How steel statues shed light on family darkness

Family team: Mandy and Stuart with their steel statues.
Family team: Mandy and Stuart with their steel statues.
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THEY have neither art training nor metal qualification between them. They have little experience in the creative industries and still less contacts.

But perhaps Mandy Heaton and Stuart Knowles can draw on something far more important when it comes to creating these incredible stainless steel statues, currently selling for hundreds of pounds.

For not only do they have the bond of mother and son, they have also battled through some of the darkest moments imaginable to any family...

This weekend that darkness will be replaced by light when they exhibit their creations - majestic life-sized models of banana plants, bamboos and ferns - at Sheffield’s Art In The Gardens. The pair have been hand-picked as one of the showcase displays barely six months since making their very first piece and having already sold several items.

“It’s unbelievable we’ve got this far this quickly considering how it started,” says Mandy. “It was a horrible time, and all this project ever was was a way of getting through that...”

That horrible time, then, begun in February last year when support worker Mandy arrived home one evening to find Stuart, at just 25 and after years suffering with depression, had made an attempt on his own life.

She rushed him to hospital where doctors told her to expect the worst.

“This wasn’t a cry for help,” says the 52-year-old today. “It was a genuine attempt to end it all. Depression like that is an illness and all I knew was I needed a way to help him through it. I wasn’t just going to let this thing beat our family.”

Working on doctor’s advice that depression can be alleviated if the sufferer has an outlet for creativity and some form of responsibility, she set out looking for something to combine both.

And the answer, it turned out, was staring at her from the garden of the family home, in Church Lane, Dinnington.

“Ten years earlier, on a whim, I’d made these metal plants,” Mandy says. “People have always told me how good they are but, while I loved designing them, the thought of welding in my free time... no thanks. So they’ve stayed in the garden ever since.

“But then I was looking at these plants one day and a friend suggested it was something me and Stuart could do together,” she explains. “I could design the plants and Stuart could weld them.

“He’d never done any metal training before but I knew it was the kind of thing he’d enjoy. We’re both perfectionists and we said it had to be good or we’d go back to the drawing board.”

Stuart, a former Dronfield School pupil, takes up the tale. “The moment I started welding I knew it was something I could do and be good at,” he says. “I didn’t have anyone teaching me. We have a shipping container in the yard instead of a garage so I practised in there. It needs patience but that’s one thing I have plenty of.”

And so it proved.

Mandy draws the designs. A metal cutter cut the stainless steel. Then Stuart welds it in that container, until - voila - a handmade metal plant exists.

“We were completely green about how to market them but we sent some emails out and Sheffield Council got back in touch asking to put a couple in the Winter Garden,” says Mandy. “That was a big moment.” Since then they have sold several of the plants - each one to commission - and have placed one outside Magna in Rotherham.

“Their embryonic company is called Rhapsody In Steel.

“Now we’re excited about Art In The Garden,” says Stuart. “It will be the first time we’ve displayed our stuff at an art show. We’re hoping it can help us to make our mark as a company.”

Art In The Gardens takes place at Sheffield Botanical Gardens, September 3 - 4

Find out more about Rhapsody In Steel at www.rhapsodyinsteel.co.uk