Salute to a proud heritage

Galvanize Launch Winter gardens .  Phil Johnson with his bench.
Galvanize Launch Winter gardens . Phil Johnson with his bench.

A CITY famed for its production of fine cutlery and heavy engineering that shaped the world, Sheffield today has a thriving community of silversmiths and designers, creating beautiful and innovative contemporary designs in metal. 

Connecting the two is the mission of Galvanize. Now in its fourth year, the festival is a showcase for all the creativity and talent while providing a reminder of the dynamic development of industry and research that continues in the city and at the same time paying homage to its heritage as a city synonymous with the metal trades.

And it aims to look to the future with an affirmation that investing in skills and innovation in making beautiful objects, practical tools and powerful products remains vital.

The festival, which opened this week, runs until April 24 with events at more than 20 venues across Sheffield.

Visitors to Galvanize Sheffield can expect to see work from rising stars and established designers, handcrafted in precious and non-precious metals, ranging from jewellery and home-ware to contemporary ecclesiastical pieces, in a variety of setting - galleries, factories, outdoors and in more unexpected places.

There will also be the chance for visitors to purchase or commission their own works at ‘meet the maker’ events, try their hand at making metal products and go on behind the scenes factory and studio tours.

The foundation of a new commission in memory of the late David Mellor will be unveiled during Galvanize 2011. Founded by the design company at Hathersage which bears his name, the first of what will be a bi-annual commission will be a piece of work by renowned designer and silversmith Keith Tyssen.

Among exhibitions running for the duration of the festival is Beneath the Skin at the Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery in the Furnival Building at Sheffield Hallam University.

Curated by Maria Hanson, Reader in Metalwork and Jewellery at Hallam, it not only displays an array of beautiful objects but also shows the creative process behind them. Academics in the field of contemporary metalwork and jewellery will reveal the research that underpins the objects.

Interchange at the Butcher Works Gallery shows beautifully crafted work by 20 of the UK’s finest designer makers who all have connections to Sheffield. They are silversmiths who have either worked together, shared studios, set up their business or studied in Sheffield at some point during their careers.

“I am particularly excited about this,” says festival manager Sara Unwin. “It’s the first time we have brought together all these wonderful silversmiths in a kind of retrospective to show the scope of achievement coming out of the city.

“As a festival Galvanize is continuing to develop. The workshops are already booking up and there is evidence we are broadening our audience and reaching young people especially.”

One-off events include a Silversmiths Tea Party at Wood Lane Centre, Stannington, on April 17. Hosted by With Sarah Stevenson and Stefan Tooke it will involve silversmithing demonstrations, a workshop tour and discussion of the history of tea-time silverware followed by a mouth-watering high tea served with both contemporary and antique silverware. There will also be a chance to win a piece of Sarah Stevenson’s contemporary silverware.

The Women of Silver event on April 11 at The Milestone represents the chanre to meet a trio who are leading the way in metalwork and jewellery - Maria Hanson, Jennie Gill and Katey Felton – peruse their collections, learn about their approach to design and get up close to precious metal. The setting at the much-lauded restaurant in Kelham Island puts the event in the heart of early metalworking in the city while promoting contemporary metalwork at its best.

The final weekend of the festival, April 23-24, will see the BABA Festival Forge at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, the largest gathering of blacksmiths in the UK. With around 20 forges and some of the most skilled blacksmiths in the country, this is a rare opportunity to watch hot iron being forged. The blacksmiths will work together to produce a piece of public art and children can have a go at blacksmithing.

BABA is the British Artist Blacksmiths Association and members have already made their mark on the festival with an exhibition in the Winter Garden, Something for the Garden, of pieces intended to sit in the garden either as functional items or as works of art.

Prominent is the dragonfly bench designed by Phil Johnson who runs a family partnership of artist blacksmiths with his son, daughter and son-in-law near Edinburgh.

Using traditional techniques combined with modern design and technology, the company produces functional works such as gates, balconies, stairs and furniture along with sculpture.

As well as contributing the dragonfly bench which visitors to the Winter Garden can make use of, Phil Johnson has helped organise Something for the Garden.

He and BABA colleague Elspeth Bennie drove 970 miles around the country collecting 30 pieces of work for the exhibition from blacksmiths from Scotland to Surrey, Hereford to Worksop, to put on show.

“Some of the pieces are displayed in a way which isn’t immediately obvious,” he says. “You have to work to find them.”

lFull details of Galvanize 2011 can be found online and within the Galvanize Sheffield brochure.