The Naiad finds a new home

CovSoc Chair, Vince Hammersley, tells us the story of one of Coventry’s most famous sculptures.

The Naiad sculpture by internationally famous Coventry artist George Wagstaffe stood in the Earl Street Courtyard, opposite the Council House for around fifty years. This courtyard was granted grade 2 listed status but has now been destroyed by Coventry University. This artwork won the ICA Young Contemporary Sculpture prize in the late 1950s and was one of the first to receive this prestigious recognition.

Naiad in the setting for which she was commissioned

The sculpture stood on a rock which was specifically quarried and sculpted to fit by the artist but was unfortunately destroyed when the sculpture was removed.

The sculpture was then installed in Lady Herberts Garden as part of the millennium garden, without thought or due diligence to the security and safety of this important public artwork. Within a short time there was an attempt to steal it. It was hacked from the studs which held it in place and hidden in a hedge ready to be carted away and presumably melted down. Fortunately, it was spotted by ground staff who arrived early in the morning before it could be taken.

It was removed into a gardeners’ store (Swanswell gate house) for its “protection” and ignored for many years where it suffered further damage requiring expensive repairs and renovation as this is a nationally acclaimed artwork and it is part of the post war heritage of this City.

Naiad and George when she was discovered in the gatehouse

The Naiad was the first major work by George Wagstaffe an internationally renowned artist from Coventry still living and working in the city and who has contributed to the arts and artistic community in this city for over sixty years.

The Naiad was originally purchased for the City by City Architect Arthur Ling. Significantly it was the first major piece of Coventry public art commissioned following WW2.

Rare photograph of George and the Naiad model Doreen

After a great deal of lobbying, George Wagstaffe and I, together with the Coventry Council Conservation officer, were granted permission to view Naiad where she has been stored for ten years(see picture ).

The statue has suffered damage from a form of corrosion due to the conditions in which it has been kept and required urgent remedial work which the sculptor himself offered to facilitate. With the help of Cllr Jayne Innes funds were found and the remedial work carried out.

Following its conservation, it was delivered to the Council house for safe keeping by George (see picture).

Naiad being delivered to council house after repairs and renovation

It was then moved to Friargate where it has been displayed in the reception lobby. This is not the ideal setting as it is a water sculpture – the Naiad being a water nymph.

Finally, after many years of neglect and abuse and lobbying by myself and others, Naiad is to be returned to a setting which befits its importance, second only to the Godiva statue. She is currently being installed as part of a water feature at the top of the Upper Precinct. This is indeed good news but many feel that our public art deserves greater respect and there are still around a dozen “missing” public artworks in this City.

George Wagstaffe and Cllr Welsh at the unveiling of the Naiad in the Upper Precinct – 5/7/2021photo Vincent Hammersley

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