The act of making can prove transformative in many ways

A group of people recovering from drugs and alcohol dependency discovered how the act of making could be hugely transformative and parallel the changes they were undertaking in their lives.

Tuesday, 3rd September 2019, 2:01 pm
Updated Wednesday, 4th September 2019, 3:54 pm
Artist Emilie Taylor installing a selection of works in the Manor Making:Base Materials at the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield.

A new exhibition at the Millennium Gallery, Manor Maker: Base Materials is the culmination of a project which saw 10 adults, each in a process of change and recovery, work with Sheffield ceramicist, Emilie Taylor to come together to talk, think, draw and use clay to create monuments to their process and themselves.

The resulting pots, created by the Manor Makers, who are service users at Sheffield Alcohol Support Service, during weekly meetings over a four month period ,are on display along with drawings they made, reflecting the thoughts and feelings borne out of the making process.

“The group comprised people in different stages of recovery,” explains Emilie Taylor. “ Some had completed the process others had just started. In all it lasted 10 months and it was gratifying that we had the same number from when we started. Some had issues on the way and had periods out but returned. I have never had as high a level of engagement before.

Firing up the kiln during the Manor Maker Base Materials

“At each session we would gather round and talk about what had been going on in their lives and then we would move to a table and make drawings.”

The pots were fired in a wood firing kiln built on the Manor Estate in Sheffield. The 12 hour firing took place on May Day or Beltane – the Pagan festival of fire – which sees out the old, brings in the new and welcomes change.

The exhibition features a table setting recreating the feast they enjoyed on May Day.

“Firing the kiln is a community activity which was important for the group,” continues Emilie.

“And wood firing is a process where you don’t always get what you expected. Similarly working with clay is thought to be relaxing but actually it’s challenging and doesn’t do what you want it to and then you get cross. That’s so like the process of recovery.”

The Manor Estate setting was important, she says, and the project highlights the relevance of the British heritage of wood-firing pots, considered a rural craft, in our contemporary urban environment.

Emilie Taylor’s work as an artist combines large-scale studio ceramics with a socially engaged practice and she uses heritage crafts, particularly traditional slipware, to interpret and represent post-industrial landscapes.

She also has 10 years specialist experience working with people who use drugs and alcohol and homeless people Her training as an Art Psychotherapist on the Northern Programme in Sheffield underpins her approach to social engagement and informs her work.

The Museums Sheffield project was supported by private benefactors Oscar and Sophie Humphries.

“It is so rare in this time of austerity and cuts to come across something like this and be given this amount of time ans space to be able to work freely,” reflects the artist.

Manja Wolfram, Volunteer Coordinator at Sheffield Alcohol Support Service, said: “We are very thankful for the partnership and opportunity to take part in this project. September is Recovery month, that we celebrate loud and bold each year in Sheffield and it could not be any more suitable to have the exhibition taking place this month."

Manor Maker: Base Materials is in the Craft and Design Gallery of the Millennium Gallery until October 6.