At last! March Museum the new home of this extraordinary French sculpture donated to the town nearly 20 years ago but since then forgotten about

PUBLISHED: 19:59 16 May 2019 | UPDATED: 11:25 21 May 2019

Jean-Michel Firkowski, from St Jean de Braye (on the left) and Andrew Clarke from March congratulating one another on the completion of a project that has taken 19  years to come to fruition. This impressive statue has a wondrous history and is on display at March Museum. Picture; MARCH TWINNING

Jean-Michel Firkowski, from St Jean de Braye (on the left) and Andrew Clarke from March congratulating one another on the completion of a project that has taken 19 years to come to fruition. This impressive statue has a wondrous history and is on display at March Museum. Picture; MARCH TWINNING

Archant

A statue donated to March nearly 20 years ago that remained out of sight - and for most of the time out of mind - has been put on public display.

Flashback to how the Cambs Times reported the arrival of the statue in March and its unveiling by mayor Barry Wales. This was nearly 20 years ago - what happened since can now be told. Picture; CAMBS TIMES ARCHIVEFlashback to how the Cambs Times reported the arrival of the statue in March and its unveiling by mayor Barry Wales. This was nearly 20 years ago - what happened since can now be told. Picture; CAMBS TIMES ARCHIVE

Behind the official unveiling of the statue - now on display at March Museum - is a quirky tale of twinning, commemoration of an inspirational French artist and mild embarrassment.

The story began in the year 2000 when students from Neale-Wade drew up the design before passing it over to 12 stonemasonry students from Lycee Gaudier Brezeska in the March twin town of Saint-Jean de Braye.

The statue was the result of months of work by the French students - with help from a Cambridge gallery - to produce a work in the style of artist Henri Gaudier-Brezeska after whom the French lycee is named.

Twelve individually carved pieces of soft white limestone, each weighing 70-80 kilos, were delivered and six and a half hours work was needed to assemble it.

Gordon Thorpe, chair March Museum (on the left) and Andrew Clarke from March congratulating one another on the completion of a project that has taken 19  years to come to fruition. This impressive statue has a wondrous history and is on display at March Museum. Picture; MARCH TWINNINGGordon Thorpe, chair March Museum (on the left) and Andrew Clarke from March congratulating one another on the completion of a project that has taken 19 years to come to fruition. This impressive statue has a wondrous history and is on display at March Museum. Picture; MARCH TWINNING

It was duly unveiled at Young People, March, but then put into storage.

And there it remained - gathering dust among Christmas lights and assorted decorations in a town centre garage.

Andrew Clarke, chairman of the March Society takes up the story.

"There was a problem since the design was rejected as unacceptable given its size, weight and the fact that it was not weather-proofed," he said.

Now on public display at March Museum, the statue that has been in 'cold storage' for nearly two decades. It has a fascinating story too. Museum volunteer Brenda Bottrell. Picture; IAN CARTERNow on public display at March Museum, the statue that has been in 'cold storage' for nearly two decades. It has a fascinating story too. Museum volunteer Brenda Bottrell. Picture; IAN CARTER

"It could not be housed at Neale-Wade, or at the town hall, or the library.

"When the French came it was assembled on a temporary basis and unveiled by the then mayor, Barry Wales."

He continued: "The March Twinning Association took over ownership in June 2017 from the town council. "Thankfully March Museum trustees have accepted to house it on a loan basis."

The work of cleaning, renovation and assembling has been undertaken at no cost by Richard King in City Road.

Now on public display at March Museum, the statue that has been in 'cold storage' for nearly two decades. It has a fascinating story too. Museum volunteer Brenda Bottrell. Picture; IAN CARTERNow on public display at March Museum, the statue that has been in 'cold storage' for nearly two decades. It has a fascinating story too. Museum volunteer Brenda Bottrell. Picture; IAN CARTER

Mr Clarke said: "It is a symbol of co-operation, firstly between teachers and students in St Jean de Braye and March.

"And secondly between members who have moved it in trailers and stored it and also between the museum and the twinning association and finally with a skilled mason who was able to use a student studying sculpture techniques in his work.

"All those involved worked on a voluntary basis"

Last Saturday March Museum opened its doors to welcome six French visitors from St Jean de Braye, near Orleans in central France, along with members of the March Twinning Association, museum trustees and volunteers

Now on public display at March Museum, the statue that has been in 'cold storage' for nearly two decades. It has a fascinating story too. Museum volunteer Brenda Bottrell. Picture; IAN CARTERNow on public display at March Museum, the statue that has been in 'cold storage' for nearly two decades. It has a fascinating story too. Museum volunteer Brenda Bottrell. Picture; IAN CARTER

About 30 people were in the courtyard to watch as Gordon Thorpe, chair of the museum trustees and Mr Clarke, also chair of March twinning unveil the statue which is 2.3 metres in height.

The story of Henri Gaudier-Brezska (1891-1915) is that he was killed in the Great War. He did much of his work in London and was influenced by Wyndham Lewis and Jacob Epstein and Cubism but crucially came from St Jean de Braye.

And so it was that in April 2000 12 French students from St Jean de Braye decided to produce a sculpture symbolising twinning based on designs from students at Neale-Wade.

The most important collection of Gaudier- Brezska's work is at Kettle's Yard Cambridge and Neale Wade pupils were able to visit the gallery.

Now on public display at March Museum, the statue that has been in 'cold storage' for nearly two decades. It has a fascinating story too. Museum volunteer Brenda Bottrell. Picture; IAN CARTERNow on public display at March Museum, the statue that has been in 'cold storage' for nearly two decades. It has a fascinating story too. Museum volunteer Brenda Bottrell. Picture; IAN CARTER

Designs were selected and passed to France.

Mr Clarke said the twinning association and the museum would be interested to hear from any of those students involved in the project.

The French students and the sculpture (in 12 blocks) visited March from April 9-14, 2001 and the statue had found a home.

Or so everyone thought.

Now on public display at March Museum, the statue that has been in 'cold storage' for nearly two decades. It has a fascinating story too. Museum volunteer Brenda Bottrell. Picture; IAN CARTERNow on public display at March Museum, the statue that has been in 'cold storage' for nearly two decades. It has a fascinating story too. Museum volunteer Brenda Bottrell. Picture; IAN CARTER

New mayor Rob Skoulding remembers it and says his father, the late Cllr Peter Skoulding, once considered putting it in the grounds of the Oliver Cromwell Hotel but decided against it for fear of vandalism.

"I do remember the statue had what you might say were 'all the details'," said Cllr Skoulding. "It was neither a man nor a woman, I do remember that".

He hopes to visit soon and see it officially.

The statue can be viewed on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the museum. No entrance fee and details of the twinning can be found at www.mta.btck.co.uk.

Now on public display at March Museum, the statue that has been in 'cold storage' for nearly two decades. It has a fascinating story too. Museum volunteer Brenda Bottrell. Picture; IAN CARTERNow on public display at March Museum, the statue that has been in 'cold storage' for nearly two decades. It has a fascinating story too. Museum volunteer Brenda Bottrell. Picture; IAN CARTER

The next event is the AGM at 7.30pm at the town hall on July 3.

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