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A Magazine for Sheffield
Lepping Stones 2

Sam Sherborne Mastering a secret, dark art

Artist-blacksmith whose career spans more than 30 years melds traditional metal working techniques with a creative flair.

For the month of March we’re lucky to be featuring not one but two artists, the first of which is Sam Sherborne, Sheffield dweller and artist-blacksmith. If memory serves, it’s the first time we’ll have showcased the work of a blacksmith on our - currently solely digital - pages. We chatted to Sam to find out more about his extensive career.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your work as an artist-blacksmith.

In the 1980s and 90s I rushed around London making commissions and my own range of products, candlesticks, chairs and so on. I finally moved to Sheffield in 2000. My workshop is in the cellar of a former steelworkers’ pub which I converted into a studio complex, with spaces for lots of other artists. I love it here in Sheffield, with its friendly people, great countryside and interesting history. The city’s tradition of manufacturing is in the air and the water. For me to spend many hours making an artwork, I have to feel fired up by it. It helps if the concept makes me a bit angry! I wrestle my idea into the medium I have most control of - metal.

Beacon of Dad
Sam Walker
Sam Walker
Sam Walker

You trained at the London College of Furniture back in the 80s. What was it like?

The LCF was brilliant, but I didn't learn blacksmithing there, I learnt ‘furniture crafts.’ I wanted to be a sculptor really, but thought I would be more likely to make a living as a furniture maker.Very quickly my furniture was almost exclusively made of metal. My first workshop was a forge I built in the corner of a scrapyard. Learning blacksmithing came from experimentation and the generosity of several mentors. In the 80s in London there weren't many blacksmiths. The skill had virtually faded away. I found learning blacksmithing was a bit like mastering a secret, dark art.

How has your practice evolved over the last three decades?

My work is more meaningful to me now, but also less commercial. Initially, I made practical commissions, like a garden bridge and mannequin stands for London department stores. Now I'm not concerned with overheads so much, so I can spend longer trying new things out. I’ve learnt more complex techniques and I have better machinery. I feel I’ve developed a creative voice in my sculpture that I’m happy with.

Wife and Welder
Sam Walker
Under the influence
Sam Walker
Wounded leader detail
Sam Walker

Where do you draw inspiration from when designing a new piece?

I had a job working in a gallery of South East Asian antiquities when I was younger. My sculptures are partly inspired by the Buddhist and Hindu bronzes I saw there. Other influences include Paula Rego, the sculptor David Smith and the landscape of the Peak District. Recently I’ve developed a personal iconography, a collection of recurring figures drawing on my memories and life experiences.

Which have been your favourite pieces to create and why?

I made an installation, ‘Still Life in my Dad’s Kitchen’, a portrait of my dad who had died a few years earlier.The initial inspiration came from a cassette tape I found when sorting out his effects. He had taped music he liked as it came on his radio. The recordings also captured the sounds he made, breathing, sighing, typing, lighting cigarettes, singing, even farting.I made wood-and-steel wall sculptures depicting objects I associated with him: his beer mug, ashtray and typewriter. I 'drew' by forging hot steel and inlaying it or burning it into wood. The installation had his actual table, seat and typewriter, with his cassette playing, and the wall sculptures of his iconic objects. There was also an opportunity for the public to type how they felt about the exhibition and their own fathers. Some of the typed remarks were very moving. It's my favourite artwork to date.

Sussex Road Explosion Memorial
Sam Walker
Sam Walker
Talking frame
Sam Walker

What’s on the horizon for you in 2021?

Recently, I have made and installed two street art memorials in steel, one commemorating workers killed by a gas explosion in Sheffield in 1973, and another for the ‘Sheffield Pals’ battalion killed at the Somme in 1916. I am hoping to install some more memorials in the city. Perhaps one for William Plummer, the man who stood up against a violent Sheffield gang in the 1920s, and another for the victims of the Nunnery Colliery disaster in 1923.

by Felicity Jackson (she/her)
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