At Wade Sand and Gravel original century old buildings remain from Birmingham's industrial revolution. The remains of the old ovens and pump houses are reminders of the days when the site boomed with activity as Republic Steel and as later as the Thomas Coke Works plant. This is the historic backdrop for a small group of artists-in-residence, dubbed The Artists of the Thomas Project. With the support of Birmingham's most innovative art patrons, Robin and Carolyn Wade (owners of Wade Sand and Gravel), each artist has converted studio space to work in this historic setting.
My studio consists of the former coal testing lab and an adjacent rail car shed, which I am in the process of restoring. The Coke Battery is a Kopper’s design and was built in 1952 and permanently closed about 1982. My studio is adjacent to the quarry, the loading station for rock that comes out the quarry and adjacent to the old coal conveyers belt for the Coke plant.
I work in a very industrial setting that is an inspiring work environment for an artist. My studio is in the home of the Old Republic Steel Mill and what is now Wade Sand and Gravel Quarry. When I work with rocks out of the quarry, the limestone is harvested from an area with 600 million years of geological history. I think the process of harvesting the stone brings a certain awareness and perspective to my work. The second element of influence is the backdrop of the old steel mill and buildings that brought in the industrial development of this whole region and has now been made obsolete – Republic Steel closed in the 70’s. There is, of course, residue and environmental impact from this period in Birmingham’s history but at the time, the plant made the most of the known technology at the time by producing by-products from the coke ovens that included gas, tar, light oil, etc. It’s intriguing to think about how technology can continue to answer many of the compelling energy challenges we face today – smarter, cleaner and more energy efficient as we evolve in our understanding of what serves our future and the future of our children best.