A visit to The Kelpies

A kelpie is a Scottish water spirit, who usually appears as a horse. But Andy Scott’s Kelpies are a pair of sculptures that since April 2014 have stood 30 metres above the entrance to the Forth and Clyde Canal in Falkirk, Scotland. You can glimpse them from the road nearby, but that doesn’t really do them justice. Up close (and you can walk right up to  them and even, on a guided tour, inside them) they are spectacular.

Andy Scott is a Scottish sculptor who specialises in public art and his work can be seen in England, Northern Ireland and Australia as well as Scotland. The Kelpies’ maquettes (smaller, preliminary works – in this case 1:10 scale) have also been exhibited in the US, most recently in Bryant Park, NYC. Interestingly, he was given the title ‘The Kelpies’ to work with right at the start of the project, rather than it being something decided retrospectively. Andy then developed the idea from its beginning in mythology to something which encompasses the idea of the horse as the driving force of the early industrial revolution – including of course the heavy horses that pulled the canal boats when the canals first opened. (Two Clydesdale horses called Duke and Baron were the actual models.) Each sculpture weighs 300 tonnes and is made of 990 stainless steel plates.

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The Kelpies are not without  their detractors. Jonathan Jones writing in The Guardian (22/4/14) called them ‘banal and obvious’, saying that they are ‘neither well observed nor powerfully imagined’. But if we may be so bold (and you know that we are not usually controversial), we think that he is missing the point as he sees them as sculptures of horses.  But they are not horses, they are kelpies and they say something  about our relationships with water, earth and industry. We think they do it very well indeed.

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