How everyday materials create memorable art

Wood artist Simon Wigglesworth-Baker's exhibition at Kelham Island Arts Collective
Wood artist Simon Wigglesworth-Baker's exhibition at Kelham Island Arts Collective
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There’s a giant pair of scissors hanging from the ceiling at Simon Wigglesworth-Baker’s exhibition at Kelham Island Arts Collective’s HQ.

But these scissors aren’t functional. They’re carved out of wood and coloured with the vibrant patina that Simon brings to life in his wooden creations.

And, though abstract and arty, they sum up everything about Simon’s work - almost everything he makes is about Sheffield, or inspired by Sheffield.

The scissors were commissioned by The University of Sheffield’s Clinical Skills Centre at Samuel Fox House at the Northern General Hospital.

“They wanted a pair of giant scissors to mark the opening of the centre so I thought I’d make a pair of medical scissors, given where they were going to be displayed,” he said.

Simon set to work researching medical scissors and based his design on those of an 18th-century pair he came across online.

“I found this image of an antiquated pair of medical scissors that were found on the USS Scorpion,” he said.

The USS Scorpion was scuttled in a Maryland river in 1814 and discovered in 1979. The medical scissors which were found in a safe from the ship.

But there was a another twist to the scissors.

“When I looked into it the originals had been made in Sheffield, by Hague and Nowill on Meadow Street! They were possibly one of the earliest pairs manufactured, around 1790.”

The giant scissors commission came from another giant scissors commission - the huge pair of scissors in the window of Ernest Wright & Sons scissor factory on Broad Lane. Simon’s work for the established Sheffield scissor manufacturer inspired an entire series of work based on scissors called Closing Time.

“Scissors are really interesting because they are symbolic of a relationship - it’s about two things working together.

“That’s why the series is called Closing Time - not only was it the end of a series but also about the way scissors open and close.”

Dotted around the vast, open and light exhibition space at Kelham Island Arts Collective are beautiful sculptures of scissor-like forms which, like the giant scissors, are coloured with all the tones of the woodwork.

And, while they are stunning to look at, they are in fact made from plywood.

“I like the idea of using a material that’s domestic and banal and transforming it,” says Simon.

Almost all his materials are from Wickes, B&Q or found on the streets or river banks of his beloved Kelham Island.

“My attraction to plywood and similar materials is because of their flexibility and their apparent mundanity. You can make something attractive out of everyday materials.”

Simon’s work space at Kelham Island Arts Collective is a halfway house between a builder’s yard and an artist’s studio.

Warped woodwork and giant objects are stacked against tubs of plaster, paint and piles of wood.

“I love working with wood,” he says. “All I want really is to make stuff.”

Simon has lived in Sheffield since he came to the Steel City to study fine art at Psalter Lane in the 1980s.

“I have so much respect and admiration for the city’s industrial heritage,” he says.

And, at Kelham Island, he’s surrounded by it.

“Certainly I am influenced by the city’s industrial history and it’s great to be engaging with the craftsmen and women still working in Sheffield today,” he said.

“To me, making things, and creating something new and challenging out of the day-to-day materials around us, is life-affirming.

“To be doing it in Sheffield with its great manufacturing history makes you appreciate the skills and talent that have gone before us in the manufacture of objects often taken for granted.”

Simon’s exhibition, Closing Time, runs until tomorrow at Kelham Island Arts Collective, Kelham Island.