The close bond between North Yorkshire artists Katie Ventress and Janet Fraser already ran deep before this summer after the friends found out they shared the same great-grandparents. But after a combined 800 hours of work in little more than a month to jointly create a stunning new artwork blending forged metal and stained glass, the pair have developed an even deeper respect for each other’s respective abilities.
Blacksmith Ventress, whose workshop is based in Hinderwell, and stained glass artist Fraser, who has a studio in her back garden in Sleights near Whitby, have known each other for years but recently joined forces for their first major project created specially for the Great Yorkshire Show.
Together they created an astonishing 6ft tall and 9ft wide sculpture they dubbed The Great Yorkshire Peacock with a hand-forged body made by Ventress and 197 stained glass tail feathers made by Fraser.
The one-of-a-kind artwork was a star attraction for visitors to the recent Great Yorkshire Show and featured in Channel 5’s coverage of the event where it was rightly described by presenter Anita Rani as “incredible”.
It sold at the show to a couple from Shropshire for £20,000 who plan to display it in their garden.
After being unveiled by Rani in the Forge section of the showground it was moved to entrance of one of the halls and the pair say they were thrilled by the public reaction. Ventress says: “People were saying it looks even better in person, which is a good sign!”
The pair say working on the collaboration together was very special after knowing each other for years. Ventress explains: “We first met through the arts community in the local area. Janet was already an established artist but I had just set up as a blacksmith. She was very welcoming and encouraging and gets you included in things.”
Fraser adds that they then discovered an astonishing coincidence – their respective grandfathers had been brothers, making them distant relations. “We have got the same great-grandparents – we only found out about three years ago. One of my mum’s cousins told me we were related and we couldn’t believe it.”
The pair had assisted each other with a number of projects before but had never worked together on anything of this scale before. Fraser says: “A few years ago I said to Katie I had always wanted to create a peacock. The colours of a peacock are just absolutely gorgeous and it is such a beautiful bird. Katie made a smaller one recently and I messaged her about how beautiful it was.
“We just said let’s do this collaboration. The only time we had was in the run up to the Great Yorkshire Show or we would have had to wait a year-and-a-half for space in both of our diaries.”
Ventress adds: “The show was a big push for us to take the opportunity. It was the right platform to show it to a good audience and increase our customer base. It is a showstopper – Janet had been wanting to do bigger projects for a long time and to break yourself into doing bigger sculpture pieces like this was definitely a case of ‘go big or go home’.”
Their physical work on the sculpture astonishingly only began in June ahead of the show starting on July 13. Ventress says: “We did about 400 hours of work each condensed into 39 days. It was an average 10 hours a day but it didn’t work like that in practice – some days you would be going until 11pm at night.”
Fraser adds: “There was one day where I did 20 hours in a row and I left as the sun was rising.”
In addition to the intensity of their work, there was also a question mark of whether the show would actually be able to go ahead at all because of the pandemic.
Fraser says she wasn’t concerned as someone who doesn’t worry about things but Ventress admits she was not so confident. “I had people ringing me and asking ‘Do you know if it is definitely going ahead?’ because they knew I was making something and I had to say ‘No, but I’m still doing it anyway’.”
The pair worked largely separately for the majority of the project in their different workspaces, coming together in the final week to fit the glass feathers to the body of the sculpture.
Ventress designed the body and had to ensure each prong was bent into the perfect shape to create the desired tail effect – with the added complication that each needed to gradually change in shape as they spanned outwards. Laser-cut feathers were then welded on after being forged texture and movement with space left for Fraser’s colourful glass feather fittings.
To fit the intricate design created by Ventress, Fraser required 1,366 pieces of glass that needed to be marked, cut, ground, washed, copperfoiled and then soldered together to create the 197 feathers that then needed to be leaded around the outside and cemented so each feather was water proof, washed, blackened, washed again and polished up.
Despite their intense workload, the pair say it was incredibly satisfying to see their vision become a reality.
Ventress adds: “Every time we put feathers in even though we didn’t really have time, we would stop and be saying ‘Wow, it is amazing’.”
Fraser says: “When we saw it coming together and were putting the feathers in, I was crying because it looked so amazing.”
She explains: “My work with stained glass started as a hobby at my kitchen table. To go from that to doing this for the Great Yorkshire Show 10 years later is just amazing. I was a single mum doing reflexology, aromatherapy and cleaning holiday cottages and started this as a sideline.
“A year later I did my first craft fair. It has built from there and five years ago I built a studio in my back garden.”
Transporting the sculpture to the show after it was completed was no mean feat.
Despite being designed to be broken down into three pieces, the finished piece was so delicate that they decided to take it by horsebox protected with duvets.
And despite the many hours of hard work that went into their creation, the pair say art for them is a matter of enjoyment.
Ventress says: “Most of the time it is about making something you enjoy. In some respects, it is just a bonus if other people like your work.”
Fraser adds: “I don’t feel like I work at all. It is a wonderful feeling when you meet a client, they come to you with an idea and you bring that idea to life. To see their face when you have finished is magical. Sometimes you are creating something that will be in somebody’s home for 100 years and that is quite humbling.”
With the pair both now busy with other projects, they have no firm plans yet to work together again but say they hope to have the opportunity to do so.
Fraser says: “I can’t wait to see what we will do next.”
Family and friends helped make sculpture a reality
Janet and Katie say they were grateful for some invaluable help in completing the ambitious sculpture within such a tight timescale.
Fraser says her friend Bob Bruce, a retired stained glass artist, help teach them how to fit the feathers while her friends Geraldine Pattinson, Tracie Weatherill and Bridget Wilkinson helped with the copper foiling and cementing each feather.
Her mum Audrey Fraser was involved in washing each piece of glass and polishing the finished feathers while her daughter Mia helped to scrub the cement off the glass.
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