Since its dramatic appearance in a Cornish town centre, Earth Goddess, the tallest ceramic sculpture in the UK (and possibly the world), has provoked its fair share of controversy, with unkind critics condemning it as a gaudy piece of junk more suited to the land of the Teletubbies.
But the row has taken a religious twist after a group of church leaders wrote to St Austell town council claiming it was “offensive to God” and calling for the brightly coloured 11.5-metre-tall piece to be rebranded or removed.
The artist, Sandy Brown, told the Guardian on Friday she felt “saddened and disappointed” at the reaction, explaining that her work was intended to celebrate “mother earth” rather than having any sort of religious message, while a leading town councillor suggested the church leaders were acting in a “medieval” manner.
Regarded by fans as south-west England’s answer to the Angel of the North, it is the striking appearance of the sculpture, which is as high as two doubledecker buses on top of each other, that has attracted the ire of some townsfolk.
But the letter, signed by seven Christian leaders in the area, expressed concern that a statue of an “earth goddess” risked dividing the town and was “offensive to God”.
It said: “The choice to erect a statue of an ‘earth goddess’ means that as the leaders of the town you are actively, though likely unknowingly, choosing to reject God and instead to bring the town under the spiritual influence of an ‘earth goddess’.
“We understand this may sound strange and may not be language that you are comfortable with. However, as Christians we believe there is a spiritual reality to our world and so this is not an insignificant choice and has the potential to impact on the town in negative ways.”
It continues: “We would ask that you consider either making significant changes to the statue … or at the very least the name is changed so that it is an abstract piece of art with no spiritual element. Or that you consider removing or relocating the statue.”
One of the signatories, Rev Pete Godfrey of the Light and Life Church, said the concern was not the look of the piece but the spiritual significance apparently attached to it. He added: “We see very clearly laid out by God that we are to have no gods but him and we are not to make idols, which is essentially a statue that represents another god.”
Richard Pears, a town councillor who was mayor when the plans for the sculpture were coming to fruition, said he was surprised by the letter.
“Probably not since the Reformation has a group of churches written to a local authority demanding the destruction of public art on the grounds that it offends the Almighty,” he said. “It all feels rather medieval.”
He has written back quoting Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “The thoughts of God no one knows, except the spirit of God.”
Brown said the sculpture was meant to celebrate the area’s strong links to the China clay trade and represent a love of mother earth. She pointed out there were initially complaints that the Angel of the North was blasphemous. “If there was an attempt to move that now there would be an outcry.”