'Nuala with the Hula' making waves as replica sets sail on luxury cruiser
It's been given numerous names over its 11-year history, but now Belfast's 'Nuala with the Hula' has been reborn as she prepares to travel the high seas on a luxury liner refurbished in her home city.
A replica model of the 65ft high sculpture which stands over the River Lagan is now the centrepiece attraction of the Azamara Pursuit cruise ship, which was recently given a makeover in Belfast Harbour.
The Lady of Thanksgiving is the official title of the symbolic statue in Thanksgiving Square beside Queen's Bridge in the city. It's also widely known as the Beacon of Hope.
The idea for the new piece came from MJM Group, the company which kitted out the liner. Costing nearly £50m to refit, the Azamara docked in Belfast in April this year.
After consulting 'Nuala's' original sculptor Andy Scott, Newtownabbey-based fabricator PF Copeland designed a reborn version. The original piece of public art cost in the region of £300,000 and is made of stainless steel and bronze.
Mr Scott, whose origins lie in Glasgow, now lives in Philadelphia in the US. He fondly remembers being approached to make a "symbol of hope" for the capital and its people.
"I was approached by the Royal Society of Ulster Architects and they were seeking an idea for a beacon structure down at the Lagan," he said.
"They were aware of my work and I submitted my design, which was chosen, I'm pleased to say.
"It was really inspired by a local lady who has since passed away, Myrtle Smyth. She was passionate that there should be some symbolic space or structure that should celebrate peace and thanksgiving in remembrance in Belfast.
"Everything has moved on since then, but at the time it was a very worthy and much needed ideal."
The globe on which the structure stands signifies hope, peace and thanksgiving, while paying tribute to marked locations where Belfast companies and people exported to.
Although the replica is not on the same scale as the Lady of Thanksgiving, working with the idea again was very exciting for the sculptor.
He said: "It's just fantastic seeing her getting a new lease of life and taking the city of Belfast around the world. The sculpture is one of my largest pieces of work at 65ft and still very prominent in my portfolio any time I do any presentations. I'm very proud of her."
Although currently working on projects in the United States, Mr Scott is also eyeing up potential projects in Dublin and hopes to make a return visit to Northern Ireland soon.
He said Belfast could once again become the home to another piece of iconic creativity.
"Right now there's a grizzly bear taking shape in the studio and we've sent a few things to Mexico," he said, speaking of his US workspace.
"There's a few American enquiries I'm dealing with too, a lot of wheeling and dealing that I'm trying to pin down.
"When you're starting afresh in a new market it's quite a challenge even when you're well established. It's demanding but I'm really enjoying the challenge."
The main challenge however might not be in a creative sense but in a mathematical sense when it comes to differences between working in the US and the UK.
"The most important difference is between metric and imperial," he said. "You should see the results when I try to order some steel for a sculpture.
"We're really enjoying it though. Philadelphia is a big blue-collar working-class town that's undergoing a real creative renaissance. We're slotting right in."
Michael Copeland of PF Copeland said he was delighted the company was involved once again.
"We were approached by MJM to create one sculpture for the ship and one for MJM," he said. "We had drawings and photographs of the Lady of Thanksgiving so we made two replicas of the sculpture. They'd take two men a week to make one. They're formed, worked at and welded. Then they're sent to galvanising and onto a stainless steel ball.
"On the vessel it's in a very prominent position. The sculpture has itself become iconic and it's used in marketing Northern Ireland.
"We're very, very pleased to be associated with it.
"Some people like it, some people don't - but we're delighted and thrilled it's been adopted by the people of Belfast."
The Azamara Pursuit was built in 2001 and can carry 900 passengers.