Sculptor Anthony Bennett recalls that of all the many stories and recollections that Brian told him, one in particular struck a chord. “Whilst I am pretty sure that no practising artist has ever before used swarf as a working material to create artworks, I was fascinated when Brian told me how the grinders would amuse themselves by sticking matchsticks, damaged blades and the like, into the swarf as it built up on the squat boards, creating strange creatures with horns, and manes. I thought, this amusement, or pastime, must have brought a little light into the dark dirty grinding workshops across the city. So spontaneous, so creative, so serendipitous, so artful.
“Matches, in the early nineteenth century, were often called Lucifers. They were known as such because Lucifer was ‘The bringer of light’, otherwise known as Venus, the morning star. I decided to make a squat board, with an oil painting of the planet Venus upon it, and persuaded Brian to use it, as he would normally, and to demonstrate what they used to do, to make the swarf creatures. The result is ‘Lucifer’, Venus rising from a bed of swarf, the ultrafine grindings produced by metal on stone, the body of a strange horned creature – the bringer of light”.
The film/sound presentation “STAVE” was inspired by a reminiscence of Sheffield’s last razor grinder Bill Hukin, who worked at Sellars Wheel, over the road from Butcher’s Wheel (Works). It was recounted to Anthony Bennett by Ken Hawley, the famously single-minded collector of Sheffield-made tools. Bill told him about the sound which he heard as he walked past the entrance to Butcher’s Wheel as he walked to work every day.
The grinding trows (troughs) at Butcher’s Wheel were on several floors, the largest grindstones on the lower floor, the smallest above. The larger stones were employed to grind large agricultural saw blades, and the like. As they were ground, these saws resonated thanks to the cyclical motion of the grindstones; they reverberated and ‘sang’ amidst the sound of grinding. The sound of the smaller grindstones on the floors above, were pitched accordingly, higher as they got smaller and went up, creating what could be described as an architectural ‘stave’ of sound.
Anthony Bennett wanted to produce an artwork to illustrate this, so he approached Nigel and Klive Humberstone, from “In The Nursery” (a group which he co-founded with them in 1981) to work on a sound piece. Concurrently he asked photographer Shaun Bloodworth to create a film portrait of Brian.
Bennett wanted to capture Brian doing something unique to him, so he was filmed grinding pallet knives. Only he does this, using a skill passed on to him that will be lost, forever, if he doesn’t get the opportunity to pass it on in turn.
It just so happened that In The Nursery’s studio is next door to Brian’s grinding shop, at Beehive Works, so they were able to record the sound of Brian at work, at different times, whilst he ground different blades, over a period of a few weeks.
Shaun edited the film, and Nigel and Klive, constructed and composed a sound piece to fit. With the addition of the sound of a musical saw, played by multi instrumentalist Dave Young, the result of the collaboration is “STAVE”.