Why I’m potty about our city’s traditional treasures

EMILIE TAYLOR  FAVOURITE PLACES  Emilie Taylor at Sky Edge, Sheffield.     24 May 2011
EMILIE TAYLOR FAVOURITE PLACES Emilie Taylor at Sky Edge, Sheffield. 24 May 2011

Emilie Taylor grew up in Sheffield and its housing estates now feature prominently on the pots she makes at her studio in Persistence Works, part of Yorkshire Artspace. Her most recent work about the Manor is currently on display as part of Ceramics And Print, a collaborative exhibition between Yorkshire Artspace and Gallery Top at the Persistence Works gallery. Her next major exhibition will be Urban Traces at Gallery Oldham in Greater Manchester from July where she is showing pots inspired by Sheffield tower blocks alongside work by Neil Brownsword and Stephen Dixon. Emilie lives off Abbeydale Road with husband Rob.


When I stand on Skye Edge and look across Sheffield I feel a bit like I’m in the Caspar David Friedrich painting, Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (as you’ll see I’m prone to romanticising). The debate about the painting is whether the man on the precipice is master of all he surveys, or relatively insignificant in the greater scheme of all that lies below him. Walking on Skye Edge on a clear day can help get things into perspective. I find the noise of the pigeons circling above me reassuring as my dad was a pigeon fancier and some of my fondest memories from childhood are of Friday nights in Crookes Social Club basement ‘helping out’ (or hindering) the Pigeon Club, or Saturday afternoon sitting in our garden waiting for the pigeons to come home.


Stood with my arms above my head in Marilyn Matthews’ wool shop on Bellhouse Road, Firth Park, while Marilyn measures me with her tape, and her colleague takes down my particulars, I feel like I’m back in my grandma’s kitchen. For all the cardigans I’ve dreamed of and jumpers I’ve ever wanted but been unable to find, Marilyn is able to find a pattern, wool that fits - AND someone to knit them for me, and you can pay in two installments- and it doesn’t work out any dearer than a jumper from the high street.


The modernist architecture of Gleadless Valley has been compared by more than a few to Southern California (honest!), and was the inspiration for a piece I installed at Persistence Works Gallery last year titled California Dreaming. Although the views across the valley are beautiful and the best way to really see how the architects worked with Sheffield’s topography, I think the best way to see the maisonettes and towerblocks is walking up the valley through Cat Lane Woods. The unusual Modernist dwellings suddenly seem to appear out of the ancient trees. This way, if you time it right in autumn, you also get to take advantage of the damsons, sloes, apples, rosehips, elderberries and brambles and create enough jams, pickles and damson flavoured liquor to see you through the darkest months.


The hall at the end of my road is how I get to know my neighbours - something that can be pretty difficult these days. Whether having a moment sat in the green space it provides and chatting with dog walkers, or attending the bonfires, beetle drives and carnivals - when the community comes together to party over a plate of Nick’s mum’s rice and peas. Common Ground gives people the opportunity to talk to each other, and I know from personal experience that continues when you see each other down the local shops or in the street. The hall is run by a team of committed locals who work with St Peter & St Oswalds PCC, and in between public events it is widely used for parties, weddings youth clubs and everything from IT classes to Toddler Yoga. Every community needs one.


There is no better bread in the world. That is the truth. It’s practically a meal in each slice - no spongy palette-clinging white rubbish here. If you’ve never tried it you must. (Splash out on a chocolate flapjack while you’re there - you wont be disappointed).


Predictable, but true. I love Park Hill, that’s why I made an etching of its “I Love You Bridge”. Park Hill seems to tell the story of Sheffield from the pure optimism of the fifties to the struggle and decline of the eighties and nineties. It will be interesting to see what happens next. Local writer and radio producer Frances Byrnes has recently made a programme to be aired on Radio 4 later this year all about the bridge and the history behind the graffitti. I don’t know if I can bear to tune in to find out the real story. Will my romantic illusions be shattered?


One of my favourite Sheffield memories of Saturday evenings gone by is of watching the amazing sunsets behind Devonshire Green with a beer from Casablancas (or Mr Kites, depending on your age). I’d sit in Casablancas for whole afternoons as a teenager making an espresso last (espresso being the most sophisticated choice), then I’d babysit in the evenings for couples who were going there for dinner. It had that rare quality of appealing to everyone. I miss it most on Christmas Eve, as it seemed like everyone you knew in Sheffield had escaped there for a drink and a warm.