Having grown up in Sunderland I don’t associate it with appreciation of the arts. Over the years the council, seemingly seeking to vie with Gateshead, has invested in a number of projects that have failed to inspire. Most recently the Roker Pier Gates, fashioned from stainless steel, began to oxidize, a large sculpture representing the bridges over the Wear became something for kids to climb and vandals to paint before conversion into a flower bed, and most notoriously of all Alison Wilding‘s piece “Ambit” attracted ridicule when it’s outline “collapsed” with the movement of the tide.
The town has traditionally been more artisan than artistic, its workforce divided between mines and shipyards. The latter dominated the wear for over 600 years, and at its peak Sunderland was producing one in every three ships built in the UK.
There are some gems to be found however, one of which is St Andrew’s at Roker. I grew up knowing that this church was “The Cathedral of the Arts and Craft Movement” without really appreciating its significance, yet it features tapestry and carpets by William Morris, a font cover by Mousey Thompson, and a foundation stone carved by Eric Gill amongst its treasures. Most significantly of all the building itself, designed by Edward Prior, is in the shape of an upturned long-ship, its pillars replicating row-locks and it’s roof the ribs of the boat.
I’m not a churchgoer so am unmoved by the decline of organised religion in the country, but it saddens me that St Andrews now struggles to maintain its riches, along with many other historic buildings I’m sure. Perhaps we should be seeking to maintain this work of stone, rather than dubious works of steel.
On a brighter note I did find some culture in the vicinity. Down by the shore I spotted a guy strumming an acoustic guitar and David became my portrait for today. He’s a student at the university and along with his friends Arvin and Peter (from Toronto) they have a band called Koocheh (کوچه) a Farsi word meaning “streets”. They write and perform in Persian.So it seems we do have some culture in Sunderland… or should that be Koocheh in Sunderland?