There was beer. There was a fire in an oil drum. There was rain. There was failure to find a free parking space. There was Pete McKee buying a knife. And like any good evening out, there was good chat.
A jam-packed crowd of folk at APG Works saw the work of the five members of Mester Class laid out to show off the very best of what they do. Even the display tables were hand-made. Brass plaques denoted the maker and the prices. The setting, one of few surviving old buildings along Sidney Street, was absolutely right for the occasion – a little piece of the old world of Sheffield preserved into the new. The Mesters were there, affable and enthusiastic, happily discussing the processes of their work – or, in some cases, leaving us guessing – but it was that work that was the undeniable star of the show.
Talking to the Mesters reveals the depths of their knowledge. Joe Moore’s sheer enthusiasm for the discussion of the finer points of metallurgy is extraordinary. He has the air of a great eccentric experimental scientist, carrying with him a body of knowledge derived not just from textbooks but also from his own tinkering. The centrepiece hunting knife that he forged and Michael May finished is an extraordinary work. To pick it up is, to those of us unused to handling such a weapon, to feel the power and weight of something impressively lethal, but also exquisitely beautiful.
Also on display is a further collaboration between these two and Dan Jeffery, an axe forged in Portland Works by Moore, ground by May and chased by Jeffery. For those unfamiliar with the work of the chaser, if you see a pattern or decoration on the surface of a metal object, that is his contribution. This is a simple piece with a hand-carved ash handle but its very simplicity, combined with light weight and lovely balance in the hand, set you off looking for something to chop with it.
Warren Martin, the originator of the Mester Class idea, can at one point in the evening be heard half-complaining and half-celebrating that he has almost run out of stock on this first preview evening. His work of spun silver, brass and copper is striking in its precise and flawless presentation. It is almost impossible to pick it up and examine it knowing that the finger marks left could spoil the appearance. Yet each of these pieces is designed and made to be used, not to be kept in a dusty cupboard or wrapped away in paper.
Kurt Calow’s piercing saws and toasting forks have an almost rustic feel by comparison, their blackened finishes and uncomplicated decoration giving them the air of having been made with other craftsmen in mind. Speaking to him about his work, I asked him about the four-piece twist in his toasting fork. Instead of simply telling me, he challenged me to work out how he might have done it. A subsequent glance at his Instagram feed shows some of the processes he uses.
These are modern makers, very much engaged in the era of social media and aware of its relevance to their business. At the same time, they channel some of the history of Sheffield craft into their work, always aware of the significance of the past, informed by it, but not constrained by it.
Instagram: @mester_class @kurtcalowsilver @dpj_chasing_0114 @wgmartin.silver @michaelmaysheffield