Project: Wallace & Gromit Bench
Artist : Aardman Animations Ltd
Commissioner: Preston City Council
Project Manager: Andrew Dewhurst, Eric Wright Group
Developer: Maple Grove Developments
Consultant Sculptor: Peter Hodgkinson
Bronze Casting & Fabrication: Castle Fine Arts Foundry Ltd
Granite Paving & CNC Cut Artworks: IP Surfaces Ltd
Site Programme: 10 months
Service: Public Art Consultant
Ian Banks commissioned as Public Art Consultant by Preston City Council helped manage and oversee the physical install of a large bronze by Aardman Animations in Preston city centre in September 2021. The story of the making of the sculpture was featured on BBC’s The One Show on Friday 10th September.
Ian has been working in partnership with Preston City Council and joint developers Maple Grove Developments, part of Preston-based Eric Wright Group ( themselves working with Developer Partner Muse). His brief was to facilitate and then deliver a permanent public sculpture linked to the joint development proposals called Animate, for a new integrated Preston Cinema and Restaurant Scheme for the city centre. As part of the new public realm eventually to be sited close to the new cinema, Oscar-winning animation studio Aardman Animations had been approached by the city council to design and install a permanent bronze of much-loved animation characters Wallace & Gromit. Their resulting bench assembly is now permanently sited outside the main pedestrian entrance to Preston Market. Check out the #WallaceGromitBench on Twitter.
The city is actually the home town of Aardman animator Nick Park, and his designs for a sculpture is to be based on his two most famous characters in the iconic 1993 film The Wrong Trousers. The original concept had first been proposed by Park for installation in the city in 2008 as part of a ‘Walk Around Museum’ then proposed as part of a Preston programme called Citybrand linked to the Tithebarn development. Both failed to happen for various reasons, that included the wider economic recession and Tory scrapping of the Regional Development Agencies. Around that same time, Ian Banks had already been working with the council and Citybrand on developing a new public art gateway strategy for Preston, and this included the Wallace & Gromit piece. When originally commenting on his proposals back in 2007, Nick Park had said:
“This is a really exciting project and I’m delighted to be working on the designs for a Wallace and Gromit statue in Preston. As a Prestonian myself it would be a wonderful honour to have a statue to Wallace and Gromit in my home city.”
His newly installed 7-foot high bronze consists of a full size but stretched traditional street bench where Gromit sits to one side reading his local newspaper. Behind, Wallace wearing the ex-NASA ‘Techo Trousers‘ first bought for Gromit’s birthday in the film, and tilted on one leg, offers passers-by a happy thumbs-up.
Sure to grow to be a huge hit with Aardman fans and a selfie obsessed public alike, although completed well before the cinema, the work forms a small but key part of a wider curated programme of pop-up events, installations, visitor attractions and street food markets planned for Preston city centre during all of 2021. The parallel cultural project, known as Harris Quarter Pop Ups, has been funded by a £1 million grant awarded to the city from the UK Government’s Town Deal Accelerator Fund. A main objective of the ‘pop-up’ is to encourage more city visits from residents and visitors alike, and to help re-establish the area as a safe destination of choice in the face of the pandemic.
This targeted fund is a small part of a much bigger £20.9m awarded to Preston from the government’s strategic Towns Fund for a series of ambitious regeneration projects within its emerging Harris Quarter. This funding, announced in March 2021 as part of the chancellor’s budget, supports redevelopment projects from the new Preston City Investment Plan (CIP) with a 15-year vision to transform the city centre. It also fits within the wider strategic cultural objectives for Lancashire and a Preston City of Culture bid for 2025.
A gallery of images including the original Nick Park sketch and artist model or maquette created by Aardman, as well as recent cast moulds scaled-up by Castle Fine Arts Foundry using 3D scanning technology, and various National press releases are shown below – along with the actual digital scan itself visualised in 3D on the Sketchfab App.
The bench, which visitors will be able sit on and have their photo taken on, is being funded from a pot of £1million in initial funding Preston received from the government’s national Towns Fund initiative for Pop-Up projects. This initiative aim to encourage visitors back into the city after the pandemic, driving footfall and supporting businesses. The city received a total of £20.9m from the Towns Fund in March to support its wider Harris Quarter Investment Programme.
It is the second in series of six ‘Pop-Up’ projects to be announced for the city’s Harris Quarter and follows the unveiling of plans for The MET – a new mobile event space – last week.
The wider Towns Fund projects revealed in March will breathe new life into some of the Harris Quarter’s heritage assets, key buildings and open spaces to create a diverse culture, leisure and employment offering. The Harris Quarter Investment Programme is part of the Preston’s 15-year City Investment Plan.
The Harris Quarter
The Harris Quarter includes the buildings, public spaces and streets surrounding The Harris Museum, Preston Markets, The Guild Hall and the bus station. Projects that will benefit from the funding include:
- ‘Harris Your Place’: The refurbishment of the Grade I listed Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Library, enhancing and protecting the building for generations to come.
- Animate – Cinema and Leisure Scheme: The delivery of a new cinema and bowling attraction with food and drink venues, a car park and public square next to Preston Markets.
- Renewal of Harris Quarter Assets: Investment to support the redevelopment of publicly-owned buildings in the Harris Quarter to support new cultural and community uses.
- Illuminate and Integrate: A project to deliver improved pedestrian and cycleway infrastructure, street lighting and other public realm improvements within the Harris Quarter
- Animation of Public Spaces: A project to fund the co-ordination of events in new and existing public spaces in the Harris Quarter.
- Preston Youth Zone: The development of Preston Youth Zone as a state-of-the-art facility for young people in Preston aged eight to 19.
About Nick Park
Nick Park was born in Preston, he grew up in Penwortham before later moving to Walmer Bridge. He began his studies at Preston College, where the library is named after him, before going on to study Communication Art at Sheffield Polytechnic and then focus on animation at the National Film and Television School.
Nick is best known for creating the British animated characters Wallace & Gromit. He is a four-time Academy Award® winner, three in the category of Best Animated Short Film – Creature Comforts, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave and one in the category for Best Animated Feature Film for Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. All four films were created and produced at Aardman, in Bristol, where Park is a director.
Nick joined Aardman in 1985 to complete his college film A Grand Day Out and served as a director and animator on numerous projects including pop promos, title sequences and inserts for children’s television. He was one of the co-directors on the studio’s first feature film with Peter Lord. This was the highly acclaimed box office hit Chicken Run in 2000. His most recent feature film was Early Man in 2018.
His well-loved characters have been seen globally across many types of apparel, advertising campaigns, computer games or giant sculpts in charity trails. The common thread is that they always raise a smile.
Altogether Nick has won four Academy Awards® and six BAFTAs® among many other film and television awards.
’Aardman’ (word mark) is a trademark used under licence from Aardman Animations Limited” . ‘Wallace & Gromit’ (word mark) and the characters ‘Wallace’ and ‘Gromit’ are trademarks used under licence from Aardman Animations Limited.
Categories: Public Art