Steel Statue Strengthens Ties with Germany; A Landmark Sculpture of a Miner Is to Strengthen the Bond between the North East and Germany, as DAVID WHETSTONE Reports

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Byline: DAVID WHETSTONE

ALINK between North Tyneside and its German twin town has been made permanent and tangible thanks to sculptor John O'Rourke.

His 6ft 7ins steel figure of a miner is to stand on a plinth marking the gateway to a new development in the former mining town of Oer-Erkenschwick.

The story goes back to 2010, when the industrial Ruhr region of Germany was European Capital of Culture. Oer-Erkenschwick, as its contribution, invited each of its twin towns to come up with a new sculpture for the town.

In North Tyneside, arts development manager Mike Campbell commissioned John, who lives in Whitley Bay, to be the borough's representative.

"The brief was totally open and they were up for ideas," says John.

"When I read about the town I found the mine closed in the early 1990s, and the town had been badly affected. Most of the homes were miners' houses, although quite large by North East standards.

"Mining had financed the building of the town and when the pit closed there was a lot of unemployment.

"The last few years have been a period of readjustment for them."

With their shared heritage of mining and the pain of pit closures, the idea of a miner appealed to John and also to civic leaders in the German town.

"They said it struck a chord with everybody," says John, a member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors who has been creating ambitious and eye-catching works in the North East for a number of years.

His model of the miner was exhibited in North Tyneside last October, and initially John thought the full-scale work would be fabricated in the North East.

But the Germans were keen for it to be made there and, at the end of October, John and his partner Michelle went to Germany to see the sculpture being fabricated in the steel workshop of the last active mine in the area, the August Victoria in the nearby town of Marl. …