The Millennium Gallery is putting an extra slant on Sheffield’s celebration of 100 Years of Stainless Steel with a special display which combines film with sculpure.
Stainless Steel Cinema, a programme of historic and contemporary short films, will be running continuously in the main gallery alongside Swarfhorse, sculptor Anthony Bennett’s tribute to the city’s metalworking tradition.
Swarfhorse is a series of 12 sculptures, created by the artist in collaboration with the city’s last jobbing grinder, Brian Alcock, to highlight the plight of Sheffield’s endangered grinding industry. Made from swarf, the residue collected as blades are ground, the works are an evocative testament to Sheffield’s long history creating bespoke cutting edges.
Earlier this year they were shown at eight different locations around the city forming a heritage trail.
Although that was very much part of the Swarfhorse idea, the artist acknowledged that many people never got round to seeing them all. “Museums Sheffield made me an offer I couldn’t refuse - to show them in the Millennium Gallery,” he says.
A driving force behind the project was Bennett’s concern that with no one inheriting Alcock’s skills they would disappear along with the traditions of hundreds of years of jobbing grinders, men at the very heart of the cutlery industries, Through the exhibition he threw out a challenge to see if there could be a future for a skill that goes back at least to the first recorded mention of a Sheffield cutler in 1297 and probably much earlier but which has received no entrepreneurial attention or public intervention in recent years.
He invited key figures in the industry to the February opening at Butcher Works. “A seed was planted,” he reports with a strong possibility of at least two companies volunteering someone to be trained up by Brian Alcock.
Bennett says he took pleasure in hearing Ken Hawley, the champion of the city’s industrial heritage, saying it took “a foreigner” (Bennett is from the West Midlands originally) to point out what Sheffield needed to do.
In the meantime he has completed an extra piece for the exhibition, Chrysallice, a glass female torso which will be suspended from a wall of the gallery. It has been created for a glass artist colleague at Persistence Works who has been suffering from illness. “Each of the pieces has a story behind it.”
Stainless Steel Cinema will present a range of films exploring the legacy of Harry Brearley’s 1913 discovery with rarely-seen footage, from 1950s promotions marketing stainless as an ideal metal for the modern world through to insights into how contemporary designers and continue to explore the unique properties of the material.
The show opens on Tuesday and runs to August 26.