Jul 17 2013
Museums Sheffield’s Curator of Decorative Art, Clare Starkie on the Millennium Gallery’s pop up Designed to Shine Cinema, which continues the city’s 100 Years of Stainless Steel celebrations this summer.
When we were planning the Designed to Shine exhibition we researched lots of news reel footage and videos that might help us tell the objects’ stories and give an insight into the stainless steel industry over the last 100 years.
We discovered a host of films that really brought the history of stainless steel to life, offering a fascinating chronicle of the impact this remarkable new material would have on peoples’ lives. We decided it would be great to give these films a bigger platform than the small screens in the exhibition, and so the idea of the Designed to Shine Cinema was born.
My favourite video in the cinema’s pop-up programme of archive and contemporary films is ‘The Hub of the House’, a promotional video from 1945 made by Sheffield based film Firth-Vickers. Their Staybrite brand was the most well-known name in stainless steel products for domestic use after the 1930s. The Designed to Shine exhibition features a wide range of Staybrite objects, from bookends, a desk calendar to a toast rack and even a dinner gong.
Stainless steel was promoted as an easy-clean material; the ultimate solution for the modern home. ‘The Hub of the House’ shows this brilliantly: opening with a chaotic domestic scene in an old-fashioned kitchen, the film shows a clearly stressed woman trying to bath a child and cook dinner, while her husband shaves in the sink and the ill-timed arrival of the coal man makes the place filthy. Cut to the bright, easy-clean world of a modern stainless steel kitchen – a stark contrast to the prior scenes of domestic mayhem, a very relaxed housewife is having afternoon tea and scones with a friend, using Staybrite knives, cake stand and tea set, of course!
While it’s very of its time and seems more than a little patronising today, the film effectively demonstrates how stainless steel was marketed as a revolution in improving the lives of women in the mid-20th century. To the average housewife, it must have seemed a very glamorous, modern idea after the hardships of life during the Second World War.
Another of my highlights is the film ‘STAVE’, developed by the artist Anthony Bennett, whose Swarfhorse series of sculptures are on display alongside the films in the gallery. This beautifully shot film, made with local film maker Shaun Bloodworth, shows pallet knives being sharpened by Sheffield’s last self-employed jobbing grinder Brian Alcock. This film evocatively captures an age-old skill in a very modern way - to see the sparks flying off the wheel and hear the grinding noises in the same space where you can see Anthony’s sculptures, created in partnership with Brian, really gives you a feel for how they were made and the work that has gone into them. The collaboration doesn’t stop there either; the ambient music was recorded by ‘In the Nursery’, a Sheffield band which rehearses right next to Brian’s workshop. I love the fact it’s a combination of so many different kinds of skills, both old and new, which come together to create a wonderful Sheffield story.
Designed to Shine Cinema / Swarfhorse continues at the Millennium Gallery until 26 August – entry is free.
- ‘Sheffield on its Mettle’, 1948 © British Pathe – one of the range of archive films on show in the Designed to Shine Cinema.