Sheffield artist: New exhibition at Weston Park Museum celebrates work of Kenneth Steel

A new exhibition at Weston Park Museum will celebrate the work of a Sheffield artist who remains little known despite his considerable achievements.

Tuesday, 23rd November 2021, 12:23 am

Kenneth Steel was a skilled Sheffield artist and commercial illustrator who created visuals for classic mid-century travel posters and architectural landmarks.

Next month, a new exhibition opening at the museum will shed new light on Steel’s success. Places in Time: the Art of Kenneth Steel will bring together the most comprehensive collection of his art ever to go on display, including over 100 drawings, paintings, prints, posters and more.

Among his most famous pieces are Sheffield Castle from 1964, commissioned by the Brightside and Carbrook Co-operative Society, an imaginary view of Sheffield Castle as it might have looked in the 17th century.

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The first architectural perspectives of the Electricity Substation at Moore Street, Sheffield, drawn in about 1965 by Kenneth Steel.

Steel completed a watercolour study before executing a larger oil painting, which was hung in the company boardroom. The Lord Mayor of Sheffield used a colour reproduction of the painting for his Christmas card in 1965.

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Then there’s the Electricity Sub Station, on Moore Street, from 1965-6. As a commercial artist, Steel found work preparing watercolour washed perspective drawings commissioned by the construction industry and the local authority. The sub station is a classic piece of Brutalist architecture designed by Sheffield firm Jefferson Sheard & Partners in 1968.

Born in Sheffield in 1906, Steel became interested in design at an early age and gained a scholarship at the Sheffield Technical School of Art at the age of 12.

Kenneth Steel's oil paintiing of what Sheffield Castle would have looked like in th 16th century

On leaving education, he became an engraver, but devoted his spare time to developing his painting, finding early inspiration in the Peak District and tuition from the renowned Sheffield artist Stanley Royle.

In 1932, he secured a publisher for his engraved work, with coverage in the Sheffield Telegraph describing Steel as the year’s ‘biggest artistic find’. Steel was the youngest artist to be elected to the Royal Society of British Artists in 1936 and saw his work exhibited in two solo exhibitions in London (1934 and 1937) and a third in Dublin in 1938.

In December 1940, both Steel’s mother and his pregnant wife were tragically killed in the Sheffield Blitz, with the bombing also destroying much of his studio work.

Post-war, Steel went on to specialise as a commercial artist, producing many familiar travel posters and carriage prints for British Railways, as well as architectural perspective drawings.

Atkinsons After The Blitz, an drawing by Kenneth Steel

He drew the first visualisation images of the soon-to-be-built Jodrell Bank Observatory for Husband & Co, as well as producing drawings of South Kirkby Colliery and Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet. Steel remarried in 1953, and over the last two decades of his life produced some of his most experimental artistic work.

Steel died of lung cancer in 1970, aged 63.

Lucy Cooper, exhibitions and display curator at Sheffield Museums, said: “Kenneth Steel’s work is recognisable to many, but his name is relatively unknown. The exhibition is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate such a consummate artist in his hometown of Sheffield and for visitors to enjoy a wide range of his work, spanning over 50 years.”

The exhibition runs from December 17 until May 2 – entry is free. For more information on Kenneth Steel visit kennethsteel.co.uk.

Kenneth Steel's painting of what Sheffield Castle would have looked like