Detail of bird font commission.  Photo courtesy of Toby Leetham, 2010

"If I could explain it, I wouldn't have to dance it!"  

Isadora Duncan

Much of the raw inspiration for my work is a relationship between finding and imagination. While design themes are carefully planned and functionally feasible, the highly individual surfaces emerge from memories, thoughts and feelings evoked between ideas and the material I am drawn to.

In a sense, the materials and I are engaged in writing our shared history. I grew up immersed in rural and coastal environments, in the old ways of make-do-and-mend and deeply connected with nature. The details and remembered joys and challenges of those experiences, a practical intelligence and love of ancient, weathered and ambiguous objects and architecture, and slower hand-driven technologies are all reflected in my work.

My background

I started on my artistic odyssey as a self-taught ceramicist. Eventually, yearning for a wider art experience, I journeyed through art and design, finally graduating with a BA Hons in Fine Art. After university, I unexpectedly fell into teaching - art jobs weren’t thick on the ground for mature graduates - but seven years later I made the leap to focus on a full-time professional art practice. 

Bursting with unformed ideas but with little initial direction, I was set on my path when my blacksmith associate, Nathan Bennett, offered me part-time work experience in return for a small wage to supplement my startup. I leaped at the chance, having already fallen in love with the furnace. The furniture naturally followed. 

My work is in collections across the UK, Europe, Canada and America.

My surfaces

Slate - reclaimed from local and Cornish yards - is the bedrock of my work. Into and around this I weave found materials: sea-worn glass, ship-wrecked pottery and anything else interesting that draws my magpie eye. Features forged out of non-corrosive metals are both decorative and functional in the construction and are often inspired by an object’s original purpose or history. I also use stained and handmade Smalti glass for special effects and mosaic sections. Material is sourced from all sorts of places including finds from our beautiful southwest coastlines from Portishead to St. Ives.

My work is highly durable. I use weatherproof mortars, adhesives and backing boards and experiment with waste aggregates, such as fine clinker from the forge and stone dust for molding the bases of bird fonts and other forms. Clinker and coal ash used to be incorporated in pointing and lasted for generations. The furniture and sculpture substrates and adhesives are made using high quality exterior materials. Repeated sanding and waxing creates the almost unnatural sheen on the slate surfaces and repels rain water to stunning effect.

Minimum maintenance of occasional clear waxing and buffing protects the work indefinitely in all weathers. Commercially available slate oil or tile sealants can be used for added protection in more extreme weather environments. The work is incredibly tactile and hand-waxing is a very satisfying way to connect with it.

The metal

The metal bases and armature are hand forged by Nathan Bennett from my designs. The metal is usually galvanised - dipped in molten zinc – to make it rust proof. Alternatively, ‘weathering’ is available as a cheaper alternative, and such work can then be painted to protect it.

Nathan is a professional blacksmith specialising in superior quality period wrought ironwork using traditional technologies such as hand punching, dovetailing and riveting, and fire welding. He also has a strong engineering background in industrial and architectural metal fabrication. Nathan has an outstanding portfolio of private, public and corporate commissions. I will be happy to forward images or information and contact details.

Photo courtesy of Toby Leetham, 2010

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  1. Doreen Bell avatar
    Doreen Bell Sep 11, 2010

    Your an interesting bird my friend- Love your works and admire your tenacity in which you work.

  2. jackie Stack Lagakos avatar
    jackie Stack Lagakos Nov 4, 2010

    Helen,  just opened up facebook this morning.
    Donatella Sassi posted a link to your work.
    What an absolutely wonderful way to start my day.
    Such Stunning and Original work!!!

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    ugg boots black Nov 5, 2010

    Love your works and admire your tenacity in which you work.