'The tools of the trades that built the city...

In:Site 2016 Festival, Birmingham

Birmingham has been a city of makers, inventions, manufacture and a 'city of a thousand trades'. During Matthew Boulton's lifetime in the eighteenth century, Birmingham would be transformed from a small craft town to an important manufacturing city. Like so many residents today, the entrepreneurs and makers of Birmingham's heritage passed through the cathedral and its grounds. At In:Site, organised by Craftspace in the grounds of Birmingham Cathedral, I attempted to commemorate the craftspeople and skilled makers whose trades built Birmingham, and to invite members of the public to make versions of the tools they use in their work. In this site-specific work, I aimed to create connections between their lives today and the heritage of the city through conversations, story-telling and memory generated through making. 

Who participated? A car engine maker, painter and decorator, mathematician, engineer, rock-climbing instructor, poet, chef, barista, former fireplace maker, local entrepreneur, and numerous others. Making sparked conversations and connections between strangers, crossingcultures and generations.

A young woman told stories of her upbringing by her grandfather in the Black Country. He was a cartwright, and she had spent a lot of time as a child around his workshop and carthorses. She left behind what might have seemed unassuming tools, yet these were immediately recognised by another group as having been made by someone from the Black Country. She had passed on her story through what she had made. 

The mathematician, with her huge enthusiasm for making in clay and for her subject, inspired the engineer who had previously remained quiet, to join the conversation and tell stories of his relationship to Birmingham and to his profession. The chef said he loved having a go with some clay, which he had't had the chance to use since school. The poet learned from the fireplace maker about the stories of the Lunar Men and Birmingham as an epicentre of the Industrial Revolution. More than one kept a friend waiting, or was late for a meeting, as they stayed. The car engineer made the engines himself for the six identical cars used in the last James Bond film...

Images: Sarah Christie and Craftspace