A new exhibition at the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield, inspired by John Ruskin, provides much food for thought. There is a growing interest in the practice and concept of craft, and the show entitled ‘In the Making’ is well timed to encourage an exploration of the meaning of craftsmanship in the modern world. This is the third and last in a series of triennial exhibitions supported by Ruskin’s charity the Guild of St George designed in part to expose the riches of the Ruskin Collection which is looked after on behalf of the Guild by Museums Sheffield.
As well as carefully selected items from the Ruskin Collection and further afield, the exhibition includes specially commissioned new work by a number of artists and craftsmen. They make use of a variety of materials and techniques, and bring to life many of the principles that Ruskin espoused, truth to nature, attention to detail and practical handiwork. Hannah Downing’s exquisite drawing of brambles does this particularly well, drawing attention to the inherent beauty of the commonplace.
The other commissions are similarly thought provoking. A collaborative piece entitled ‘what you do, where you’re from, who you know’ by woodworker Henk Littlewood and visual artist Mir Jansen uses wood from Ruskin Land to create an interactive pod like structure displaying painted images, inviting you to sit down and contemplate the questions it poses; a sort of gallery within a gallery. Colourful prints by artist Harriet Popham made playful use of stylised shapes and forms from common plants and animals providing as floorpieces a visual link between the different rooms of the exhibition.
Coming closer to home, ‘The Clearing’, Amber Hiscott’s stained glass creation, was inspired by her visits to St George’s Farm last Autumn. In her own words, it is a response to ‘the particular way the light shone on the farm.’ This work captures what is for me one of the most striking aspects of Ruskin Land, the sense of air, light and openness experienced on approaching St George’s, emerging from the darker, horizon-less, enclosed wooded surroundings. This is experienced differently at night when the woodland provides a perfect frame for star studded night skies. Another item in the show, Moonlight, a beautiful tapestry design by Sir Howard Hodgkin and woven in wool by the wonderful West Dean Tapestry Studio, is also reminiscent of the way the moon illuminates the orchard here.
This subtle quality of light is just one of the natural resources we want to explore in realising the potential of Ruskin Land. ‘In the Making’ also provides pointers of how we might seek creative inspiration from other raw materials that are to hand here. Oak from the surrounding woodland, sustainably managed, will be at the heart of all this. With the involvement of diverse artists and craftspeople we want to use this place to encourage people to explore the creative potential of their own local surroundings, in both town or country. This is one of the ways we can begin to reveal John Ruskin’s under-appreciated legacy in the Wyre Forest.