The Millennium Galleries in Sheffield are one of the three galleries that make up the Museums Sheffield Charity and a must on any Sheffield itinerary.
On my visit last week, I spent a fair bit of time exploring the many small galleries that make up the museum and was impressed with the variety of exhibitions on and their pertinence to Sheffield.
The Millennium Galleries are currently celebrating “The Year of Making”, a major city-wide initiative to explore Sheffield’s international reputation for innovation and excellence in making.
Sheffield has always been a city of makers and we are surrounded by things that are made in the city of Sheffield. Before I saw the Millennium Galleries exhibition “Made in Sheffield”, only the stainless steel industry sprung to mind as made in the city. My canteen of cutlery is Sheffield made and the products are of superb quality. There is of course a canteen on show in the exhibition from Carrs of Sheffield – the country’s largest ‘start to finish’ cutlery manufacturer.
However, there’s much more to Sheffield than its steel industry and this exhibition celebrates the diversity of makers and manufacturers in the area and the wide range of products created, featuring works by over 100 leading companies. “
Made in Sheffield” is a mark of quality that is recognised the world over. The region is known for its highly specialised products including global aeronautical engineering and ground-breaking digital industries.
Sheffield’s expertise in precision design and manufacture in exhibited in products from the sport and health sectors with collaboration between companies and university research departments playing a key role in improving processes, resulting in high quality products. Of the more obscure objects on display are a series of dental and medical instruments.
There are also many talented individuals working in studios and workshops across the city nurturing specialist skills passed down through generations and applied to a diverse range of consumer products from home ware to handmade tools. The exhibition has an excellent but slightly dangerous looking method of displaying their range of tools.
My favourite item of home ware is the Crown Candelabra by leading silversmith Brett Payne. This design is made up of 8 candlesticks which can be arranged in a number of different ways allowing for large and small displays.
Individuals often collaborate with larger companies resulting in an exchange of skills, techniques and technologies. For example, Grace Horne has worked with traditional knife makers in Sheffield which enabled her to experiment with slip-joint folder assembly and design and as a result creates beautiful knives and scissors in an innovative manner. She also borrows techniques from other craft disciplines.
Jewellery and fashion items also feature in the “Made in Sheffield” exhibition. Amongst the designs is this quirky hatinator by Amanda Moon Headwear. She makes hats, fascinators and hair accessories, sometimes delicate and sometimes wild and flamboyant. She mainly undertakes bespoke creations and I just loved this Dragonfly Sloped Beret
The exhibition of Museums Sheffield’s metalwork collection illustrates the story of Sheffield’s innovative metalworking heritage. The full collection contains approximately 13,000 objects dating from prehistoric times to the present day and is one of the finest collections of its kind in the world.
The collection represents what are called light metal trades, the biggest category being cutlery, which refers to anything that cuts including knives, razors, scissors and surgical tools.
In addition there are forks, spoons and serving implements known as flatware and holloware includes objects made for domestic use such as candlesticks, teapots and dishes.
This exhibition charts how Sheffield became famous for its stainless steel cutlery, from its industry beginnings in the 1200’s, through expansion, to its decline and adaptation in the 20th century. The city’s reputation as world leader in metal came about through its innovative development of new materials. The 1700’s saw the development of Old Sheffield Plate and Britannia Metal which allowed people to make affordable copies of fashionable silverware
Then the emergence of stainless steel in the 20th century changed the industry forever.
The exhibition details how cutlery, flatware and hollowware were made, how metal was decorated and what auxiliary trades were involved. By far the largest of the auxiliary trades was ‘hafting’ which is the cutting and shaping of handles out of such materials as animal bone and mother of pearl.
Alongside objects made in Sheffield, there are also many treasures from around the world, brought to Sheffield to inspire those working in the metalwork trade.
These Hope Sculptures were woven from waste stainless steel filaments. This gives an impression of floating movement and is the complete opposite of how we believe steel to look.
The Ruskin Gallery exhibits a series of objects from John Ruskin’s collection. Ruskin was well travelled and actively sought out beauty to observe, draw and write about.
His name became synonymous with Sheffield after he founded a museum specifically for Sheffield workers in 1875. He believed them to be the best metalworkers in the world and therefore deserved a place of inspiration to nurture their creativity during a time of harsh living conditions. His eclectic collection on show here includes paintings, drawings, manuscripts, minerals and architectural casts accrued over his 40 years of travel.
The purpose of the collection was to explore the connection between nature and art, open viewers’ eyes to the beauty in the world and encourage inventiveness amongst craftspeople.
The last gallery I visited displayed a contemporary ceramics exhibition called “Shaped from the Earth” which celebrates the diversity of handmade ceramics produced in the city today from Sheffield’s thriving community of ceramicists. Inspired by the city’s architecture, landscape and rich cultural vibrancy, a wide range of techniques are demonstrated including hand-coiled vessels, wheel thrown tableware and organic sculptural forms.
Most of the works are for sale and I particularly liked Darrell Milnes tea set and Seth Ceramics teapots.
The Millennium Galleries really opened my eyes as to what Sheffield is all about, and I can’t wait to return to explore some of the city’s contemporary gallery and studio spaces, not to mention the other museums that make up the charity “Museums Sheffield.”
Have you visited the Millennium Galleries recently? What did you think to the exhibitions?