The Children of Calais Sculpture @ Saffron Walden, Essex ~ Must see!

Ah, at last!  It’s so wonderful to see a sculpture in the UK in a major public space, like outside a church, that is not some army general on a horse, and one that is really meaningful and relevant.  This is a very contemporary, thought-provoking and moving piece of public art by Ian Wolter, standing just next to St. Mary’s Church, Saffron Walden, Essex ~ my Saffron Walden friend, Jenny kindly took me to see this on Tuesday…

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From Ian Wolter’s website: ‘The Children of Calais is a life-sized sculpture of six children in poses echoing The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin. The piece is designed to provoke debate about the inhumanity of our response to the children caught up in the ongoing refugee crisis.  Rodin’s original memorialises a moment during the Hundred Years’ War when Calais was under siege by England for over a year and King Edward offered to spare the people of the city on condition that six of its burghers would surrender themselves.  Ian Wolter’s sculpture evokes a parallel narrative: the sacrifice being demanded of child migrants for our ‘greater good’. Dressed in contemporary clothing, one of the figures holds a lifejacket in place of the city key held in Rodin’s original.’

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From ‘A New Perspective on the Children of Calais’ by Claire Mulley (wife of Ian Wolter), in celebration of 20 June 2018, Refugee Day…

‘The Children of Calais’ is an unusual piece of public art in a country that tends to memorialize heroes, royals and victories. Britain has a lot of men on horses, columns and pedestals, and quite a few Queen Victorias gazing across towns and parks. But things are slowly changing. April this year saw the first statue to a woman in Parliament Square, Millicent Fawcett. ‘The Children of Calais’, unveiled by Alf Dubs in June, is something different again. The six life-sized, bronze figures, three girls, three boys, that compose the piece are designed to provoke debate about the inhumanity of our response to the children – those most vulnerable to neglect and abuse – caught up in the ongoing refugee crisis.

Award-winning sculptor and conceptual artist Ian Wolter was inspired by Rodin’s famous ‘The Burghers of Calais’, an edition of which lives in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament. Rodin was commissioned by the City of Calais to commemorate the six burghers of their city who, in the fourteenth century, were prepared to sacrifice themselves to the English king, in order to save their citizens from starvation under siege. The six men are portrayed at the moment they walked out of Calais to their certain death, one carrying the key to the city in an act of silent surrender. Every figure subtly portrays desperation in a different way. Although they are standing close enough to touch one another, each is lost and alone in their misery. Yet as well as expressing sorrow and defeat, they also capture heroic self-sacrifice and human dignity.

‘My six figures are English children,’ Ian explains, ‘children I know, in contemporary clothes, but in poses echoing Rodin’s burghers, with the tallest child holding a life-jacket in place of the Calais city key. Refugee children are simply children at the end of the day, forced from their homes and at the mercy of strangers whose language they may not even speak. When children are portrayed in the way Rodin approached his sculpture, the loneliness and desperation is overlaid with their need for adult care and protection.’……

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The lives of the six Burghers of Calais, as represented by Rodin, were eventually spared in an act of mercy by the English king’s pregnant wife. ‘I liked that element of the fourteenth century story,’ Ian adds, ‘because in my work it suggests the possibility of a happy ending for child refugees. That in the end, humanity may hold sway.’’

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As Phil Simpson, one of my good CMS friends noted, the position of the sculpture in relation to the church also parallels Rodin’s sculpture of the burghers in relation to Parliament – a comment on institutions that have let them down perhaps?  Food for Thought – and if you’re anywhere near Saffron Walden in the near future, do go and check it out!

7 thoughts on “The Children of Calais Sculpture @ Saffron Walden, Essex ~ Must see!”

  1. Dear Catherine,

    What a beautiful sculpture! It’s sad to see that we (humans) still can cause so much pain to each other. I do pray that ‘humanity may hold sway’!

    Blessings

    Anne

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