The mystery of the missing Naiad has been partly solved, but it’s not a happy ending.
For years the sculpture of a the dreamy nymph sat in the pool in Priory Square in Coventry city centre, but after suffering vandalism and the removal of the water, which exposed the fact she has no lower limbs, she was moved to Lady Herbert’s garden.
Recently, the Roots gallery in Priory Square showed an exhibition including work by artist Caroline James – which Naiad artist George Wagstaffe visited and enjoyed – which focused on the square. At the opening Caroline lamented what it had become since her childhood memories of it. One of her photographs was of the pool, now lacking water and its Naiad, and she wondered where it was now.
Speaking at the opening of the new Ragley Gallery and Studios at Ragley Hall, where he is showing two sculptures and a painting in the inaugural exhibition, George Wagstaffe said: “The council have got her locked away somewhere.
“She was stolen from Lady Herbert’s garden, then recovered, and now they have locked it away for the time being. Apparently some people have formed a group to try to get her out.”
The Naiad was recently spotted in a temporary exhibition of a range of George’s works at the University Hospital in Coventry. This, however, turns out to have been an original which George still owns.
He remembers vividly when things were different, and the sculpture was bought to be a starring part of the new, vibrant Coventry city centre in the 1950s. Back then George was a teenage art student.
He said: “The Naiad was originally something I did at college when I was 17. I put it in an exhibition at the ICA and it won the Young Contemporaries sculpture prize. A guy told me there was an art collector who wanted to buy my piece and it was the city architect Arthur Ling and he wanted it for the city centre.”
George had studied at Coventry College of Art, and the commissioning of the Naiad in brass for Coventry instantly made his name.
The statue was originally bought for the city to sit in the pool in Priory Square back in 1958, when the square was one of the highlights of the new city architecture. Over the years it became less so, and how to improve it and bring it back to life has been a frequent topic of debate in the city centre.
George is still working from his studios in Hawkes Mill Lane in Coventry, and doing some teaching. A former student and now friend, Michala Gyetvai, the successful Coventry-based textile artist who has had national attention and staged her own exhibition at the Herbert, is joining him in a joint Open Studios this summer at George’s studios, from 29 June- 14 July, where both artists’ works will be on show.