A Fish Trail not a Fishy Tale

21 July 2012 · 1 comment

in Art & Music Outdoors, Literacy Outdoors

Last week my son and I went to visit Hull. This is not a regular destination on most tourists’ “to do” list when exploring England, but it has many hidden surprises including the Fish Trail, which is one of the most inspired and quirky public works of art I have come across.

It was created by Gordon Young and a team of sculptors and artists in 1992. It is standing the test of time both in terms of the robustness of the works and its popularity. At least 3 of the pieces have been refurbished and several have been moved from their original position owing to the roadworks and other changes. However the trail is still fresh and fun to do.

It is a collection of more than 40 fish sculptures laid out in a trail around Hull. It made me realise how little fish I know – for every letter of the alphabet has a fish. The trail begins with a shoal of tiny Anchovies and ends when you meet the Zander. In between there’s Naucrates Ductor, Garfish, Icefish, John Dory and a Lumpsucker, to name but a few.

We picked up a leaflet at the Tourist Office and followed the maps and guidance notes. This is necessary. Many of the sculptures have been discretely placed to blend in with the surroundings rather than be garish and in-your-face. For example you have to look very closely to find the red herring below…

The Fish Trail is a wonderful example of how carefully-placed interesting pieces of sculptures can help people explore an area and discover places and parts of a town that they may not normally realise exist. Very often classes develop guides to their local area or a walk as part of a local studies project. The Fish Trail demonstrates that this can be so much more than a “stop and look here” approach.

The beautiful lobster quadrille cut into Cornish slate below used to be outside a bookshop. The quote at the top says “Will you walk a little faster” and is taken from the story of Alice in Wonderland.

The haddock is accompanied by another book reference. “Blistering Barnacles” from the Adventures of Tin Tin. It’s one of Captain Haddock’s many exclamations! Thus people of all ages can learn a little more about quotes, books and language.

The sculptures go well beyond pavement art. For example the shoal of flying fish go up a wall and down again…

We spent ages searching for the starfish, expecting a metal or stone example. Eventually we found it carved into this boulder of pink shelly limestone…

The trail also celebrates new works of art and making these an integral part of the cityscape. For example, the Filleters Gate by Hilary Cartmel below marks the entrance to the old fish market…

There is lots of word play and fun to be had with language. Who says that environmental print has to be serious ๐Ÿ™‚ For example, where else would you find the plaice but marking the four corners of the Market Place!ย The umber fish were branded into the timbers of the Victoria Pier which extends out into the mouth of the River Humber. So one can joke about the Umber on the Humber.

And naturally the monkfish is situated on Whitefriargate…

I also wonder how many passers-by realise that the shark is situated outside a bank. All the fish have been sculpted to portray the size and detail of each fish with reasonable accuracy…

One or two works are getting rather faded. Below the dogfish is chasing a catfish, but I couldn’t fit both onto one photo…

And of course, the electric eel is sited by the electric substation. In the photo below, the eel gently curve around the corner. The sunlight and shadow made it hard to see…

The Fish Trail is interactive in other ways too. The guide tells you which of the sculptures are suitable for rubbings to be taken. So children can take paper and crayons on the journey and undertake this activity too..

For geologists and rock hounds, the Fish Trail is more than public art. The metal and stone work used are varied. In fact the Hull Geological Society have produced geology guide to the trail celebrating the sheer variety of rock used.

Quite honestly, the Fish Trail has given me real food for thought in terms of the potential of artwork to help children interpret the local area or school grounds and to discover or view these places in different ways.

2012 is the Year of Creative Scotland and I think the Fish Trail shows just how creative a trail can be, enabling anyone to enjoy science, language, art, people and place by getting out and about in a playful way. Hooray!

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Kierna C July 21, 2012 at 21:16

This is brilliant Juliet, I love this sort of thing & isn’t it great that they didn’t just go for lots & lots of sculptures.

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