Dunston Staithes artwork begins to take shape

One quality which sculptor Wolfgang Weileder does not lack is bottle – as his latest artwork taking shape above the River Tyne shows

Dunston Staithes
Dunston Staithes

Wolfgang, Professor of Contemporary Sculpture at Newcastle University, has designed a nine-metre high cone with a six-metre base which is going up on top of the listed Dunston Staithes in Gateshead.

The cone is based on the bottle-making kilns which were once part of the North East’s industrial landscape, with one of the best surviving examples still part of the skyline across the river in Lemington in Newcastle.

One of the aims of what is known as the Jetty Project is to raise the profile of the staithes, a scheduled monument, from which vast amounts of coal were loaded on to collier ships for export.

At its height, it handled 5.5m tonnes of coal a year which arrived by rail from the Durham coalfield.

Restoration work is currently under way on the timbers of the fire-hit staithes, in a project by owners Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust, which is backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Meanwhile, the Jetty Project is bringing together artists, architects and social scientists from Newcastle University and the University of Manchester, with the idea of sustainability and what the future holds for heritage structures like the staithes at the centre of the venture.

Wolfgang’s initial artwork – Cone – is being made out of Aquadyne, a sustainable drainage material made from 100% recycled waste plastics and more commonly used in green roofs.

When complete the interior of the cones will be accessible and there will be guided tours and a series of public events connected to the artwork.

Birmingham Post image by: John James German artist Wolfgang Weileder
German artist Wolfgang Weileder

The cone, being built with help from apprentices from the Mears Group, currently studying at Gateshead College, will use 2,200 of the black panels – suggestive of the coal which the staithes exported.

Each panel is made from around 500 recycled plastic bottles.

“Through artworks such as this, we’re looking at how fine art projects can make a meaningful contribution to the debate around urban sustainability as well as being exciting works of art in their own right,” said Wolfgang.

“With being on top of the staithes, the cone will be visible from distance and will be a beautiful shape in itself.

“The staithes and bottle kilns are among the remaining industrial heritage structures left in the region.

“The big question revolves around sustainability and what we do with heritage structures. Perhaps the staithes can become a platform for arts and events.”

As part of the Jetty Project, research associate Angela Connelly, of the University of Manchester, has interviewed professionals and held community workshops to explore what should happen to the staithes. More than 70 ideas were produced.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer