Faces from the Forge

A Day in the Life of Freddy Furnace, commission from Sheffield Forgemasters by Wildago''6 Scene at the Picnic
A Day in the Life of Freddy Furnace, commission from Sheffield Forgemasters by Wildago''6 Scene at the Picnic

THIS week staff at Forgemasters came face to face with themselves as depicted by artist Wildago in a series of paintings commissioned for the company boardroom.

Canadian-born Wilda Goyetche has created the painted world of Wildago which chronicles the adventures of characters called Pearl, Edmund and Smokey who have built up a following in her adopted city of Sheffield and beyond.

In the same style she has produced six paintings under the title A Day in the Life of Freddy Furnace which features 22 characters, most of them resembling men and women who work at Forgemasters. They include CEO George La Forge, Irma Thermal, Meltdown Millie the Vulcans, Rusty Scrap and Don Julio Jominy (who walks on water) and are likenesses rather than caricatures, says Wildago.

This week she held two special previews before putting the paintings on public display at her city centre studio for seven days ahead of their installation in the boardroom in the new year.

The six large paintings form a sequence which starts with apprentice Freddie waking on his first day of work, still in bed but already dressed in his hard hat and safety goggles.

He then appears in scenes outside reception, in the forge, in the melt shop, in a spoof of The Last Supper and, finally, in the Forgemasters nature reserve at a staff picnic.

It was Forgemasters CEO, Dr Graham Honeyman, who invited Wildago to produce some paintings for the boardroom after the pair met while delivering a seminar at Sheffield Hallam University.

The steel industry was something she knew nothing about, the artist confesses, and decided early on it should be about the people rather than the factory and applied her usual method of creating a storyline and “fictional characters with funny names”.

“Many of the skills required to work at Forgemasters are so specialised they can only be learned on the job,” she explains.” As a result the company’s apprenticeship scheme is vital and Wildago decided to make an apprentice the central character who guides us through the scenario.

“Feeling rather like an apprentice myself, I had a lot to learn about the steel industry in general and Sheffield Forgemasters in particular. I expected darkness and industrial dirt and gloom and wondered how I could create the artwork in my colourful style.

“There were countless meetings, site visits and photographs of people and places at the Brightside Lane operations. Always I sensed when talking to staff that Dr Honeyman’s passion and pride had infected them too. They all seemed to work hard, loved being part of a special company and were happy to share all sorts of colourful ideas for me to paint - often without realising it.”

She also tried to capture the drama of the steelmaking process – “with scary machinery and great balls of fire”.

“There were workers dressed in heat-resistant suits who reminded me of the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz.

“I saw steel scrap become liquid fire and I learned about the processes that transformed it into enormous finished components, destined for places all over the world.”

She even incorporates herself in the fifth painting, the Da Vinci Crew, a pastiche of The Last Supper and placed the characters in the same configuration as da Vinci’s classic painting.

For Wildago, the project is her most ambitious to date. “I have been commissioned to do other people but nothing on this scale. I was scared to death,” she admits. That said, “I couldn’t wait to get started on the large paintings and I loved the character development.”

A Day in the Life of Freddy Furnace  will be on public view at the artist’s studio which she calls Camp Wildago on Campo Lane at the junction of Hawley Street (above Michaelangelo’s the barbers) Saturday to Friday, December 21, 11am-3pm.