The Kelpies as they are known are a pair of towering horse heads, which were designed by Glasgow sculptor Andy Scott as part of a canal renovation near Glasgow. The monuments were designed intentionally with the industrial aesthetics of Glasgow and Falkirk in central Scotland in mind, with structural columns and beams visible through the riveted laser cut steel plates of the skin. The manes are rendered as geometric, overlapping slabs of steel. Recently completed, the two structures will be illuminated both inside and out, to create a stunning spectacle in hours of darkness.
Andy modeled his work after local Clydesdales horses. It is this theme of working horses that captured Scott’s imagination and drove the project.
This is the second part of a two-part interview with sculptor Andy Scott who took the time with me to discuss his sculpture which towers over the Scottish countryside. Andy describes his technique.
I mentioned that there are very few artists throughout history that think in the large scale that Andy does. I wondered if it must be a genetic gift.
Andy replied, “You know a lot of my pieces may look quite similar, but with every one that I am doing I’m pushing the technique a step beyond where I was before. That play of light coming through, it is very important to me. Usually when I’m making these things, I make a linear three dimensional drawing, and then I clad over the top of that. Sometimes it would be easier to just completely encase it. But for me there is a tremendous thrill and pleasure and challenge in actually leaving parts of the sculpture exposed and completely transparent. It allows that play of light; the way that the atmosphere works with it and various other unexpected delights come along as part of that.
“Also if I’m honest, I think it lends itself to a kind of an air of distinctive appeal as it is very unusual. While by no means unique it is quite an unusual technique to use.
I mentioned to Andy that that I read about how he had constructed two smaller maquettes of his pieces and that they were transported to Chicago and displayed on a site overlooking Lake Michigan this past year. Andy elaborated, “They are no longer in Chicago. They moved to Purdue University in Indiana. Judy Jacobi asked me if should could have them for a while and I was delighted to say, ‘Yes.’
“We took them there in August. Purdue will host those sculptures until next March, and then in March they are going to go on exhibit in Bryant Park in New York City. So it is a tremendous thrill to not only have them at Purdue, but as you know it is a very rural and very open area so seeing the equine statues sitting there will create a lovely vista in front of the main campus building. The next venue is almost the exact opposite — sitting in the midst of a great city amongst all the buildings. I’m looking forward to that. It will be a challenge in some ways, but a great chance to showcase them.
“To go back to the mechanics of it, I made two sets of maquettes. The ones that are in the States right now are the second of the two. They were the ones that were scaled up to be the full-sized objects for construction here in Scotland.
“From day one I was in league with some fantastic engineers. One in particular, a chap named Nick Cooper, is an absolute genius. He told me that my objective should not be to worry about the engineering, but make it pure in terms of sculpture. His job was to do everything he could to effect or not to damage or deviate from my artistic intent. It was an amazing scenario to have. It wound up costing considerably more than it may have, but the engineers were incredibly adept at following my vision to make these things as sculptural and equine as possible.
“So it was quite a protracted process. The maquettes were meticulously scanned using advanced laser scanners. It was very high tech – they used a “James Bond” piece of apparatus. I’m afraid I don’t know much about the technique. They plotted every single piece of steel and created a three dimensional computer model. Then the engineering company, Atkins (which is one of the world’s leading design and engineering consultancy companies) took those scans and analyzed them to the nth degree and came up with a system of an internal tubular steel framework and stainless steel cladding of the skin. That took many months and was an incredibility meticulous and painstaking process. Atkins had me down to their offices on a number of occasions to work with them and to work out some of the details of the sculpture. So I was able to prevent the vision of the sculpture from being diluted by the engineering process, which often happens.
“The tubular frame was whip rolled by a company called Angle Ring. They are one of the largest steel fabricators in the UK. Angle Ring is a sixty year old company specializing in bending and curving metal and alloys. It claims to be the UK’s largest steel bending range at its production facility in West Midlands.
