MANY towns and cities around the world have become famous for their landmark statues – Gateshead for its Angel of the North, Rio de Janeiro for its sculpture of Christ the Redeemer and Copenhagen for its Little Mermaid, to name but three.
And Tynemouth could be about to add itself to that list, if Elaine Page, 59, gets her way.
The former secretary, a keen artist, would like to see the village take a leaf out of Copenhagen’s book and come up with its own answer to Edvard Eriksen’s famous statue.
She is hoping to win the support of her fellow North Tynesiders for a life-size bronze sculpture on the Black Midden Rocks at the mouth of the Tyne, believing it could put the borough on the map in the same way that Antony Gormley’s angel has done for Gateshead.
Until a few years ago, Elaine’s vision of a Tynemouth mermaid was confined to her childhood imagination, born out of hours spent angling at North Shields Fish Quay.
However, on first setting up as an artist in a studio in Tynemouth’s Front Street six years ago, she wrote her own story to accompany a painting she’d done of a mermaid.
And Elaine, who lives with husband John, also 59, just off The Links in Whitley Bay, was dumbfounded when people started telling her they thought they had heard the story before.
It gave her an idea that perhaps, 50 years on, her made-up story might just be old enough to qualify as a latter-day legend – one that could also boost tourism and help drum up trade for nearby businesses.
The mother of one said: “As a child, I used to fish on the river. We used to stand for hours on the fish quay. We never caught anything or very rarely anyway.
“I was about eight or nine, and I had just read Charles Kingsley’s tale The Waterbabies.
“We sometimes had seals watching us and would see a tail here and a head pop up there.
“Sometimes I felt that something was watching us that didn’t want to be watched, and I started fantasising about a mermaid.
“When I painted her 50 years on, it was like a child’s impression of a mermaid, and I think it struck a chord with people.
“Someone said she’s got no history, but for me she’s got 50 years of history. When I had my shop, two dads came in to buy a print for their little girls. They both told me they remembered the story, and I didn’t have the heart to tell them I had written it only the week before.”
Elaine’s mother agreed to lend her some money, and Heaton-based sculptor Alan Scott was commissioned to create his interpretation of the mermaid using Elaine’s original painting for inspiration.
Two miniature versions of the mermaid Elaine hopes will one day guard the Black Midden Rocks, were made – one of which was given to North Tyneside Council along with a signed print of her painting.
She said: “Alan is a brilliant sculptor. I didn’t want her twee – I wanted her unrefined.
“Alan was excited about the idea of an iconic piece of public art and its potential earning power for the region.
“He has created something really special. He has captured a wild thing that has charm and magic.”
So strong is Elaine’s passion for the mermaid that she even considered selling her home at one point to raise the estimated £30,000 the hot-cast bronze sculpture would cost.
Although husband John put a stop to that plan, he is equally devoted to the artwork and spends some of his days off from his job as a bus driver to explore ways of raising the money.
North Tyneside Council has told Elaine that although it cannot support the mermaid financially at present, she would be well advised to get as much public support and funds as she can and then get back to it.
With the help of the News Guardian, she is now looking for financial backing – from both businesses and members of the public.
Elaine says that even the smallest donations will help, but has agreed to donate her original mermaid painting, on which the sculpture is based, to anyone willing to make a substantial donation, in the region of £15,000.
The one-off painting is approximately A3 size, done in acrylic on sheet canvas.
Should her dream become a reality, the painting could be worth some money in years to come as a scale model of the Angel of the North was valued at £1m by TV’s Antiques Road Show in 2008.
To help, call Elaine on (0191) 292 2209 or email email@example.com with the subject line ‘Mermaid campaign’.
A council spokesperson said: “We always welcome ideas about how we might improve our wonderful coastline for the benefit of our residents, visitors and businesses, and we are grateful to Elaine for her efforts to support art and culture in the borough.
“We are investing £1m each year over the next three years to improve our coastal area, and we are now talking with residents about how that money could be spent.
“This ambitious public art proposal will be considered as part of that process, along with many other ideas.”