“I’m riddled with appreciation of the ordinary.”Richard Farrington
Appearing on the forbidding and tragic edges of Huntcliff – between Saltburn and Skinningrove – part gateway, part omen, Richard Farrington’s Circle (or Charm Bracelet as it’s become known) has long been a beacon on the North East coast.
Commissioned by Common Ground – in partnership with British Steel and Northern Arts – as part of their Milestones project in 1990, Farrington – originally from London – “was given the freedom to behave intuitively”, with Arts Administrator Steve Chettle only stating that elements of the sculpture were to be rooted in the local area.
Farrington wanted the sculpture to be mystical, involving a “collection of random things”. On visits to the area he noticed local women wearing charm bracelets, an observation that fired his imagination.
During construction, Richard lived above the North Skelton and Brotton Workman’s Club. He wanted to make “proper public art involving the community”, so the work took place at the British Steel Special Sections Rolling Mill at Skinningrove, and he remembers being amazed by the vast scale of the mill when first visiting.
Farrington often used forgotten off-cuts or obsolete materials found lying around the works. The inner section of the circle is made from an old lift-shaft mast, while the outer part is made from “fish plate” – a material used to reinforce the hulls of trawlers in the local fishing trade.
As a southern artist, fearing being stereotyped as a soft post-Thatcherite in an area permeated by heavy industry, unemployment and generations of metal-workers, Richard felt the need to prove himself. In the Boiler Shop he fell into a routine of early starts and relentless hard work (flame-cutting, stick-welding and forging steel plate for the sculptures); as well as imagining all the different pieces into existence.
At the Workmens Club in North Skelton, through long late nights listening to people talking about the neighbourhood first hand, drinking too much beer and participating in quizzes; he felt at home. Through living and working in the area, (initially for 14 weeks) and immersing himself through visits to the nearby moors, ancient sites, coastal villages and the big continuous rolling mill in Middlesbrough, his initial feelings of being an outsider disappeared.
The Circle you see is not the same Circle that was.
In 1996, the original sculpture was destroyed during the night. Power tools were used and the piece was rolled from Huntcliff into the sea. Although local rumours are still whispered, the identity of the people involved has never been publicised.
Farrington believes it was, “just a bit of anarchy really. I heard it was a work party and think it was probably a wanker with a machine trying to impress his mates.”
People found many of the original “charms” washed up on the beach in subsequent weeks (some were reused in the replacement), and the frame was found in the sea. Lost charms were replaced with new pieces.
Undeterred, Farrington made a new, stronger frame, which was dragged up the cliff by him and the “Loco Boys” (Locomotive Maintenance Team) on foot. That’s the one you’ll see today.
For Richard, Circle remains his most treasured piece: “I remarry my wife every time we’re up there,” he told me. The clanging, tactile nature of the work pleases him.
He’s happy with its “resurgence” through Instagram, as it’s become widely shared, but he’s more enamoured by its emergence as a secular sacred space. The weddings. The Midsummers. The memorials.
Pillar and Trawl Door
Nearby Circle are two companion pieces.
When I interviewed him, Farrington said he was, “riddled with appreciation of the ordinary”. A steel tube sticking out of the cliff for pulling up ships (breeches buoy) inspired Pillar. Flow forms were incorporated, suggestive of the sea below.
He based Trawl Door on the ones he saw in Whitby harbour (a trawl door is dragged behind fishing boats to increase the catch), and included diatoms (microorganisms from the sea) in his design, his thoughts – like his sculptures – never far from the ocean.
“Entropy is a cosmic motion”
Coastal erosion means that all three sculptures are slowly nearing the edge of the treacherous Huntcliff. Richard – phlegmatic about this as he was when the first sculpture was destroyed – is aware of no plans to conserve them. “I like the idea that they’ll be gone someday,” he says bluntly. “The cliff will erode or the chains will wear out and someone will find this wonderful object to take home”.
Written by Daniel Cochran, 2022.
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