With an aquiline nose, deerstalker hat, meerschaum pipe and haughty air, he cuts a familiar figure.
Sherlock Homes is instantly recognizable, but on his plinth outside Baker Street subway station in London, the statue of the famous fictional detective is often ignored. Most people pass him by with barely a second glance.
Colette Hiller, a U.S.-born resident of London, is determined to change that.
“Too many people walk through this city without paying attention to the public art,” says Hiller. “They bury their faces in their phones and miss so much that’s around them.”
As part of a group called Sing London, which tries to promote the enjoyment of public spaces, Hiller came up with the idea of “Talking Statues.”
“You use your smart phone to scan a barcode which we have placed on or near a statue,” Hiller explains. “You then get a call from Sherlock Holmes, or Peter Pan, or Queen Victoria and they tell you something about themselves.”
This is what Sherlock Holmes has to say:
The dour-looking statue of Victoria on Blackfriars Bridge offers this insight into her private life: the famously prudish monarch confides that it wasn’t for love of children that she had nine babies.
“I thought they were all terribly ugly when they were born. And I hated breastfeeding. I loved Albert, though,“ says the queen in her recorded message, voiced by British TV actress Prunella Scales.
Sing London has programmed 35 statues to tell their own tales. There are statues of statesmen, artists, engineers and even animals.
“Hello and meow. Good of you to call by,“ purrs Hodge, the cat that belonged to Samuel Johnson. The cat’s statue sits outside the great lexicographer’s former home in Gough Square off Fleet Street.
Talk isn’t cheap. Each talking statue cost $15,000 in actors’ and writers’ fees, a sum raised partially from corporate sponsorship and partially from the British Arts Council. Hiller is now seeking funding to take her idea across the Atlantic; first to Chicago and then, she hopes, to many other U.S. cities.
“There’s a whole range of American cities that are absolutely full of fantastic statues. New York, Boston, Baltimore, Seattle,” she says. “And every statue is just waiting for the gift of voice.”
Photos courtesy of Sing London and Stephen Beard