It took almost as much front as asking Michaelangelo for permission to put a bowler hat on the statue of David.
Sir Antony Gormley, the British sculptor whose signature piece is the Angel of the North beside the A1, had allowed his works of art to be replicated but never modified.
But for the Halifax foundry that had cast many of them, he made an exception. Last night, in his absence, an audience of 300 saw the defaced item unveiled.
Peg had been conceived as a piece of street furniture, to be used in place of a standard bollard. In its new location, at Halifax’s Square Chapel Arts Centre, it had become a box for collecting donations.
“It’s a big deal,” said Richard Hall, at the century-old Hargreaves Foundry, half a mile from the arts centre.
“For the firs ttime, he’s allowed someone to tinker with his work. And while to the likes of you and me, it may not be a big deal, this is a piece of art that has been designed to look a certain way in a particular environment,”
“To an artist like Antony Gormley, that means an awful lot. We had to send him images of what’s been done and how we’ve done it.”
He added: “It may not be the most important piece of work he’s ever done but it’s still a work of art by Antony Gormley.”
He had created Peg as one of a series of four bollards, which have been turned out in their hundreds, for locations across the country. Designed roughly on the lines of a clothes peg, it sits alongside others resembling a simple oval, a snowman and a part of the male anatomy.
They were produced at the Halifax foundry alongside Gormley’s better known statues, such as the human forms sunk into the sand at Crosby, on Merseyside, for the installation, Another Place. The plant has also produced 6ft, cast iron models of Angel of the North for museums and collectors. The original, at more than 10 times that height, had to be made elsewhere, in lighter-weight steel.
Mr Hall said that as far as he knew, Mr Gormley was happy with the revised design for Peg, whose unveiling marked the start of a season of events at the arts centre celebrating the sculptor and his work. It will include workshops and the screening of a documentary about him on Sunday, followed by an audience session with its producer.
The collecting box newly attached to Peg is for donations to the current fundraising campaign at the Square Chapel.
“The foundry has the rights to make casts of Peg,” said Sophia Cann, at the 18th century bullding. “They’ve been talking for a couple of years about doing something for us, and this was an idea Antony Gormley loved.”
Mr Gormley said he hoped visitors would embrace the new functionality. “Square Chapel Arts is the throbbing heart of creative Halifax,” he said. “Any town would give their eye teeth to have a place like this. It deserves all the support we can give.”
The Georgian redbrick chapel will use the adapted statue to raise money for its campaign to give subsidised tickets to people who would not otherwise be able to access cinema and theatre.
Adam Roe, its head of development, said: “We know from people who come to our Friday morning Arts and Biscuits cinema screenings that coming together to see a show really can make a difference to how people feel.”