Cities moving on after steel

16 June 2015...Artist Jo Peel at work in her studio in Sheffield. Picture Scott Merrylees SM1008/74c
16 June 2015...Artist Jo Peel at work in her studio in Sheffield. Picture Scott Merrylees SM1008/74c
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The title of Sheffield artist Jo Peel’s current show in the Millennium Gallery harks back to a time when the city was filled with optimism but her show looks at how the industrial decline has hit hard.

Steel City, City on the Move looks at the effect of the downturn in steel on both Sheffield and the US city of Pittsburgh, 3,500 miles away.

The title is based on the 1970s promotional film whose footage was seen at the beginning of The Full Monty which was relentlessly optimistic in tone.

Jo has visited the US city for the show, which depicts both urban landscapes in her distinctive style.

Jo said: “The two cities have a similar heritage. I went to find out how the heritage affects the present-day city.”

Jo’s pictures depict how similar the two cities look.

She also interviewed people in Pittsburgh about their lives and her resulting film forms part of the exhibition.

The back wall of the gallery features a mural combining buildings from both cities and she has created 12 drawings, 12 paintings and 122 screenprints comparing the two cityscapes.

She said: “I was born in Sheffield and the impression has always been with me of a strong sense of pride and identity from people and they love Sheffield.

“When I went to Pittsburgh, I was looking for whether people felt the same, which they did, which was nice.

“The amazing thing was that the differences were how well people in Pittsburgh could speak of themselves. They had so much confidence, which is an American thing.”

Jo pointed out that probably more people work in the post office than in steel these days but steel is still central to the identity of both cities.

The big American football team in Pittsburgh is called the Steelers, for example.

“It is still an identity but it doesn’t mean what it did,” she added.

Jo said that it wasn’t hard to find places that looked similar to each other.

Pittsburgh also has a growing number of bike shops like Kraynick’s, for example, where people have created a small business because they have a passion for it.

Other firms are based in old industrial buildings.

If a show looking at the decline of a major industry sounds like it might be depressing to visit, it’s not, as Jo’s pictures are intriguing and quirky and have an innate optimism about them.

She said: “I think it’s optimistic because of the positive values that still exist.

There is a humanity that comes from people who work hard and don’t do things for money. They are looking for more than that.

“It does feel that there is a lot fading away but people hold on to those traditions.”

Steel City, City on the Move is at the Millennium Gallery until October 11. Entry is free.