In the Force of Nature exhibition at the Millennium Gallery are a striking pair of one metre tall wood-fired pots which find their inspiration in the Skye Edge area of Sheffield.
The work of Sheffield ceramicist Emilie Taylor, they feature a dramatic urban vista with views across the Manor and Wybourn areas of the city and pigeon racers from Skye Edge.
Each of the pots uses Renaissance techniques and composition to create tableaux depicting one of the Sheffield’s oldest pigeon clubs, its members and their relationships with the landscape that surrounds them.
‘My Dad was a pigeon racer and kept 200 pigeons at our house in Rivelin Valley,” explains the artist. “He was part of Crookes Pigeon Club, which met in the basement of the Crookes Social Club, and I went with him to the club every Friday night. My Mum worked nights, so often Saturdays would be spent with my Dad, either waiting for the pigeons to come in if it was a race week or out of season visiting the many other racers in Sheffield, swapping birds or other bits and pieces at other times of year. We would travel on foot to Kelvin, Stannington or the lofts on Penistone Road or sometimes even further afield, and this was my first understanding of the landscape of my city.
“I have wanted to make ‘pigeon pots’ since my Dad died, and this commission was an opportunity to explore this part of my past that is also part of our city’s history.”
Her father’s old stomping grounds are no longer and one of the last remaining pigeon lofts are at Skye Edge.
“When I contacted the secretary at Skye Edge it turned out he was an old friend of my Dad’s, and many of the men at the club remembered him. It has been a good experience - even as I fired the pots the pigeons were circling above the kiln on the Manor.”
The Force of Nature commission is significant in the career of Emilie Taylor.
“This was my biggest commission in terms of money and time and it enabled me to use the wood-fired kiln at the Yorkshire Artspace Manor Oaks studios. “I wanted to get to grips with using the wood-fired technique as I was used to a small electric kiln over which you have more control,” says Taylor. “There are a few imperfections but I wanted to convey moments of spontaneity which comes with having less control. You don’t know for sure how it is going to turn out.
“Penny Withers helped me through the process and she was an incredible help because she had built the kiln. I wanted to use the kiln to engage with people on the estate.” Some of Taylor’s previous work has looked particularly at the ideals of post-war housing estates and the lives of residents along with notions of masculinity and femininity,
These themes continue even in following a brief to do with nature. She has included the deers that once roamed in the area. “That relates to the theme of masculinity as do the pigeon-racers,” she says.
“It is also very much to do with Ruskin’s idea of urban people communing with nature as an escape from the dark underground of the pits or the steelworks. They came out at night to let the birds out and looked out over the city.” The piece includes views of the inside and the outside of the loft and view of Wybourn. A graduate in Fine Art at Liverpool John Moores University, Taylor has exhibited across the UK and her work features in several collections, including those of Chatsworth House, the Duke of Devonshire’s private collection and the Guild of St George’s Ruskin Collection in Sheffield. Currently studying an MA in Arts Psychotherapy, she continues to work on projects in partnership with Sheffield’s schools, colleges and communities.
In June and July Taylor is off to Denmark for a residency at Guldagergaard international ceramic research centre where she plans to improve her skills further using an outside kiln. Force of Nature: Picturing Ruskin’s Landscape continues at the Millennium Gallery until June 23.