The Conversation Piece and the Eye
Some sculptures are all the better for being in just the right place; think of the Angel of the North or Statue of Liberty, for example. And in its own less dramatic way that is true of the Conversation Piece.
This group of 22 figures are dotted around a paved area near the sea at the north end of Littlehaven Beach in South Shields in the north east of England. They could be locals stopping briefly in their daily routine to gossip, or holiday-makers meeting for the first time perhaps. With the dunes as backdrop they make for a striking piece.
The figures are of bronze; they were created by Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz, who has created similar pieces elsewhere (the ‘Last Conversation Piece’ in Washington DC, for example). Their rounded bases mean that locals sometimes refer to them affectionately as the ‘Weebles’ or simply ‘the wobbly men’. They are for obvious reasons a popular spot for photos and children in particular seem to love to pose with, or try to climb on, the figures. It took some patience for me to get these people-free images to share for the Photographing Public Art challenge.
Nearby is this eye-catching (pun intended!) sculpture by Stephen Broadbent. It is a popular spot for photos as people like to pose with the eye as a frame. But I preferred using it to frame the view beyond of the beach, the sea and Tynemouth Priory across the river. Around the ‘iris’ are the words: ‘but my eye could not see it, wherever might be it, the barque that is bearing my lover to me’.
The quotation comes from a traditional Northumbrian ballad, ‘Blow the wind southerly’. The full lyrics are:
‘Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly, Blow the wind south for the bonny blue sea. Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly, Blow, bonny breeze, my lover to me. They told me last night there were ships in the offing, And I hurried down to the deep rolling sea. But my eye could not see it, wherever might be it, The barque that is bearing my lover to me. Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly, Blow, bonny breeze, o'er the bonny blue sea. Blow the wind southerly, southerly, southerly, Blow, bonny breeze, and bring him to me. Is it not sweet to hear the breeze singing, As lightly it calms o'er the deep rolling sea? But sweeter and dearer by far when 'tis bringing The barque of my true love in safely to me!’
I have visited South Shields a number of times; these photos were taken in 2015
Nice post Sarah. I love those sculptures. I can only imagine the conversations they would be having day after day.
Thank you Anne 🙂 I suspect much of the conversation would be classified as gossip, don’t you?!
How wonderful these are – they do evoke a group of people gathering conversing there on the beach, and I see (from looking them up) they are life size. I’d love to walk around between them.
Yes, life-size 😀 I should maybe have mentioned that fact and/or included a photo with someone in it!
The weebles looks interesting. Does that beach get high tide where the water reaches their waist?
No, the sculptures are on the dunes, well out of reach of high water so they are always dry and always fully visible.
The weebles figures are fascinating!
Thanks Annie – they’re certainly rather out of the ordinary!
Those figures are so interesting – I can understand that it will spark some conversation between even strangers! And so is the eye … I like that you used it as a (natural) frame for your picture.
I think you’re right – not only is the sculpture OF a conversation, it will also start some!
what lovely statues! It does give the feel of friends gathering to meet to catch up there on the dunes 🙂
Yes, exactly – you can almost imagine that you hear the buzz of conversation!
I find the weeble like figures a bit unnerving. Imagine wandering round them at night?
I’d split the love between South Shields and Tynemouth equally… well, ok maybe a slight bias for Tynemouth. Shields for a night out and Tynemouth for the morning after? Especially on a Sunday when the market is on.
Ha, yes maybe – and certainly if you want your night out to involve a curry! I think Shields maybe also has the better ice cream, Minchella’s? But I’d take Tynemouth any day if asked to choose 🙂
I really like the ballad and have a dim memory that I know the tune. I’ll have to investigate further.
Yes, do look it up – it’s a beautiful tune!
Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter
I think these must post-date my last visit to South Shields – probably about 2008 or so. I like the eye framing the view, and now I hear Kathleen Ferrier singing Blow the Wind Southerly in my head.
Yes, I’m sure they must. When we were last there in 2015, which is when I took these phots, they were part of a relatively new initiative by the local council to improve the sea front. I guess that’s a pretty lovely ear-worm to have 😆
Anabel @ The Glasgow Gallivanter
Glad you liked them 🙂
I do! Curious as they are
Aletta - nowathome
‘The wobbly men’ are just delightful!
Yes, great fun aren’t they?!
Aletta - nowathome
Never heard of these figures before, strange and amusing little things. I wonder where the inspiration comes from for such things.
They are rather captivating. As I said below, I reckon he was inspired by those old children’s wobbly toys – the ones it’s impossible to push over 😀
the eternal traveller
I think the sculptor must have had fun creating each of those individual figures. They remind me of those wobbly children’s toys.
Yes, that’s exactly what I thought of, and I’m convinced they were his inspiration!
We had a great holiday in South Shields once – we stayed at the lighthouse. But none of these were there then ( but then my daughter, now 33 was probably about 8 at the time …). Time to revisit, perhaps?
I can’t say overall that South Shields is my favourite place on this coast (give me Tynemouth any day!) but I think that’s because I have a ‘north of the river’ prejudice, the south being a bit too close to Sunderland (it’s a football thing :lol:) There’s quite a lot to see however, and the sea front has really been smartened up – these art pieces are part of that process.
Well, it’s never even occurred to us to go to Tynemouth. Should we?
Well I love it, and the Virtual Tourist friends I took there did so too. Interesting old priory and castle (English Heritage), lovely walks along the river mouth and coast (see my last post about the sea for some views), good restaurants and pubs, a few quirky independent shops, other fascinating bits of history linked to sea rescue and Admiral Collingwood (https://www.toonsarah-travels.blog/admiral-lord-collingwood-a-forgotten-hero/) … I like it in the winter but we also had a very pleasant week here one August, staying in a fabulous apartment in one of the rather lovely Victorian villas overlooking the Tyne 🙂
Right. Sold. It will be visited, and soon!
I hope you like it, after that build up!
Mike and Kellye Hefner
These are interesting, Sarah! It’s so hard to get a great shot without people in it, and you did a mighty fine job. Looks like the weather cooperated, too. Thank you for sharing, especially with those of us who probably won’t get to ever see them in person.
Thank you 🙂 Yes, the weather was lovely for the time of year (April).
Sarah, I love the wobbly figures. I can just see you tapping your toes waiting, waiting, waiting for someone to get off the statue. They are among some of the most unique figures I’ve seen in our travels on PPAC. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!
Thank you Marsha, so pleased you like them!