In the first part of this series on early career makers, Jonathan Foyle spoke with Francisca Onumah whose unorthodox and poetic style of making has fused with a profound sense of place and identity.
Sheffield’s greatest gift to the world was accidental. In 1743, when Thomas Boulsover of the town’s Company of Cutlers was repairing a client’s knife, to his surprise he overheated it whereupon suddenly molten silver fused to cheaper copper. For a century, such metallic sandwiches offered economic silverware until Birmingham’s George Elkington developed the electroplating method which revolutionised cutlery manufacture, and Sheffield’s adoption of the process made the city famous across the world.
Today’s Sheffield is the home of the Blades football club, a nod to what are now former industrial glories. But vigorous new life in metalcrafting is found at Persistence Works, a purpose-built artist-maker complex opened for Yorkshire Artspace in 2001. Studio 20 is a light, elevated jewellers’ workshop with a view framing the jagged skyline of the city. There, Birmingham-trained Francisca Onumah persistently taps and heats copper or silver to transform their character and expression into forms that will never lead to the breakthroughs in mass production, standardisation or cost-cutting that put Sheffield on the map. She is an artist-maker who produces one-offs. But like Elkington and Boulsover, she does depend on both science and happy accident.
Francisca found this space in 2017. Choosing a studio was an important decision, for a room in itself is never enough. She admits that “it takes me a while. I like to move things around to change the scenery, I’ve moved my work benches a few times and I’m slowly making the space my own.” Serendipity in design and craft is so often a by-product of preparing the right conditions for exploratory creativity, for it is sustained concentration that steers pieces to only half-anticipated conclusions through thousands of compounded judgments. Space, light, furniture, tools- and a sense of belonging- all contribute to the creative moment, a place where serendipity can emerge, where you make your own luck.