Spirit of St. Kentigern
In 1974 a competition was launched by the Glasgow Museums in association with Glasgow Corporation’s Civic Amenities Committee to create a ‘special feature’ of the new Buchanan Street pedestrian precinct. The competition was open to all sculptors working in Scotland. 29 entries were received, 3 finalists were shortlisted and Spirit of Kentigern, a 5m high bronze sculpture on a cyclopean sandstone pedestal by Neil Livingston (b. 1954) was selected as the winning work.
Spirit of Kentigern was unveiled by Lord Provost David Hodge on 8th October 1977 and the plaster maquette for the piece was gifted to Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries in the same year. The piece became one of Glasgow’s most controversial pieces of public art, loved and loathed in equal measure. Nonetheless it became a well known local landmark, a meeting point and a recognisable location marker, helping people navigate their way around the city.
In the year 2000 the sculpture was removed as part of a refurbishment of the pedestrian precinct, put into long-term storage in a field within the grounds of Glasgow Museums’ store on Lochburn Road, Maryhill and was largely forgotten.
In 2014 Martin Craig, Kate V Robertson and Michelle Emery-Barker were undertaking research for Reclaimed- the second life of sculpture as part of Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art. Reclaimed was to include only works in long-term storage, work that had no planned future and that might otherwise be completely forgotten. They had heard a rumour that Spirit of Kentigern, a work that they all remembered from their childhoods, was languishing in a field.
The group were put in touch with Dennis McCue, from Glasgow City Council’s Land Services Department who had been keen to raise awareness of Spirit of Kentigern’s plight and if possible find it a new home. Dennis took them to the Maryhill Stores to view the work but when they got there it was missing. They were told that men had come on a truck and taken it away and the fear was that it had been stolen for its scrap metal value. After a nerve-wracking hour or two it was finally tracked down at another council store in the North of the City and the group travelled to see it lying like a stranded whale on its side in and overgrown field.
The work was included in the exhibition and proved to be one of the most popular sculptures included. During the exhibition a trustee of Glasgow City College spoke to the group asking if the sculpture was available as he was interested in putting it forward to be permanently sited within their new campus which was due to begin development very soon.
In 2017, Spirit of Kentigern found a new permanent home in the campus of Glasgow City College, sitting proudly at the front entrance of the new building as if it should always have been here. The story of Spirit of Kentigern demonstrates how the lifespan of an artwork can be extended and how, if given the chance, works can take on new meaning and find new audiences.