Article by: Georgina Collins - First Published: 21 March 2011
Michael Liesener. Born: 1949 - Hazelwood Castle, North Yorkshire.
Location of artwork: Wetherby Weir, Wetherby, West Yorkshire.
At the side of Wetherby's weir are poised two bronze coloured salmon beside a wheel from the town's old water mill. The salmon scupture is created from powder coated mild steel in the colour similar to that of bronze.
At the time of creating the Spawning Salmon sculpture Michael Liesener, married with two children, was working as an engineer. The sculpture was actually created during the artist's lunch breaks over a period of time, although Michael now works as a landscape gardener and still enjoys sculpture as a hobby.
Created by local artist Michael Liesener in 2000, it was the winner of a local competition to celebrate the new millennium; the original plan was for the sculpture to be erected in the proposed Wharfedale Lawn Greenspace area, now Jubilee Gardens. The sculpture was mounted by the weir in Wetherby as a temporary measure whilst plans for the park continued, however the artwork has been left in its current location as a permanent fixture.
Since the interest shown in the sculpture by Leeds Art Gallery Online, Wetherby Town Council and Wetherby Festival are now considering erecting a plaque providing information about the scuplture so that visitors can be reliably informed as to its title and origins. Both the Town Council and Wetherby Festival contributed towards the funding of the sculpture back in 2000.
Photographic images of the artwork appear on several websites, most of which carry with them inaccurate information about the work, including titles such as Dancing Fish, Leaping Salmon, Dancing Dolphins, Flying Fish, to name a few.
Now, for the first time, Leeds Art Gallery Online, with the assistance of volunteer photographers and researchers, can provide an accurate public record about the sculpture and sculptor in this article.
On the site of the town's mill, traditionally a corn mill, although its last use was as a firewood cutting factory, stand modern waterfront flats. It was during the building of these flats in 1991 that the old mill's wheel was re-discovered, before being restored in February 1993 and mounted on the remains of a wall from the mill. The mill was destroyed in a fire in 1944.
The Spawning Salmon celebrate the New Millenium, and the salmon ladder on the south bank of this section of the River Wharfe, which was previously a 'heckes' ('trap') and built in 1871 for the purpose of conserving a fishing area. The surface of the salmon reflects light in imitation of the real thing.
The wheel was part of the restoration efforts of the Wetherby Weir Preservation Trust, which was formed in 1982 to repair and restore the weir. The restoration work began in April 1982 with the help of over 100 volunteers and the raising of over £40,000. A retaining wall and seating areas were formed at a later date.
This sculpture and wheel, side by side, are visual reminders of the role of water in so much of life. It is rivers which are used by salmon as part of their migration pattern, reputedly returning to the river of their birth to spawn in the great 'salmon run'; and it was the movement of the river which provided the power to the town's mill, grinding corn and rape, and later producing firewood.
The contrast in size and shape between the two objects perfectly shows off their complementary visual characteristics, and brings into relief the qualities specific to each - the mill wheel is large and functional, whilst the salmon sculpture is small and decorative.
There is also contrast in the colours and the materials, so that although they are side by side, and connected by the theme of the river, they are very definitely separate pieces.
Both pieces appear symmetrically balanced, creating a calming and relaxing impression on the viewer which is enhanced by their surroundings. The movement of the river, the historic bridge in front, and the conversations of the ducks below, all contribute to a very relaxed atmosphere.
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