Wednesday Wanderings – the reveal: Many of you will have passed this small, but proud artwork on your way to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow’s Westend. It is the ‘Vital Spark’ by George Wyllie . Looking at it I’m reminded of the strong, clydebuilt ships, now almost exclusively in the same battleship grey. George Wyllie was a fascinating, somewhat mischievous artist, famous in the 1980s for his straw locomotive and paper boat, which weren’t created to last, but to be noticed there and then.
What’s in the name? The ‘Vital Spark’ could mean so many things. Again, living on the West coast of Scotland, we instantly think of the fictional ‘Para Handy’, the hapless captain of the so named ‘puffer’ – a small steam freight boat, making a ‘puff, puff’ noise whilst ploughing the River Clyde. Neil Munro (1863 – 1930), journalist and newspaper editor, adopted the pen name of Hugh Foulis for writing his humorous short stories. He was born in the charming town of Inveraray on the shores of Loch Fyne and – if you are lucky – you can find a life-size replica of ‘Vital Spark’ bobbing about in the waters there.
I think George Wyllie and Para Handa would have gotten along just fine – like a ‘locomotive on fire’. Had Hamish, the sheep, been around in the times of the puffers, he would most likely have been the cargo. Don’t tell him.