The Tyne River God is an odd object, hanging in acres of white wall space in Newcastle’s civic library. I had long been meaning to visit as an engraving of the head or mask is on the frontispiece of the edition of Carmichael’s engravings in ‘Pictures of Newcastle‘ that I had been studying in the autumn.
It was carved as a printer’s sign for Aaron Richardson in 1827, becoming an emblem for Andrew Reid and Co. right up to the 1960’s. The carving is a copy of a stone original on the front of Somerset house(1786). It depicts the early industries of the river, coal in a basket with pickaxes, fish nets and possibly corn.
The idea of a sculpture of a Tyne River God, comes from classical and neo classical sculptural traditions of depicting the spirit of a river. In the case of the Tyne, this theme was further updated by David Wynne who was commissioned by Newcastle City Council for a monumental sculpture for the civic centre. His dynamic Tyne River God is dramatically posed pointing from the side of the building, his shaggy hair shadowing a dark and broody head all stained by Tyneside weather, seeming to summon water or coal from the very ground.
It is nearly 50 years since the sculpture was commissioned, David Wynne sadly died in 2014, never really accepted as a leading sculptor, irrespective of his many major commissions.
What would a contemporary Tyne God would look like?