Along the sand banks of the River Mersey, strange and wonderful creatures have started appearing on an almost daily basis. Drift wood sculptures of Dolphins, Sea Dragons, Mermaids and Octopuses created from whatever the tide brings in each day. Welcome to the world of tide artist, Frank.
Driftwood sculptures have been springing up all along the beaches from New Brighton to Seacombe and it’s mostly all the work of one man. Frank is a retired accountant but he’s always been a bit handy with his hands and had a love for the beach and his local community.
“I’ve built a lot of things in my home and I’ve also done some wood carving. Not professional mind, more of a hobby.”
Every day you can find Frank on the beach in New Brighton. He comes down every morning to tidy the beach and see what bounty of things the tide has washed in.
“Mostly it’s all plastic,” Frank smiles as he dusts off the sand from a triangular piece of driftwood he’s just found. “Last week we found a plastic net, all tangled and stuck in the rocks. I didn’t see this as trash, I instantly thought it’s perfect hair for my Mermaid.”
As we walk along the beach we come across the corpse of a baby Porpoise. Frank started to dig a grave to place the unfortunate sea mammal into. “The Council do come and collect them if reported. But the smell gets really bad and it encourages dogs to come and maul it. So I bury them and remember where, marking it with wood, in case the council have come to remove it.”
The Dolphins Frank created this summer have stayed in place for over a month now. The work feels at home and the tide hasn’t been high enough to wash it away. Walkers along the prom react the work very positively and it has become an attraction in itself.
Franks efforts haven’t gone unnoticed by the local community and his work and exhibition area have become a meeting point for people on the beach. Harry was an apprentice at Cammell Laird shipyard ‘back in the day’. He was a ‘chippy’ in the woodwork shed and worked with ships timber on many big projects. Harry comes down to collect drift to burn on his fire at home.
“I collect wood for my fire. But I also help Frank move the drift wood around and he often borrows my saw” Harry explains to me while carrying a big plank of wood over his shoulder. “We once found this beam of oak down here, bloody big thing it was. Must have fallen off a timber ship. Me and my son managed to get it home and we looked it up online. Turned out it was worth £1200.”
Frank is very positive about his work and how it makes him feel. “It’s all about people, it’s why I do it. To see the children showing an interest, they want to get involved, to discover the work and their relationship to it and with the ocean.
I see the work as transient, like the tide. Sometimes the work is taken for firewood, other times it washes away. So far the Dolphins and Sea Dragon have stuck around.
There’s also a great endorphin rush when you manage to free these pieces of drift wood from the rocks and drag them all the way up here to the beach. People often stop and ask me how much I am getting paid to do this. I smile and tell them it’s free.”
We talk about the new New Brighton, with its Hungry Horse pub and mega-Morrisons.
“At first I was unsure of the development but now I see it I think it’s better than it was. However the architecture and public spaces could have given us more. But that is the nature of the modern economic world. What I want to do here is bring people together, to enjoy our public spaces and the nature of our environment and our relationship to it.”
As we talk, Frank works on a tree trunk and rootball which was washed in on the Harvests Moon tide last night. “It took three us of to move this one up from the ditch it had got stuck in. I was trying on my own this morning and a lady walked by and offered to help. She said she was from Canada and they know how to deal with wood. So we dragged it out of the river. Another woman spotted us and helped. There was no men to be seen. It was exhilarating. Look at how beautiful it is.”
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