The Angel of the North, Anthony Gormley's controversial 65ft-high, pounds 800,000 sculpture, will be finished next week after more than four years of acrimony, or excitement - depending on your taste in art.

Welders in Hartlepool are due to finish the project within days, leaving the way for the body - a replica of the artist's own - and wings to be put into place by mid-February.

Early opposition to the project in Gateshead, where the statue will dominate the skyline, is being replaced by excitement and a sense of pride. When it is erected, the 200-ton structure will be the tallest sculpture in Britain with a welcoming embrace as wide as the wingspan of a Jumbo jet.

The road to completion has been rocky for Mr Gormley, a Turner Prize winner, with hurdles ranging from claims that television reception for thousands would be disrupted, to fears that motorists on the A1 would slow down or crash in sight of the Angel. Research has shown that such fears are unfounded.

Finally, when Gateshead council managed to raise the money for the project from the National Lottery fund, the European Regional Development Fund and Northern Arts, without a penny having to be forked out by local taxpayers, people began warming to the idea of a new and spectacular landmark on their doorstep.

Built in three parts - wings and body - the Angel has been made from weathering steel, which will turn a rich red-brown colour when exposed to the elements. It comprises an external skeleton cut from 50mm-thick steel ribs, a 6mm sheet of "skin" to cover the ribs and make up the body form, "sacrificial ribs" beneath the skin to shape it, and 50mm-thick diaphragms which go right through the body.

Once hoisted into position at the head of the Team Valley next to the A1 by a 500- ton crane, the figure will be seen by an estimated 90,000 drivers a day or more than 33 million a year, making it the most-viewed piece of art in the world.

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