A CAMPAIGN to keep a visiting artwork on show permanently has been launched days after its arrival.
The 9½-foot soldier sculpture – officially called Eleven ‘O’ One but nicknamed ‘Tommy’ by fans – is on loan for three months, but could now be exhibited permanently after winning the hearts of hundreds of residents, businesses and visitors.
The 1.2-tonne steel sculpture was created by South Hetton artist Ray Lonsdale and is part of a project to display art in Seaham to boost tourism.
Seaham Town Council initially said it had no plans to buy the piece, which arrived on Thursday, but has now launched a campaign to keep the statue in the town.
A Facebook page called Mission 1101 has attracted more than 1,800 members with many pledging support and posting their own photographs of the work, which is placed on Terrace Green.
Council leader Eddie Bell, who is also a Durham County Council member, said efforts would be made to apply for funding for its purchase.
He said: “It’s very magnificent, I think it is so evocative facing the cenotaph and people are coming to Seaham to look at it.
“We haven’t discussed it at a town council level but I am sure we will get a positive response from councillors, but we don’t know yet about the money.
“I am sure the county council and the Arts Council may be able to help us with that, but I also think it’s possible the people of Seaham themselves can pay a part in keeping this in Seaham.”
The sculpture was designed to capture the first moments after the armistice came into force. Its loan has been timed to coincide with August 4, the 100th anniversary of Britain declaring war on Germany. It has been valued at £85,000, but would cost £102,000 if it was bought through a non-VAT registered firm or organisation.
Ray said: “It’s been absolutely mad since the minute it hit the ground and the weekend has been unbelievable.
“I’ve heard from people from all over, not just this country, but Idaho, Texas, Australia, and a couple of those people have been from Seaham.
“The whole idea for me, regardless of whether it was for sale or not because that’s a bit of a gamble, but the idea of having it in Seaham was it was on public show.
“There was no good it standing in the workshop, but it’s been unexpected, how much attention it’s been getting. I’m delighted people want to donate and raise money to keep it and I would love it if did stay in Seaham.”
Among those to back the campaign is photographer Jamie McElderry, 33, from Sulgrave in Washington.
His girlfriend Cheryl Nash, 30, is from Seaham, and she has organised a run of limited-edition images of the area, including one of ‘Tommy’, with a £5 donation from the £30 cost to be donated from each sale.
Eight photographs of the artwork have been sold so far, with the first picture printed off presented to Ray.
Jamie said: “I think the first thing that struck me was its size and the posture and position of it towards the cenotaph is really emotive.
“I put the pictures up and I’ve had a lot of people saying how much they love them, people using it as their Facebook background, people have just taken to it.”
•Jamie can be contacted via his website, www.jamiemacphotography.com.