpass called Industry, which he said was inspired by the patterns he had seen on mud huts in Africa.

His other pieces included Heritage, Rows of Concrete Relief Columns, and Dark Cemetery.

Mr Harding went on to head a department at the Glasgow School of Art. He also has public art in Switzerland and Greece.

Industry underpass mural

David was inspired to create this mural called Industry from patterns he saw on mud huts in Africa

Andrew Demetrius, who is writing a PhD on Mr Harding, said the council should be held accountable for the loss.

He said: “The new cities after World War II were repetitive because they were built on a limited budget.

“People thought they were depressing.

“They wanted something visually stimulating to differentiate the streets, which all looked the same.”

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He said the art-making role at Glenrothes was tailor-made for Mr Harding.

Industry

David Harding next to his work called Industry

“David did something very radical by working with the very humble materials of concrete and brick,” he said.

“His work is embedded in the environment. They speak to each other.

“There’s a big part of the community that wouldn’t go to an art gallery or museum, so he brought the art to them.”

Demetrius said the poetry plates were amusing, provocative and thought-provoking.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people in town who say they love them.

“It is extremely sad and disappointing that the poetry plates have disappeared.”

Dark cemetery in Pitteuchar, Glenrothes

Dark cemetery in Pitteuchar, Glenrothes

Visual arts journalist Jan Patience said she was “almost speechless” at being lost.

She said: “He is one of the most influential artists in the UK. His work as an urban artist in Glenrothes is legendary.

“It’s careless on the part of Fife Council, who have always had a bit of an arrogant attitude towards old things made in the 60s and 70s.”

Andy MacLellan, Fife Council’s community projects team manager, said he was disappointed three pavers had been removed from the site.

“These pavers are from the area within the herras fencing that surrounds the perimeter of the site,” he said.

“It’s really disappointing that they are missing and we hope someone comes forward to confirm that they are in safe hands to re-lay as part of the master plan for the area.”