“The interesting thing about The Kelpies is that each one has around eighteen thousand components. No two components are the same so there is no duplication anywhere in either of the Kelpies so you can image the challenge that would be not only for engineers in the first place, but also for the steel fabricators and the various other fabrication specialists that are involved.
“Sometimes I think it would be nicer to leave the sculpture without the skin as the internal frame is a joy to behold. It is incredible. I have to say that the fabrication company – the company installing the steel structure – SH Steel Fabrication & Cladding, did an incredible job in translating those engineering drawings to the structure that you now can see.”
I had read that the initial plan for The Kelpies was to have them act as a counterweight to the new lock and thus rise up and down as the lock was opened and closed. I asked Andy to explain how that was to work. But then he corrected me as he explained, “The intention originally was to have The Kelpies moving on the displacement lock as a counter weight. Unfortunately, with the evolution of the design, The Kelpies sits on the extension to the Forth and Clyde Canal. The Kelpies are actually a gateway on either side of a new lock. Originally the idea was that the mass of The Kelpies would act as a counterweight to the new lock. The volume of water in the canal changed and it became apparent that the original counterweight idea wouldn’t work. After considerable debate we decided to do away with the movement as it would be an expense purely for a theatrical purpose and really wasn’t necessary. As part of the change we had to go back to one of the main funders of the project. I am happy to say he didn’t mind the change. They were absolutely in love with the sculptures themselves. The movement idea was secondary anyway so they weren’t particularly bothered by the change. We subsequently diverted our attention to the internal part of the sculpture to make the inner space within each piece more accessible and open area for the public to visit.
“We are currently working with architects to come up with a suitable internal space or exhibition venue. That in itself has been a very interesting part of the project. Some people would like to see it as a paid admission space. But for some of my colleagues involved in the project and I, it is much more about the sanctity of the art — insuring that the people can see the actual effort and structure and the incredible views of the inside, as it is really phenomenal. I am pleased to say that part is going very well. There is always a way to find a happy compromise between these aspirations. So that is where we are at the moment. It is taking shape very nicely. I think they will start the architectural part within the next couple of months.
“We are almost complete now. The topping out ceremony, the actual completion of the “skin” as it were is set for the 27th of November. That is when itwill be officially done. However, the actual opening to the public won’t be until next April 19th. The reason for that is that there is still a lot of landscaping, the finishing of the canal lock, the lighting and the hard surfaces to finish. We are building a visitors center with a café. There are a number of items yet to be finished which is peripheral to The Kelpies, but we cannot let the public on to the site until those items are complete.
“Besides, you really don’t want to visit these sites in the Scottish winter. It is always better to have the opening when there is a reasonable chance of pleasant weather.”
I then asked Andy how such a large project was funded, whether from private or public funds. Andy answered, “It is public, but from a variety of different sources. The National Lottery had an initiative called “Living Landmarks,” and along with my clients, Scottish Canals and Falkirk Council they made an application to the Living Landmarks Project about six years ago. They were successful. Ultimately, the ‘Big Lottery Fund’ as it was called (the national lottery in the UK) awarded the largest amount ever given to the country, which was 25 million pounds (over $40 million US). That was then topped off by various other sources such various councils and other local governments. The top sum at the end was around forty-nine million pounds (almost $80 million US). I hasten to add that The Kelpies are only a tiny part of that. The Kelpies are set in a new park which was built, called the Helix. This was a fantastic 300 hectare (740 acre) landscaped park with trees and cycle paths. They even built a little beach, and a lagoon area which is absolutely amazing, so that The Kelpies are really just a part of that environmental regeneration program.”
As we concluded our interview I asked Andy about his family. Andy is fifty years old and married to the lovely Hanneke Scott-van Wel, who is an architect originally from Holland. They presently have no children, just an adorable Hungarian Vizsla dog named Cobus, and a crazy cat named Dido.