At the foot of the City Hall belfry of , in the Market Square  stands the impressive image of Saint Nicholas, since 1217 the patron saint of the then parish and village community. Saint Nicholas, in Flemish usually called ‘Sinterklaas’, is the celebrated children’s friend.

The statue refers to the tradition concerning St Nicholas, bishop of Myra (ca 280 – 342/352). The high mitre, the red cloak and the staff are most recognisable attributes. From his throne he makes a blessing gesture. At the foot of his throne three children stare at the public. They sit in a wooden butcher’s tub. Legend has it that Sint Nicholas saved them from a certain death. Later St Nicholas became the man bringing presents  to good children. On the backrest of the throne you see a hot air balloon and a turnip, both are symbols of the city and the area.

Achiel Pauwels is a narrative artist, who does not shun  some irony from time to time. He is a ceramist  and some of his works show an outspoken commitment, e.g. his famous sculptural group of a cellist playing for murdered people in Sarajevo during the civil war in ex-Yugoslavia. Despite referring to the cruelty of an old legend, this statue of Saint Nicholas on the Market Square is majestic and colourful and very recognisable for young and old alike.

The artist has created a splendid, monumental statue. St Nicholas, with a long beard, is seated on a throne which rests on a black and white chequered, stepped pedestal. On his right side are three adorable children, posed in a colourful and expressive composition. His appearance is a symphony of colours. His alb tumbles down in folds, creating shadows causing  a unique interaction between  black and white. On top of his alb he wears his red cloak in which golden stripes glisten. The ornamentation of his stole and mitre resemble jewels

A ceramic statue of this size is a technical challenge. It is 4.5-metre-high and made of 300 parts, which makes it a huge three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. During drying and firing it shrank no less than 70 cm. Moreover, the shape and colours of different pieces will react, in their own sometimes unpredictable way, thus making the composition not only difficult but also thrilling.

There were several designs of the statue. The choice from the various designs was left to children from primary schools, who preferred this statue because of its ‘colour’.

Models of other predesigns of this Sint-Nicolaas statue can be seen in the church museum of the Sint-Nicolaaskerk.


PAUWELS Achiel (1932)

Achiel Pauwels, born in Gent, is a sculptor and sculptural ceramist. He got his schooling at Sint-Lucas Gent. He was a teacher at the Academies of Eeklo (1957) and Antwerpen (1965). He won the Europe-prize religious sculpture (1961) and the prize ‘Keramiek Faenza’ (1973 and 1976). He evokes the beauty and the desperation in our society. His work is on exhibition in the Brussels museums (Kunst en Geschiedenis ‘Art and History’), in Gent (statue of father Damien, cathedral of Sint-Baafs, 2009), Faenza, Gdansk and Cardiff.


Kunst in de Stad - November 30th 1997