Sheffield art gallery celebrates social reformer who adopted city

Sheffield Millennium Gallery curator Alison Morton installing Verocchios Virgin Adoring the Christ Child, known as the Ruskin Madonna, on loan from National Galleries of Scotland
Sheffield Millennium Gallery curator Alison Morton installing Verocchios Virgin Adoring the Christ Child, known as the Ruskin Madonna, on loan from National Galleries of Scotland
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An exhibition celebrating the legacy of a Victorian social reformer who worked in Sheffield is on show at a city gallery.

In the Making: Ruskin, Creativity and Craftsmanship is currently on show at the city centre Millennium Gallery, which also has a permanent display devoted to John Ruskin’s work.

This is the third in a series of shows curated alongside the College of the Guild of St George.

The guild was set up by Ruskin to right some of the social wrongs of Victorian England by setting up projects to make England a happier and more beautiful place to work in.

These days the guild continues his legacy by caring for the Ruskin Collection in Sheffield and his woodland and rural projects in the Wyre Forest near Birmingham.

He saw craftsmanship as a way of combatting all the ills of industrial production and the way that it alienated workers from what they were making, as well as the natural world around them.

For Ruskin, the act of creating something changes the maker as much as the material they are working on.

He set up the Ruskin Gallery in Sheffield because he thought it was important that workers in ugly industrial cities had something beautiful to inspire them.

Curator Alison Morton said that the current show is looking at “the synergy between hand and material and the alchemy that can take place when skill is married with materials.

“It’s also about the glory of small things.”

Four artists were commissioned to make new work for the show in response to Ruskin’s ideas. Much of the work has been inspired by the Wyre Forest projects, including new pieces made with an oak grown in the forest.

Another installation by Harriet Popham stretches along the floor of the corridor outside the gallery.

There are lots of beautiful examples of craftsmanship and skill, as well as art by artists as diverse as Grayson Perry and Tracey Emin, Edward Burne-Jones and Ruskin himself.

Several pieces on display was made by admirers of Ruskin, such as William Morris and his colleagues in the Victorian Arts and Crafts movement.

They set up the Kelmscott Press to produce beautiful books that were inspired by elaborate medieval illuminated manuscripts.

One of the centrepieces of the show is the beautiful painting The Virgin Adoring the Christ Child by Andrea del Verrocchio, on a rare loan from the National Galleries of Scotland.

It is known as the Ruskin Madonna because he was so fascinated by the work.

One gallery is devoted to textiles and works on display range from exquisite 17th-century linen and lace through to striking contemporary textile work by Tracey Emin.

Some of Ruskin’s work projects included workshops reviving the traditional skills of spinning, lace-making, weaving and embroidery.

The free exhibition runs until June 5 at the gallery next to the Winter Garden.