Stephen Broadbent studied sculpture under Liverpool sculptor Arthur Dooley, staying under his guidance for four years where he learned the principles of crafting a metaphor and 'putting flesh on ideas'. He was drawn towards creating artwork that connected with people, and fell into the public art movement.
Stephen's projects are wonderfully well executed in a wide range of materials including; cast metals, carved stone, wood, fabricated metal, glass, vitreous enamel and ceramic, and concrete.
As Stephen was showing us photos of his various projects, I was impressed at their scale and their overall appearance, but began to be blown away by the stories that grew up around the pieces. It was exactly this story telling that had been carefully crafted into the design process that stopped many of the pieces from simply just being a nice sculpture, and turned them into something that had a connection with the people and allowed them to claim ownership of the piece, allowing it to mesh into the fabric of the community in which it was constructed.
Stephen spoke to us about the old view of a sculpture being commissioned by a city that was to be displayed on a large plinth, with a huge horse, and an even larger rider pointing skyward (or some other similar representation) in the hopes that this grant stance would inspire the people around it to some sort of greatness. He said that the people often felt a disconnect from the piece, and that they couldn't resonate to the message that was implied as it felt so far apart from their own lives.
While explaining the importance of the stories of the community, Stephen was using one of his projects that was installed in the old dock yards of Sunderland to illustrate his point. It just so happens that my father and grandfather worked in the Sunderland docks until they began to be closed down, and possibly more of my family going further back than that. Instantly I could connect with this story perhaps more than anyone else in the lecture hall.
The piece at Keel Square consists of a 292 metre granite keel line embedded in the paving which represents the length of the longest ship ever constructed on the Weir, The Naess Crusader, pointing towards the river. The granite slabs bear the names of the nearly 9,000 ships produced in Sunderland over 600 years. At the back of the keel line is a 3.5m diameter glass and bronze propeller inlaid with 500 shipyard photographs and portraits. The glass propeller can be turned by hand to allow all the pictures to be viewed, and is also lit from the inside of the frame at night.
The whole project is a celebration of the things that made Sunderland famous; the ships that were built there and made Sunderland the largest ship building town in the world (before the docks closed and it was given city status), and the manufacture of glass which is celebrated at the National Glass Centre.
You can see the write up of this project along with an expanded version of the story behind it on the Broadbent Studios website.
Stephen also talked to us about his process for design:
1 - LOOK around - find the threads already there
2 - SEE potential - get excited about stories to be told
3 - REFLECT on meanings - draw out what is relevant
4 - DEVELOP themes - out of which designs emerge
5 - CO-OPERATE - with planners, architects, engineers & local people
We first develop a range of concepts within a target price, these are tested
and approved before proceeding to detailed development.
The designs are developed, engineered and costed, with CAD drawings
and models created to allow final approvals. Where necessary, together
with the client, the designs will be value engineered to within the budget.
The manufacture stage will only begin when all parties are confident that
the approved design can be created within budget and to the timetable.
Stephen spoke to us about the exciting realisation that as an artist he could not only be part of a team that are working together to achieve a larger result, but that there are also opportunities for the artist to be the one proposing the project, or in some cases commissioning it, and taking the lead role in the development and implementation. The artist is not just someone who comes along and does their part, then goes home.
He used a case study to further illustrate this point when he spoke to us about The Garden of Polled Talents at Sheffield University. Apparently the initial brief that was presented was to install some sculpted benches, and possibly have some green space incorporated into it.
After researching the area it was understood that the location sat between the buildings for the Arts, and Science, and the concept grew into a need for the Art and Science students to pool their creativity and enrich society. The metaphor for this was a shared garden space that could grow and flourish as if it were being fed by the flow of the two groups of students, and their exchange of ideas.
Sheffield has a history of cutlery production and design, including the manufacture of ladles which were used for the shape of two bridges that entered the garden and met in the middle, and are symbolic of bringing water, allowing it to form a pool in the centre where the creativity overlaps.
I'm sure that Stephen did a much better job of explaining the concept than I have, but I hope that the pictures will help to show what was created. This is a good example of listening to the settings, surroundings, history and people to crate a synergy that belongs in the space.