Thatcher statue unveiled amid controversy

Saturday, February 2, 2002

LONDON -- The Iron Lady is set in stone.

A lawmaker unveiled a two-ton, eight-foot-tall marble statue of Margaret Thatcher on Friday, giving Britain its first look at a work that has stirred up a partisan squabble reminiscent of her days as prime minister.

Tony Banks, a Labor Party legislator who heads the House of Commons Works of Art Committee, revealed the sculpture for reporters at the London studio of its creator, artist Neil Simmons.

The piece, commissioned by the committee and funded by an anonymous donor, was sculpted for display in the prestigious Members' Lobby at the House of Commons.

Parliamentary rules say it can't be exhibited there until five years after Thatcher's death. She is still going strong at 76, and lawmakers have been arguing about what to do with it in the meantime.

Lake Havasu City, Ariz., which already owns the old London Bridge, has offered to care for the piece until Britain is ready to show it.

One group of anti-Thatcher Labor legislators suggests giving the sculpture of the former Conservative leader to Arizona permanently.

Conservative lawmakers, however, have proposed waiving the five-year rule to let the statue go on display immediately. Banks agrees.

"It is nothing out of admiration for Mrs. Thatcher's policies or character, it is to make sure we have the best possible representations of our major politicians," he said Friday. "No one can argue that she was not a major politician; in fact, she was unique in that she was the first woman prime minister."

The sculpture, in white Italian marble, shows Thatcher standing erect in a floor-length skirt and tailored jacket. Her hands are clasped in front of her body and her trademark handbag, rendered in stone, hangs on her left forearm.

Banks has said he hopes his committee will decide at a Feb. 12 meeting what to do with the sculpture.

Malcolm Hay, curator of the Commons art collection, said several options were being considered for the work, including putting it in the Members' Lobby right away and offering it temporarily to the National Portrait Gallery.

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