“I think this is the most beautiful park in Sheffield,” said Ruskinite Ruth Nutter looking out from a former wasteland near Manor Top. “I almost feel I’m in another country.”
Manor Fields Park, once starkly known as Deep Pits, was an urban dumping ground and a set of dilapidated allotments before large grants from European, national and local government transformed the site in the 1990s, when renewals included clearing over 100 burned-out cars in a single year.
Now a series of watercourses, trees, stonework and planting by the local Green Estate and Pictorial Meadows companies have helped turned the site this summer into a hillside of wild colours, with a series of multicoloured meadows around every turn.
This year’s Ruskin in Sheffield programme has joined the international ‘Big Draw’ festival to ‘get people drawing and working creatively outdoors,’ said programme producer Ruth.
“It’s given us the opportunity to promote drawing in Sheffield, but to do it in parks and places where people live, not in galleries.”
After a series of drawing, painting, sculpting, etching and comic book art sessions which attracted 800 people to Ruskin’s creative Walkley heartland earlier this month, artists, sculptors, entomologists and at least one bridge builder descended on Manor Fields, Manor Lodge Discovery Centre and Manor Oaks Farm on Saturday, where over 400 people came along (once the drizzle stopped) to join in.
“It’s inspired by Leonardo da Vinci,” said woodworking artist and bamboo lasher Henk Littlewood, as local youths clambered happily over a small decorative bridge made from bamboo and hemp rope. “It’s actually very strong,” Henk added, climbing on top himself to demonstrate the point while the youths watched to see what might happen.
As Ruth took the hillside path between the ‘young park’ as she called Manor Fields and the prison ground of Mary Queens of Scots at the Manor, she enthused about how the festivals are helping people to look anew at their neighbourhoods and especially their outdoor spaces, just as Ruskin directed the common man 150 years ago.
“You get the sense that someone with vision in Sheffield is trying to make this a beautiful place,” Ruth observed of the Manor Fields meadows.
The final Big Draw festival this year will be at Meersbrook Park, where Ruth and The Guild of St George (founded by Ruskin) are supporting the efforts of Heeley Development Trust and the Friends of Meersbrook Hall to restore the hall, which once housed Sheffield’s Ruskin Museum.
The event on September 10 will include talks about Ruskin, more drawing and craftwork, metalwork demonstrations and a recreation of Turner’s Viewpoint where JMW Turner depicted Sheffield from Derbyshire Lane in 1797. There’ll also be a walk from Meersbrook Hall to the Gleadless Commons Fair near Hang Bank Wood on the same day.
The year’s Ruskin events will culminate with a display of this year’s artworks at the Millennium Gallery on October 14, with some of the 2017 works being selected to join the city’s Ruskin Collection.
Ruth will also be planning events in Walkley, Manor and Meersbrook for the next two years, ready to celebrate the bicentenary of Ruskin’s birth in 2019.
“We want people to think of ideas relating to Ruskin’s thoughts about making lives better, about making our communities better places to live in,” she said. That could include artworks or events considering practical issues like better housing or cheaper rents, she added.
Although Ruskin’s ideas of the importance of community, art and nature now appear to be re-established in Sheffield, Ruth noted that tighter funding means that people have to work imaginatively and work together to make things happen these days, and the Big Draw collaboration this year was an example, with Sheffield’s sketchers, painters, engravers and sculptors joining millions of fellow artists from 25 different countries.
“Ruskin through that if you could draw, you could see the world clearly,” she said. “You’d understand it better and care for it better.”
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